FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin has made a name for itself this season with a high-powered offense that is capable of a big play at any time, but in Friday’s Div. 1 South quarterfinal at Pisini Stadium the Panthers showed that there is another side to their game as well.
The Franklin defense only allowed Attleboro to cross midfield once all night, allowing the Panthers to grind out a 14-0 victory on a pair of second half touchdowns and book a second straight appearance in the sectional semifinal.
“What I told the kids at halftime is this is going to be a character test,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “We’re going to define out character right here and you have to win these types of games this time of year.”
He added, “We needed to call a better game and get our guys in better positions, but I think once we went into the half we felt more comfortable with what they were in so we felt better about the calls we were making and had a better idea of how to attack them.”
The Panthers got the ball to start the second half and they put in their best drive of the game to score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. Franklin marched 66 yards on 13 plays, showing off a balance between the ground game with Owen Palmieri (14 carries, 65 yards) and its typically potent passing game.
It was a methodical drive. Until the Panthers got inside the red zone, no play went for more than 11 yards and they converted four third downs. Thomas Gasbarro (20-of-31, 187 yards) hit four different receivers on the possession, including Palmieri, who finished with more than 100 yards of total offense, Jake Davis (eight catches, 82 yards), and Jack Nally.
It was Nally (five catches, 48 yards) who made the big play, grabbing a pass on the near sideline and shaking the grasp of an Attleboro tackler to get into the end zone from 16 yards out.
“I think we were really good on third down in the second half and in the first half a couple times we got bogged down on the other end of the field,” Bain explained. “Part of that was trying to get us in better third down situations so it wasn’t third and eight all game and maybe more third and fours and fives.”
Attleboro quarterback Jason Weir was injured while playing defensive back on that drive, possibly after nearly sacking Gasbarro on the play preceding the touchdown, and sophomore Blake Garzaro stepped in to replace him.
“I can’t be prouder,” he said. “We had five sophomores out there and went toe-to-toe for three quarters and a little more tonight. I thought we played physical, we didn’t quit, and they’ve got athletes everywhere but I thought we contained them. It’s something to build off for our young kids for sure.”
Franklin moved the ball well on its second possession of the half as well, but Gasbarro was sacked at the Attleboro 24 to end the third quarter and Qualeem Charles put pressure on the quarterback to force an incompletion on third down. Kicker Parker Cheuvront, who had missed from 27 yards in the first quarter, had his kick blocked and it remained a one-score game.
Again it was the Panthers defense that came through to get the ball right back. Austin Jordan sacked Garzaro for a 10-yard loss and on third down they were able top wrap Murray up on a 14-yard gain that came up four yards short of the marker.
“We knew if we have points, the way our defense has been playing we could do a lot of great things,” Bain said. “We just needed to get over the hump and get on the board. It also put more pressure on them because they were happy to grind the tempo down. “
Starting at midfield, Franklin put together a drive to seal the victory. Palmieri and Gasbarro each rushed for five yards for a first down and then Nally followed with back-to-back six yard sweeps for another. A seven-yard draw to Nally with 10 yards tacked on because of a personal foul got the Panthers to the Attleboro 11.
Charles came through with a big stop on Palmieri for a four-yard loss. Two penalties and a loss of yards on a Gasbarro scramble pushed Franklin back to the 17 for fourth and 16. Gasbarro tried to get to the marker with his legs and appeared to have the first down only for a holding call to bring the play back to the 23.
Again Franklin went for it and this time found the end zone. Gasbarro picked out Davis at the two-yard-line and the senior receiver twisted and stretched his way to pay dirt.
Davis then wrapped up the win with two minutes remaining when he made an acrobatic, juggling interception.
“We didn’t know what they were going to come out in because they could’ve gone a lot of different ways today,” Bain said of the Bombardiers. “I thought they had a great game plan on both sides of the ball and really gave us a hard time tonight.”
Franklin (6-2) advances to the sectional semifinal for the second straight season and will host Brockton in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal that the Panthers won. Attleboro (3-5) will wait for the identity of its next opponent.
ATTLEBORO, Mass. – If there is a question about whether or not Franklin can challenge the top teams in Div. 1, it centers on the line of scrimmage and whether the Panthers are capable of winning the battle in the trenches. On Saturday afternoon at Tozier-Cassidy Field, Franklin may have provided an answer.
The Panthers bounced back from last week’s loss to Mansfield, dominated the line on both sides of the ball, held Attleboro off the scoreboard for almost the full 48 minutes, and improved their chances at a home playoff game with a convincing 37-7 victory.
“With the guys that they have, I knew it would be tough,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “It was a key to our game to try and out-quick them, out-technique, because just the sheer size and ability they have we had to find another gear. We had a lot of success up front today.”
Attleboro tried to show off its power running game, led by junior Michael Strachan (12 carries, 37 yards), on the opening drive and got down to the Franklin 34-yard-line. A snap slipped through quarterback Jason Weir’s hands for an 11-yard loss, senior Austin Jordan stuffed Strachan for a two-yard loss, and the Panthers forced a turnover on downs. That set the tone for the game.
