WRENTHAM, Mass. – With four of the last five meetings between King Philip and Mansfield football being decided by three or less points, it’s no surprise the teams were locked in another tight battle on Friday night.
And in games so tightly contested, it’s often a small play here or there that can make the biggest difference.
Mansfield senior Nick Marciano blocked an extra point attempt and later converted a two-point conversion rush to help the Hornets secure a 15-13 win on Macktaz Field over the host Warriors.
“It’s a great win, but its Mansfield-KP, it’s gotta go to the wire,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “Both teams are going to find a way to get points and it’s always great defensively. It’s business as usual between these two.
“They really battled, this is just such a great rivalry, there’s so much pride on both sides.”
The Hornets held a 15-6 advantage and took over on offense after Mahki Baskin hauled in an interception in the end zone with just 5:30 left. But Mansfield was unable to kill much of the clock, and in true fashion this rivalry, King Philip made a game of it.
Just two minutes after turning it over, the Warriors were in the end zone. Senior quarterback Robert Jarest (14/26, 194 yards) orchestrated a four-play, 64-yard drive that took little time off the clock. Jarest hit Alex Behling for a 16-yard touchdown, and suddenly the Warriors were down just 15-13 with 3:18 to go after Dylan Conti‘s extra point.
But KP’s onside kick attempt failed to travel 10 yards, and the Hornets took over in Warrior territory. Senior Vinnie Holmes (13 carries, 106 yards) did the rest, sealing the deal with a 23-yard first down rush that allowed Mansfield to kill the rest of the clock.
“It was circled on our calendar from the beginning of the season,” Holmes said. “We knew this was going to be our biggest game so far that counts. La Salle didn’t really count. This one counts for us and it was great to get this win.
“We always know that they can always inch back. They did it last year versus us, almost got that two-point conversion to win. We knew they could do it. We knew we had to put the pedal to the metal. Stop them. Get that first down at the end that was big and then eventually run out the clock.”
Mansfield got off to a perfect start, needing just four plays to cover 52 yards in 2:22 to take the lead. After three run plays, the Hornets went play action and senior quarterback Jack Moussette (6/10, 72 yards) found Danny Rapoza open down the right sideline. Michael DeBolt split the uprights for the extra point to make it 7-0.
That would be all of the scoring in the opening half. King Philip’s first drive went for 12 plays but only 35 yards, stalling around midfield. The Warriors’ two other possessions were three-and-outs with a total of four yards.
Mansfield had solid field position throughout but couldn’t solve the KP defense. The Hornets had to punt on their second and third drives of the game and failed to convert a fourth down as time expired in the first half.
King Philip lost star running back and linebacker Ryan Halliday (eight carries, 25 yards) to an injury early in the second quarter but the Warriors’ offense was able to overcome, putting together its best series out of the break. The Warriors marched 80 yards on 14 plays, converting four third downs on the drive. Jarest hit Brian Wassersug for 24 yards on one third down to move into Hornet territory, and two plays later, the senior quarterback connected with Drew Danson for 38 yards to get down to the one-yard line.
It took four tries from there, but sophomore Crawford Cantave was able to punch it across to get the Warriors on the board.
But Marciano came up with one of the biggest plays of the game, flying across to get just enough on the ball to block it and keep it low.
Mansfield failed to convert on fourth down on back-to-back possessions but the Hornet defense held the Warriors to a combined -11 yards on its next two series. DeBolt and TJ Guy (sack) had key stops to help Mansfield get the ball back.
This time the Hornets did cash in on the good field position. After converting a first down, Cincere Gill took the handoff to the left before cutting back to the right, getting around the defense and sprinting his way to a 20-yard touchdown.
After an injury timeout, the Warriors were whistled for too many men on the conversion attempt. Mansfield pulled its kicking unit off the field, and after a timeout, went with the wildcat offense. Marciano took the snap himself, ran forward and jumped over the pile and into the end zone to make it 15-6 with 7:18 left.
“We thought about it from the three [yard line] but they are so good defensively,” Redding said. “When they got the penalty, we felt we had to go for it then from the one-yard line. That was obviously big because it became a two-score game, that makes a big difference.
Andrew McKinney (five catches, 55 yards) grabbed a 19-yard catch, and Wassersug made a terrific catch on the ensuing drive, hauling in a 36-yard completion to set the Warriors up in the red zone before Baskin came away with an interception in the end zone.
“We’ve been more impressed with Robert with what he’s been able to do,” said KP coach Brian Lee. “He’s a senior, he’s been around. He brought us down there at the end.”
“I’ll tell ya, Jarest was unbelievable in the second half,” Redding said. “They lose Halliday and they just found a way to make completions, he can run and throw. They did a great job of getting the offense going without one for the best running backs in the state in the lineup. They made a game of it, their defense played tough.
“We blew some opportunities to extend the lead, and this is what [KP] does, they hang around and manufacture a drive. All of a sudden you’re an onside kick away from them having the ball again with the chance to win.”
This was Mansfield’s second win in the rivalry since 2013, earning their second straight regular season contest. The two teams have also played in the playoffs in two straight seasons.
“Our defense really battled in there,” Lee said. “Ryan is as good of a player and means just as much on defense as he does on offense. So everyone was stepping up for us. The overall takeaway…we made a ton of mistakes, a lot of new guys out there but we hung in there and battled as hard as we could. I think going forward if we can play well, and we’re fortunate enough to see them again, we know we’re not out-classed by them.”
Both teams are likely to make the playoffs again this year and could be on a collision course for a third straight postseason meeting.
“It’s great football, great defense, and I’m sure part two is coming in November,” Redding said.
“We have the utmost respect for KP, they are a great football team,” Holmes said. “They produce great players like Halliday, and we’ll probably see them again.”
Mansfield football (2-0 Hockomock, 3-1 overall) is on the road again next week at Pisani Field to visit Franklin for another key division showdown. King Philip (1-1, 3-1) will host Attleboro on Friday.