ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Before Friday night’s game at Tozier-Cassidy Field, Mansfield was given bad news on the injury front. Having already lost starting linebacker and running back Joe Cox for the season, tailback Danny DeGirolamo and lineman Colbey Eason were both ruled out for the meeting with Attleboro.
Mansfield coach Mike Redding admitted that he was concerned about the matchup with the Bombardiers and said that he knew his team would have to “make plays and win the turnover battle.”
The Hornets did just that. Mansfield forced four Attleboro fumbles, scoring points off all four turnovers, and rolled to a 31-7 road victory that puts the Hornets alone in second place in the division, keeps them just a game back of league-leading King Philip with one regular season game remaining, and gives them a stronger hold on a home game in the playoffs.
“It was kind of our night,” said Redding after the game. “Really gutsy effort.”
He added, “We talked the last 24 hours that we need to step up and fight together. We’re short a few key guys and everybody’s got to rally and…we know that this was a crucial win on the road and may make a big, big difference in where we sit going into the playoffs.”
Attleboro ran only four offensive plays in the opening 11 minutes, but the game was scoreless when the Bombardiers stuffed a Vinnie Holmes run on fourth and one (ending a 13-play drive) and took over at their own 16 with 49 seconds remaining in the first.
Center Matt Corrado, who also plays on the defensive line, was injured on the fourth down play and there was confusion between senior Cam Furtado and his new center. The ensuing snap was early, surprising the quarterback, and was recovered by Chris Graham at the Attleboro 10.
Again the Attleboro defense came through with a huge stop. Matt Jimenez and Josh Therrien combined to bring down Aidan Sacco four yards short of the goal line on third down. Mansfield settled for a 26-yard field goal by Michael DeBolt to take the lead.
The momentum that the defense gave to the home team was short-lived. A fumble on the second snap of the next drive was corralled by Sacco in front of the Attleboro bench and he took it 27 yards up the sideline for a touchdown to make it 10-0.
“Turnovers…You can’t give them possession, bottom line,” Attleboro coach Mike Strachan mused. “I thought we played pretty well defensively, early, but we gave them short fields and you can’t give them short fields. They’re too experienced to do that and we just couldn’t recover.”
Another mishandled snap led to Mansfield taking over at its own 48. A run and a penalty later and the Hornets faced second and 11. The Bombardiers were crowding the line of scrimmage when Damani Scott (6-8, 156 yards) dropped back to pass. The junior fired a perfect strike over the top to DeBolt, who pulled in his first career catch without breaking stride for a 53-yard score.
“That was a big one,” said Redding. “Funny thing is we were going Hunter [Ferreira] first read on the drag and we weren’t even looking at Mike. I don’t even know how [Damani] saw him. He must have looked back to the drag and saw the post open, but that was a great throw.”
Strachan used the same words to describe the touchdown that put Mansfield ahead 17-0 at the break. He said, “I think that was the big one. Overall, we tried to do a good job on Ferreira, shut him down, and I thought we did a good job on that but at the end of the day you can’t turn the ball over four times. That’s it.”
Mansfield punted to start the second half, but again Attleboro put the ball on the ground. Ferreira was on hand to recover the loose ball and get the Hornets possession on the Bombardiers 23. Facing fourth and 11, Scott used his legs to scramble for 16 yards and keep the drive going. Two plays later he found Ferreira on the far sideline and the senior wideout somehow pulled it in while staying in bounds for an 18-yard touchdown.
“They had to go to other resources,” said Strachan about the defensive effort to try and slow down Ferreira (two catches, 28 yards). “He made a great catch down in the end zone, phenomenal catch, but other than that he had a pretty quiet day, but they’ve got athletes at different spots. You have to defend the whole field against them.”
After stopping Attleboro at midfield on fourth down, the Hornets tacked on another score to ensure a comfortable fourth quarter. The drive started with a flea flicker, as Scott threw another deep strike, this time to Khristian Conner for 44 yards inside the Attleboro five-yard-line. Sacco capped the drive with a two-yard run, spinning his way inside the pylon.
Sophomore Joseph Llanos (nine carries, 88 yards) ensured that Attleboro was not shut out with a 14-yard TD in the final minute of the game, but it was a strong performance by the Mansfield defense. Even without Cox at linebacker, the Hornets limited Furtado to just one completion and 38 yards on 12 carries.
“We’ll never replace him,” said Redding in reference to Cox, “but I think guys are rallying for him at this point and the only good news is that we have depth at the skill positions. We would love to have him, but I think we have enough talent to be a tough out once we get to the playoffs.”
Mansfield (5-1, 3-1) will try to keep the pressure on King Philip and sew up a home playoff game next Friday at Alumni Field against Oliver Ames. Attleboro (2-4, 2-2) will look to make sure of a playoff place when it hosts fellow Div. 1 South hopeful Franklin at Tozier-Cassidy.