“Coming into the game, we knew they had a big O-line,” Jordan explained, “so we knew we had to get a knock back on them and change the line of scrimmage and I think our D-line did that very well.”
Franklin’s big-play offense got going on its second possession. Senior quarterback Thomas Gasbarro was given plenty of time to throw by the guys up front and he just missed on three attempts to look deep, but the third drew a pass interference call that kept the drive alive. The fourth attempt was on target, as he hit Jake Davis in stride for a 28-yard score.
In the second quarter, Gasbarro (16-of-27, 271 yards) completed back-to-back passes to Matthew Lazarek for a combined 41 yards to get the ball inside the Attleboro 10. A fumble on the next play was recovered by Adam Pearlstein to give the Bombardiers the ball back, but any momentum shift was ended abruptly as Sammy Morris was spun down in the end zone by Anthony Quintina for a safety.
“They beat us up front,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “At the end of the day that’s what happened. They were more physical than we were up front. They just decided to take it to us in the second quarter and we couldn’t recover.”
Getting the ball with a short field, Franklin stretched its lead. Gasbarro connected with Davis for a 21-yard completion down to the Attleboro 18 and then to running back Owen Palmieri (15 carries, 71 yards) to the four. Cole Lakatos made a leaping grab on the next play to put the Panthers ahead 16-0.
The Panthers kept their foot on the gas and added another score before halftime. Gasbarro found Jack Nally for a 23-yard grab to get inside the 10 again and then two plays later he rolled out and found Nally in the flat for a two-yard touchdown. It was the third passing touchdown of the afternoon and league-leading 15th of the season for Gasbarro.
“We just have to be who we are and I think that’s our identity,” said Bain. “We found balance today in the run game too because they challenged us to run the ball and we did. Our offensive line, I think Tommy was clean most of the game. It just kind of clicked.”
If Attleboro was hoping that halftime would allow it to regroup, Franklin came out with the first drive of the second half and put the game away. Palmieri had a pair of runs totaling 29 yards that quickly got Franklin into Attleboro territory and then Gasbarro found Nally in space for a 27-yard completion to the five. The Bombardiers nearly held out, forcing fourth and goal from the one, but Gasbarro was able to keep it himself for his first rushing TD of the season.
After forcing the hosts into a three-and-out, Franklin’s defense was forced to stay on the field when Kaiden Murray recovered a muffed punt at the Panthers 43. Luke Cunningham blew up a jet sweep for a six-yard loss, then Jordan had back-to-back sacks of Weir to push Attleboro back to its own 48.
A second straight muffed punt, recovered this time by Anthony Hoyt at the 22, gave Attleboro another shot at getting its first points. Again, Franklin held. After a false start, Jordan got into the backfield to drop Strachan for a three-yard loss. A pair of incompletions meant a turnover on downs.
“When we came out for the second half, we just wanted zero points on the scoreboard at the end of the game,” Jordan said. “It was unfortunate, the punt situation, but the defense showed up and we just didn’t let them in.”
Bain added, “The defense just kept coming up big, answering the calls. Every time we needed them to do the thing for us, they did it, so they were awesome today.”
The defense stepped up to get the ball back and the offense made it count. Gasbarro hit Nally (seven catches, 131 yards) down the sideline for 61 yards into Attleboro territory. Nally completed the drive with a 10-yard rush to make it 37-0.
“We did not come to play. Very disappointed in our effort,” Strachan admitted. “We had to do some things early because we knew we had some match-up issues and they exploited it.”
Attleboro’s only score came as the clock wound down to zero, Isaac Gudiel put the Bombardiers in position with a couple of carries and then Weir (6-of-17, 52 yards) found Ethan Cameron in the corner of the end zone.
“Last year, when we beat Attleboro in that dogfight at our place, it spring-boarded us into the playoffs,” said Bain about the importance of this bounce back win. “We control our own destiny, we know that, and it feels good to get back on track and get that confidence back that we are a premier Div. 1 program in the state.”
Franklin (4-2) will try to make it two wins in a row to close out the regular season and secure a home playoff game when it hosts Taunton next week. Attleboro (3-3) will try to bounce back, and maybe get a home playoff game as well, when it hosts Mansfield next Saturday.
MILFORD, Mass. – There are different ways that a team can show resiliency. Last week, Milford kept fighting its way back on the road, not allowing Franklin to feel comfortable with its lead until the final whistle. On Saturday afternoon in its home opener against Attleboro, Milford was on the brink of putting the game away in the fourth quarter only to see Attleboro snatch momentum and tie the game.
Rather than allowing the game to slip out of their grasp, the Hawks overcame turnovers and penalties and pulled out a victory. Senior Colby Pires hit junior Carter Scudo for a 21-yard touchdown with only 1:34 remaining and Milford escaped with a 20-13 victory.
