MILFORD, Mass. – Twenty minutes into Friday night’s regular season finale at Milford High, Stoughton had only managed three first downs. Another short drive came to a close after Jonathan Medina was sacked by several Hawks and offensive lineman Malachi Green-Hightower was forced to jump on a fumble to keep the possession alive.
Paul Feeney hit a towering punt downfield towards Ryan O’Toole, who was unable to come up with it cleanly. Matthew Hadley pounced on the loose ball and put the Black Knights at the Milford 25. On the next play, Justin Ly bounced outside the tackle and raced down the Milford sideline for a 25-yard score with 1:31 left in the first half.
The score turned out to be the game-winner, as the Black Knights defense smothered the Milford offense, limiting the Hawks to only eight first downs in the game (only three in the second half), in a 14-3 victory that sets up a three-way tie for second place in the Davenport division and most likely a home game for Stoughton in the Div. 3 South playoffs.
“That’s a good team,” said Stoughton coach Greg Burke, “they played very hard, and they’ve been excellent the last couple weeks and luckily we got them and I’m glad we did it by running the football.”
The Black Knights were without starting quarterback Evan Gibb, who was injured in the loss to North Attleboro, and Burke praised Medina (2-6, 25 yards) for managing the game. Burke said, “You’ve got to make some tough plays and the toughest job, he did a great job for us, was our quarterback. The kid hasn’t played a lot and…everything’s a little different.”
Milford started the game in a spread formation with sophomore Colby Pires (7-16, 118 yards) in the shotgun. On the first possession of the game, Pires hit Shapel Feaster for 20 yards and the Hawks moved the ball into Stoughton territory, but on fourth and nine Pires scrambled and hit Lucas Rosa for eight yards and the drive stalled at the Black Knights 29.
On the second possession, backed up to their own 11, the Hawks hit their biggest play of the game. Pires looked deep down the near sideline to Joey Everett, a senior who transferred in from St. George’s School (Newport, R.I.) midway through the season, and the wideout made an incredible 41-yard catch just keeping a foot in bounds. On the next play, Pires was intercepted by Ryan Semler.
“When you have three turnovers and a muffed punt deep in your own end, it’s hard to get anything going,” said first-year Milford coach Anthony Vizakis. “We tried our spread, we tried our war, they did a really great job. They have a great defense.”
Vizakis admitted that the touchdown before halftime was a turning point. He said, “Unfortunately, sometimes all it takes is one play. We were hoping to put a drive together and we had some things ready to go, but you could feel the momentum shift. Against a tough team like that, it’s hard to come back from it.”
The Black Knights went into the locker room with energy after the late touchdown, but in the end both defenses were too strong to keep the momentum going. A sack by Josh Ligor ended the second Stoughton possession of the third quarter and gave Milford the ball back at its own 30.
The Hawks turned to junior Ryan Pearl at quarterback in a compact power set that worked the week before in the comeback win over Foxboro. A six-yard completion to Will Pointer got a rare third down conversion for a first down and Pointer followed it with a 20-yard burst around the end. Once again the drive stalled, but Milford turned to junior kicker Sean Lehane, who split the upright with a 46-yard boot (with room to spare) that cut the lead to 7-3.
“He’s unreal,” said Vizakis of Lehane. “That’s automatic for him. He kicks 50-55 [yards] in practice and I think we have to utilize him even more when we’re close. He’s clutch.”
The home crowd was starting to get into it, especially after Ruben Gonzalez was stopped on the kick-off return at his own 17, but the Black Knights settled down and put together the best drive of the game.
Alex Sjoquist (15 carries, 91 yards) was the main threat, getting the ball eight times during a 13-play, 83-yard march that took seven minutes off the clock and sealed the win. The big play was a 41-yard burst straight up the middle from Sjoquist that Tyler Joyce kept from being a touchdown with a diving, shoestring tackle. In the end, Sjoquist plunged into the end zone with a three-yard score.
Any hope of another late comeback by the Hawks was dashed by a Colin Sanda interception.
Burke said of the team’s ability to matchup with Milford’s bunch sets, “We got hurt a little bit but…we worked very hard at that all week. It’s a very effective offense, if you get one long play. You’re in tight, so they’re hoping someone cracks one and gets out. So, you have to really protect against the bounce out.”
Despite the defeat, it looks like Milford (3-4, 3-2) has qualified for the Div. 3 South playoffs and could face possible trips to North Attleboro, Duxbury or Hingham. Vizakis is proud of how far the Hawks have come from the opening game of the season.
He said, “We’re 100 percent getting better every week and that’s what we tell them, get better every day. The kids are improving, they’re getting more comfortable in the system, and once we see where we fall in the playoff bracket we’ll be ready to go next week.”
Stoughton (5-2, 3-2) appears to be in line for the third or fourth seed in Div. 3 South.
Burke said, “We’re 5-2 with a couple of our starters out…and I’m just happy we’re getting in the playoffs for our fourth consecutive year. I don’t know, if you had said at the beginning of the year that we’d be 5-2 I would’ve called you crazy, but that’s the type of kids I have, tough kids.”