“Like I told you last week, these kids don’t quit,” said Milford coach Anthony Vizakis. “They play 48 minutes of football. We practice that way, we train them that way, and the results are speaking for themselves. Our kids battle. They don’t quit.”
The Bombardiers were playing their first game of the season and struggled throughout the second half with cramps. Junior Michael Strachan (10 carries, 53 yards) was forced to leave the game due to dehydration, while senior Isaac Gudiel and junior Justin Daniels missed portions of the game on both sides of the ball.
“This was our first real test,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “You don’t get this type of action [in scrimmages] and unfortunately we need to get in better condition. We had too many cramps and that definitely hurt us.”
Trailing 13-6 in the fourth quarter and with its bench struggling to maintain any energy, Attleboro came up with a huge momentum-shifting play. Milford got the ball down to the Bombardiers’ 13 but the defense managed to pry the ball loose from running back Luke Rosa (19 carries, 106 yards). One play later, senior Ethan Cameron (four catches, 136 yards) beat man coverage on the outside and his classmate Jason Weir hit him in stride for a 67-yard touchdown.
Out of seemingly nowhere, just when it looked like Milford was about to put the game out of reach, the game was tied 13-13 and the visitors were filled with confidence.
After partially blocking a punt, Attleboro got the ball at the Hawks 45-yard-line, but a CJ Cerrella sack (one of five sacks by the Hawks) stalled the Attleboro possession and Xavier Hilton returned the ensuing punt 31 yards out to midfield.
“They played man the whole game and they locked up and felt like they were going to bring it and they did,” said Strachan about the Milford pass rush. “I thought we had some success running the ball early and that was our intent but then we got banged up.”
Pires (25-of-41, 266 yards) swung a pass to Max Martin, who hurdled a Bombardier and drew a personal foul penalty for it. Then a 15-yard completion to Matt Varteresian was wiped away by a holding penalty. The third play was a catch by Hilton over the middle but he couldn’t hold on to the ball and Cameron recovered the fumble.
“Fumbles and penalties are going to be our biggest corrections,” said Vizakis. “Those are mistakes that can cost you games. They took advantage of it, but we’ll get those mistakes corrected.”
Again the Milford defense held and recovered possession. A short punt gave the Hawks the ball at the 37. Pires hit Scudo (seven catches, 81 yards) for nine yards, then for six, and then he again found the junior receiver open in the heart of the Attleboro secondary and he took it in for the game-winning score.
Attleboro had one last chance and converted a fourth and 18 (caused by a Herrick Louis sack) as Weir (8-of-21, 188 yards) found Cameron open in the seam for 24 yards. But, after yet another sack (this one by Rosa), Evan “Beav” Hazard picked off Weir’s final pass to seal the win.
Strachan said, “We’re young and we have to build off it. We’re really disappointed. We thought this was a game that we had a legitimate shot to win and I think we did a lot of good things and we need to build off that.”
The visitors grabbed the lead on their first drive. Weir connected with Daniels on a 30-yard pass down the sideline to get into Milford territory and from there Strachan took over. The bruising junior running back broke runs of 13 and 16 yards to get inside the five. He punched it in from one-yard out to make it 6-0.
Following a Scudo interception at their own 11, the Hawks marched 89 yards on 12 plays, including a crucial fourth down pass interference call, to grab their first lead. Gudiel stuffed Rosa for a four-yard loss on a swing pass, but then Rosa came right back with a 16-yard gain and a five-yard touchdown up the gut.
On its next possession, Milford extended the lead. Pires hooked up with Martin for a 22-yard pass to start the drive, but then back-to-back holding calls created a first and 38. On third and 18, Pires found Martin again for 20 yards and the first down to the Attleboro 13. Martin (seven catches, 105 yards) was drilled by Nolan Jaeger on the play, the second time that happened in as many drives, and Vizakis rewarded Martin by giving him the ball at the one and he scored on a jet sweep.
“A testament to his toughness,” Vazakis explained. “We knew when we were down there that there’s one guy that needed to finish the drive and it was Max. I’m so proud of him, offensively and defensively. Just a tough, selfless individual.”
Milford (1-1) will get a week off before opening its league campaign at Sharon. Attleboro (0-1) will have its home opener next Saturday afternoon against Dartmouth.
Attleboro got off to a strong start to the 2018 season, jumping out to a 4-1 record with its only loss coming against eventual D2 South champ King Philip, and allowing only five points per game. But a last-minute loss in a shootout against Mansfield and a fourth quarter comeback by Franklin the following week sparked a six-game losing streak to close out the season. The Bombardiers come into 2019 looking to turn that around and use its experience to make a run at the Kelley-Rex title.
Offensively, the Bombardiers will be led by senior quarterback Jason Weir. At a bruising 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Weir is a punishing runner and has a big arm to make plays downfield in the passing game. Junior Justin Daniels will be the starting tailback with senior Isaac Guidel and a big offensive line trying to open holes for the running game, led by senior Qualeem Charles (6-foot-5 and 325 pounds), who has a host of colleges recruiting him. Senior Ethan Cameron will provide a weapon on the outside, while junior Michael Strachan offers another threat over the middle from his tight end position.
Charles will dominate the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball as well, but the strength of the Attleboro defense will be its experienced linebacker corps. Strachan, a three-year starter who is getting looks from some Div. I colleges, will be joined by Guidel and senior Nolan Jaeger. Weir will play strong safety, after two seasons at defensive end, and will be counted on to step in to help stop the run. Cameron will be at free safety and giving the cornerbacks help over the middle. Attleboro has a large contingent of sophomores who could step in to contribute right away, including Alvin Harrison, Chris Leonardo, Adam Pearlstein, and Freddy Wheaton.
Attleboro coach Mike Strachan said, “We are looking forward to the season getting underway and with the leadership of our four captains we are looking to be explosive on offense and very physical defensively. The Hockomock League is one of the best leagues in the state with some great teams. We will have to play our very best each week if we are going to compete at a high level.”
Franklin nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the 2018 season when the Panthers forced perennial power Xaverian to double overtime in the Div. 1 South semifinal. It was a big step forward for the program and head coach Eian Bain hopes it will be a building block for even more success in 2019.
Offensively, the graduation of quarterback Nick Gordon will be a big loss for the Panthers but senior Thomas Gasbarro saw a lot of time under center last year and he will step in and take the starting job. Gasbarro will have plenty of weapons to choose from, as the Panthers have plenty of speedy, athletic players in the skill positions. Senior Jack Nally is a threat out of the backfield or split out wide and his classmate Jake Davis is a solid receiver over the middle or downfield. Senior Matt Lazarek is a potential target from the tight end position and Owen Palmieri is another dangerous ball carrier. Junior Parker Cheuvront emerged last season as one of the top kickers in the Hock and is another weapon that the Panthers can count on if a drive does stall.
The defense is an experienced group. Senior Evan Wertz has been one of the league’s tackle leaders for the past two seasons and he is the team’s top playmaker from his linebacker position. Nally, Davis, Palmieri, and senior Ben Greco give Franklin a tough secondary to throw against and all are capable of coming up with the big turnover to get the ball back in the hands of the offense. Luke Cunningham and Dom Natale will give the Panthers strength at the line of scrimmage.
“The challenge for this group is to continue to improve and build the program,” said Bain. “They need to add their own chapter and their own stamp on the program. We have the right people in the room. We need to play with the swagger and confidence of a contender, but be humble in our preparation. If we stay true to the process, we have great potential.”
Despite not winning the league title last year, the target on King Philip’s back continues to grow.
The Warriors might have missed out on the Kelley-Rex crown, but they won their third straight sectional title and made their this straight appearance in the state final, this time falling to North Andover (6-0). While this year’s senior class knows other than Super Bowl appearances, head coach Brian Lee says this group is focused on taking it one game, starting with the opener against North Attleboro. KP has a strong core of players back on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Robbie Jarest and running back Ryan Halliday. Both players had really strong junior seasons and should be the leaders of the group this year. The offensive line includes returners Nolan Gunning (left tackle), Sean Piller (center), and Pat Zarba (right guard) while Wyatt Manzi, Jack Collentro, and Griffin MacKay are in the mix to fill the remaining spots. Having an experienced line bodes well for the KP run game that will heavily feature Ryan Halliday plus fullback Shawn Conniff and halfbacks Sam Callanan and Crawford Cantave.
The Warriors’ defense has been one of the best units in the state in recent years, and while the expectations remain high for the group, there will be a lot of new faces. KP graduated its entire secondary so the Warriors are turning to senior Brian Wasserug and Cantave, a sophomore, to take on starting spots. Halliday and Callanan, both captains, will handle outside linebacker duties with Mike Malatesta in the mix for the middle spot. Gunning and Manzi will also see action on the defensive line alongside Conniff. Dillon Conti takes over kicking duties for the departed Cole Baker.
“These kids know how much work, how much effort it takes to get where we want to be,” Lee said. “But it’s all about going game by game, starting this week with a team [North Attleboro] that we have a ton of respect for.”
Looking at the long list of returning players, it is no surprise that expectations around Alumni Field are sky high this fall. Mansfield enters the season with experience at just about every position and with the bitter taste of last year’s South final loss to rival King Philip still stinging. Despite a rash of injuries that forced running back Aidan Sacco to play as an emergency quarterback for most of the season, Mansfield still won a league title and this year’s team may be even more talented, which has ramped up the hype and put the target squarely on the Hornets’ backs.
The line of scrimmage will be a strength for the Hornets on the offensive side of the ball, as they return four of five starters from last year’s unit that allowed the team to rush for more than 2,600 yards. Senior Jason Comeau and reigning HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year TJ Guy will be two key cogs in the line, while senior Noah Jellenik and junior Jake McCoy are also back. Senior Andrew Cowles will step into the fifth spot. They will seek to protect senior quarterback Jack Moussette, who had a cameo under center last year before an injury forced him to miss the bulk of the season. The skill positions will be loaded with athletes. Cincere Gill had a breakout sophomore season at running back and senior Nick Marciano is back after an injury cut short his junior season. Senior Michael DeBolt was one of the top kickers in the league but also gives Mansfield another weapon on the edges, while senior Vinnie Holmes adds a bruising presence coming out of the backfield.
Holmes is the headliner on the defensive side of the ball. Along with fellow linebackers Marciano, DeBolt, and senior Joe Plath, Holmes will be expected to make big plays all over the field. The defensive line will be strong with three returning players: senior Chris Graham, McCoy, and Guy. Junior Nico Holmes will step in as the fourth man on the line. Much like on offense, speed will be a strength and the secondary is loaded with playmakers, including Gill, junior Matt Boen, and senior Makhi Baskin.
“We have a bunch of experience all over the field, but we really have to develop depth with the second team to handle a tough schedule and challenges every week,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “This is one of the fastest group of skill guys we’ve ever had and we could be explosive on offense. We lack a little size up front on defense, but we should be able to overcome that by flying around with pursuit to the ball with our speed.”
There was no question that 2018 was a tough season for the Tigers. Oliver Ames lost by a point in the season opener to Concord-Carlisle and didn’t earn its only win until the penultimate game against Durfee. The Tigers will hope to turn things around quickly with an infusion of young talent under new head coach Ed DeWitt.
On offense, the players will be learning a new system, but there is experience in the backfield to try and implement different schemes. Senior running back Nathan Cabral figures to see plenty of the ball again this year after his breakout junior season in which he ran for more than 1,100 yards. He will be joined by senior quarterback Cam Perron and senior running back Sam Stevens to give the Tigers a strong core. Seniors Harrison Webster and Adam Cann (who is coming off an injury) will give Perron weapons to utilize on the outside.
There will be a lot of new faces on the defensive side, as DeWitt can call on three or four returning starters and will need a number of players to provide contributions on both sides of the ball. The linebacking corps was particularly hit by graduations, although senior Tyler Campbell can provide some experience and leadership in that position and Cabral brings athleticism to the role. Max Anderson and Anthony DeCosta will be important at the line of scrimmage, while Stevens will step into the secondary along with senior corner Nick Gillis and junior corner Jadon Ricci.
“The competition in camp has been great,” DeWitt said. “The players have committed to the program and bought into the day to day work that we need to do. We are focusing on making sure we treat every day as an opportunity to improve and string together some positive momentum.”
The Tigers started last season with three straight wins and then finished with three wins in their final four games to end 2018 with a winning record. Taunton enters this fall with a relatively inexperienced roster, but one that is looking to continue the momentum in the program and try to push forward so it can challenge the top teams in the Kelley-Rex division.
One of the biggest changes for the Tigers will be under center. Noah Leonard was the starter for three seasons, but junior Danny MacDougall will take over this year. MacDougall will also see time at receiver to try and take advantage of his athleticism. He will be joined in the backfield by classmates Bretton Heggs and Josh Lopes, who both got time at running back as sophomores. Juniors Kedrick Santos and Devante McPhail will be the primary weapons at receiver. Up front, the Tigers have decent size. Senior Mike Murray will be at center, senior Hussein Kassab at one tackle, junior Marquis Dalomba at the other tackle, and junior Jordan Manning at guard.
Similar to the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers lack experience on defense and are still learning the schemes, but physical scrimmages have helped prepare them for the season. Senior Woudanly Danger is a force at the line of scrimmage and will require attention from opponents and senior Jackson Wellman has been one of the team’s top tacklers from linebacker. Junior defensive end Deandre McPhail adds to the strength of the line. Senior Curt Marshall and MacDougall will be the safeties and senior Cam Carroca will be at corner.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and trying to get better and to be competitive in the league,” said Taunton coach Brad Sidwell. “We’re definitely inexperienced, but physically we have guys who can do it and we need to coach them up so they’ll be ready to go once the season gets started.”
King Philip senior Sam Callanan could be poised for a breakout season as a vital piece of the Warriors’ defense. The bar has been set for the three-time defending South Sectional champs but King Philip did graduate a good amount of its top players from last year’s defensive unit. Callanan will bring experience to the King Philip defensive group and, as a captain, will be relied upon for his leadership both on and off the field. Last year, Callanan had a lot of success coming off the edge, using his speed to get past the offensive line and be disruptive in the backfield. He does a nice job of reading the play and using his speed to track down the play. He’s a versatile player that does a nice job in coverage as well, giving the Warriors some flexibility on defense.
Taunton senior defensive lineman Woudanly Danger lives up to his name, giving the Tigers a force at the line of scrimmage that opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers need to watch out for on every play. Danger had 30 tackles and three sacks from his tackle position, despite regularly facing double teams and blocking schemes designed to try and contain him. He also had 9-1/2 tackles for loss, helping the Tigers finish 2018 with a winning record and build momentum for a run at a playoff spot this fall. Strong and quick, Danger brings his wrestling background to the gridiron, finding ways to gain leverage, clog holes, and get into the backfield. With Danger back in the middle of the line, Taunton’s defense has a solid foundation and could be the strength of the team this season.
Canton senior Kyle Fitzgerald could easily have been on the Players to Watch list for offense as well because the running back and defensive back had a breakout season on both sides of the ball to help the Bulldogs secure a share of the league title for the first time in nearly three decades. Fitzgerald’s speed and his versatility made him a weapon on offense (16 touchdowns), but also made him a tenacious member of the Canton secondary. He recorded 41 tackles, had two interceptions, and recovered a pair of fumbles. A ballhawk, who gives the Bulldogs a solid cover guy on the corner but who can also step up and stop the run, Fitzgerald will be a key to Canton’s defense this season and one of the reasons that the Bulldogs have confidence that they can win back-to-back titles for the first time since winning a fifth straight in 1981.
Foxboro’s Anton George seemed to play better and better throughout the 2018 campaign and will be looking to carry that into 2019 for the Warriors. A HockomockSports.com Hock 5 selection for defensive line, George is a disrupter and we mean that in a good way. He had 62 tackles last season, including five sacks and 11 quarterback hurries — simply put, he was a handful to deal with. He forced a pair of fumbles and deflected a pair of passes as well. A captain this year, George will be looking to anchor Foxboro back to the playoffs. The combination of speed and size helps set him apart from others and makes him a tough matchup for opposing tackles.
The term playmaker is often used when talking about players on the offensive side of the ball, but Stoughton junior Christian Georges does it on the defensive end. Georges made a big splash as a sophomore, playing mostly as a defensive end but also a little time at outside linebacker. He has the strength to power his way past opponents but is also a very quick player and can use his speed to get around. That combination made him a tough match-up last season as he recorded 58 tackles (including 20 for a loss), six sacks, eight pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. He will likely line up at linebacker this season so the Black Knights will rely on him heavily to continue to make plays. He does a great job of tracking the play and then coming up to make the play. Stoughton is typically known for its defense and Georges could be one of the top players in that group.
Mansfield junior lineman TJ Guy, the 2018 HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year, returns on the edge of the Hornets defensive line after a dominant first season on varsity. Guy, who was also in the running for Underclassman of the Year in basketball, had 30 tackles, including 10 solo stops, and was second on the team with seven tackles for loss. His quickness and athleticism at defensive end allowed him to set the edge, take up blockers, and open spaces for Mansfield’s talented linebacking corps. He was also part of an offensive line that opened up holes for the Mansfield ground game, which amassed more than 2,600 yards last season. With expectations sky-high at Alumni Field this fall, Guy is one of the main reasons that this Hornets defensive unit is drawing rave reviews.
One of the premier linebackers in the state, Mansfield senior Vinnie Holmes will close out his record-breaking career with the Hornets as one of the leading candidates for MVP in the Kelley-Rex division this season. Holmes has already eclipsed the 200-tackle mark for his two-year varsity career, was named the 2017 HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year, and has developed into a sideline-to-sideline presence for the Hornets defense. He is one of those players who seems to be in the middle of every play, no matter where on the field it ends up. Holmes had 92 tackles as a junior, including 41 solo, and led Mansfield with 10 tackles for loss. He added three sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries, not to mention eight touchdowns as a running back. Opposing offenses know that they have to account for Holmes, one of the top defensive playmakers in the league, on every single play, and his tenacity drives one of the league’s most complete defensive units.
If you go to a Milford football game this year, one name you’re probably going to hear a lot from the announcer is Luke Rosa. A two-way starter, Rosa was one of the Hawks’ top players last season and earned captain this year. On the defensive side, Rosa lines up at linebacker and is at his best when he’s attacking the ball carrier. He reads the offense really well and does a nice job of finding the gap and is among the top tacklers in the league. Even if it looks like there’s someone to block for the back, Rosa has shown the ability to fight through the first line and get to either the back or quarterback. Offensively, he’s one of the more versatile backs in the league and does everything well. He has great vision with the ball in his hands and can also sneak out and catch a pass in the screen game. Look for Rosa to have a big year on both sides of the ball this year.
Attleboro junior linebacker Michael Strachan is the rare football player who has been on varsity since his freshman season. He enters his second year as a starter in the Bombardiers defense as a highly-recruited prospect and as the team’s leading tackler from 2018. Strachan led Attleboro with more than 80 stops last season and is poised for an even bigger year in the middle of an experienced corps of linebackers. He is also a dangerous weapon at tight end for the Attleboro offense, taking advantage of his size and athleticism to create matchup challenges for opponents. The Bombardiers didn’t finish 2018 the way that they would have hoped, but with Strachan back in the middle behind a big defensive line, Attleboro will be hoping to replicate the 4-1 start they had last year and the meager five points per game that they allowed during that dominant stretch.
Franklin senior linebacker Evan Wertz has been a dominant presence in the heart of the Panthers defense, having already set program records by racking up huge tackle totals every week. Wertz had 122 tackles in 11 games last season (a remarkable 11 per game), including 45 solo stops and 10 tackles for loss. He can also drop into coverage, recording three pass breakups and an interception. Just like Mansfield’s Vinnie Holmes, wherever the ball goes Wertz is there, ranging from sideline to sideline and covering as much ground as any linebacker in the Hock. The Panthers nearly stunned powerhouse Xaverian in the playoffs last season and that has ramped up the momentum and expectations coming into this year. With Wertz leading the defense, Franklin will hope that they can push for the Kelley-Rex title and another long tournament run.
Attleboro @ North Attleboro – Postponed to Wednesday, 5/29 at 6:30.
Foxboro vs. Norton – Postponed to Friday, 5/31 at 3:45.
Mansfield @ St. Peter Marian – Postponed to Saturday, 6/1 at 4:00.
Milford @ King Philip – Postponed to Wednesday, 5/29 at 4:30.
Taunton @ Durfee, 4:00 (@ UMass Dartmouth) – Postponed to Thursday, 5/30 at 4:00.
North Attleboro @ Attleboro – Postponed to Thursday, 5/30 at 3:30.
Canton @ Franklin – Postponed to Friday, 5/31 at 4:00.
King Philip @ Taunton – Postponed to Saturday, 6/1 at 7:00.
Attleboro, 10 @ Norton, 6 – Final – Attleboro closed the season out with a win over Norton with senior Trevor Koppy shinning in net. Koppy made 16 saves to pace the Bombardiers while sophomore Mike Strachan scored a team-high six goals. Junior Thomas Shipman chipped in with three goals and sophomore Matt Perry scored once.
Mansfield, 12 vs. Dartmouth, 11 – Final – The Hornets prevailed in a seesaw affair, netting the game-winning the waning moments of the contest. Junior Brady Kessler scored his team-high sixth goal of the game with just over a minute remaining in the game to give Mansfield a win in its second to last game of the year. Kessler scored on a feed from Nico Holmes for the game winner, the being tied at both halftime (6-6) and after three quarters of play (9-9). Mike Reed added a goal and three assists, Jake Quirk finished with a pair of goals and assists, and Aidan Sacco, Connor Quirk, and Jake DiSangro each scored once.
Milford, 5 vs. Dighton-Rehoboth, 2 – Final
Franklin, 12 @ Cohasset, 11 – Final – Franklin trailed just once in the game, down 2-1 early in the contest, but used a 5-0 run to take a lead that it never surrendered in a back-and-forth contest. The Panthers led 7-5 at halftime before the Skippers knotted the score at 9-9 with 17:20 to play. Franklin was able to outscore the hosts 3-2 over that final span to get the win. Senior Annie Walsh scored five goals and junior Erin Walsh scored a hat trick and had three assists.
Milford, 1 @ Foxboro, 4 – Final
King Philip @ Taunton – Postponed to Thursday, 5/30 at 3:45.
Sharon @ North Attleboro – Postponed to Thursday, 5/30 at 3:45.
Attleboro @ Milford – Postponed to TBD.
North Attleboro @ Sharon – Postponed to Thursday, 5/30 at 3:45.
Oliver Ames, 2 @ Norton, 3 – Final –
Franklin, 7 @ Attleboro, 6 – Final – Franklin battled to a one-run win over Attleboro in a tight-knit affair. Jake Fitzgibbons had two hits for the Panthers along with an RBI while Jack Nally (run, two walks), Cooper Ross (two runs, RBI), and JB Floris (run) each had one hit. Alex Haba added a run and Shane O’Neil scored the game-winning run for the Panthers. Liam Dailey got the win, tossing a complete game with eight hits allowed, three walks, and five earned runs. Tim Callahan and Nick McMahon each had two hits and two runs scored, Alvaro Espinal and Camden Fitzpatrick each drove in two runs, and Lorenzo Wilson had an RBI for the Bombardiers.
Foxboro, 0 @ North Attleboro, 2 – Final – North Attleboro scored one in the first and added another single run in the fourth, while sophomore Dennis Colleran (6IP, 2H, 4BB, 9K) had one of his best performance of the season. With the win the Rocketeers will finish no worse than second place in the Davenport division, which earns the defending D2 State champs a spot in the state tournament this year. Sophomore Jared Penta plated senior Brendan McHugh (single) with a sacrifice fly in the first. In the fifth, Shawn Watters singled and eventually scored on an error. Foxboro threatened with runners on second and third with one out in the sixth but Colleran got a fly ball and a strikeout. Kyle Bolger added two hits for North while Kyle Briere pitched a 1-2-3 seventh for the save. Foxboro’s Michael Devlin was strong in the loss, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks in four innings.
King Philip, 6 vs. Bishop Feehan, 5 – Final – King Philip struck for four runs in the fifth inning to earn a win at home over visiting Bishop Feehan. Terry Murray pitched five innings and helped his own cause at the plate with two hits and three RBI. David Morganelli added two hits and an RBI for KP.
Mansfield, 0 vs. Bridgewater-Raynham, 2 – Final (8 Inn.)
Canton, 8 @ Sharon, 10 – Final – Sharon softball closed out its season with a victory against division rival Canton to finish with five wins this year. Sophomore Sneha Kini went 3-for-5 and scored three times for the Eagles and freshman Trinity Payne went 2-for-4 in the game and drove in four with a first inning grand slam. Freshman Savannah Gray and senior Lauren Yaffe each had three hits, while seniors Rebecca Clayman and Alli Small both had a pair of hits and combined for three runs scored. Julia Earley had a hit and two runs scored for Sharon as well.
Foxboro, 4 vs. Medway, 9 – Final
Milford, 0 @ Franklin, 8 – Final – Franklin took an early 2-0 lead and then saw its first four batters come around to score in the fifth on its way to a shutout win over Milford. Ally Shea (walk) and Maddy White (3-for-4, three runs, double) each scored on the first to put the Panthers ahead, and White (error), Sarah Jackson (triple), courtesy runnerKatie Smith (Jackie Cherry single), and Emily Valentino (single) all scored in the fifth. Cherry struck out 13 to earn the win for Franklin, allowing two hits and two walks over six innings.
Attleboro, 6 @ Stoughton, 5 – Final (OT) – Attleboro senior Cam Littig scored with less than a minute to go to lift the Bombardiers to a win on the road over Stoughton. Sophomore Mike Strachan and freshman Ryan Betts each scored twice while junior Thomas Shipman found the back of the net once for the Bombardiers. Senior Trevor Koppy made 14 saves in net to help Attleboro earn the win.
King Philip, 5 @ Franklin, 19 – Final – Franklin played a complete game, building a double-digit lead by halftime and never looking back to beat visiting King Philip in a non-league clash. Annie Walsh led the charge with seven goals and two assists, Erin Walsh added four goals and two helpers, and Kelsey MacCallum added three goals and two assists. Hailey Toolin anchored a strong defensive effort in front of Gianna Cameron (seven saves).
Mansfield, 22 @ Watertown, 20 – Final
Milford, 6 vs. Nipmuc, 15 – Final – Sophia Bucal scored three goals for Milford but the hosts fell to visiting Nipmuc. Emily Haley and Elena Bon Tempo each had a goal and an assist, Stella Amour scored once, and Jill Michelson added an assist.
Sharon, 10 @ Ursuline Academy, 20 – Final
North Attleboro, 5 @ Attleboro. 0 – Final – Click here for a photo gallery of this match. – North Attleboro juniors Will Redding and Isa Siddiq debuted at second singles, earning a straight set win in the Rocketeer’s sweep of rival Attleboro. Redding and Siddiq won 6-2, 6-0 while the first doubles of Tomas Bentley and Vikram Senthilakumaran picked up a 6-1, 6-4 win at first doubles. Sophomore Jonah Manso (first singles), sophomore Sam Gallagher (second singles) and senior Saketh Uppuluri each won 6-0, 6-0 for North.
Franklin, 2 vs. Hopedale, 3 – Final – Franklin’s Liam Marr, Saketh Saripalli, and Vayshnav Malhotra each won but the Panthers fell under the lights to visiting Hopedale. Marr won 6-2, 6-2 at first singles while Saripalli and Malhotra picked up a 6-3, 6-4 win at first doubles.
Stoughton, 5 vs. Brockton, 0 – Final – Stoughton picked up a pair of wins over the Boxers, playing two eight game pro sets and sweeping visiting Brockton. Waseem Sablon won 8-0, 8-0 at first singles, Erik Anderson earned a 8-2, 8-1 win decision at second singles, freshman Anish Sinha took an 8-2, 8-1 win at third singles, and Hassan Khan and LJ Ferrandiz each won 8-2, 8-3, respectively.
Mansfield, 3 vs. Westwood, 2 – Final – Mansfield won all three singles matches to edge Westwood in a non-league clash. Senior Luke Nickerson won 6-0, 6-1 at first singles, senior Luke Devine picked up a 6-3, 6-2 win at second singles, and junior Nilay Pangrekar clinched the win with a 6-3, 6-0 victory at third singles.
King Philip, 3 vs. Bishop Feehan, 2 – Final – King Philip won a pair of singles matches and one more in doubles action to edge non-league rival Bishop Feehan. Nick Putney picked up a 6-0, 6-2 win at second singles while Jack Cannon grabbed a 6-1, 6-0 win at third singles. The team of Nate Ihley and Zak Ryan emerged from first doubles with a 6-1, 6-2 win.
Milford, 3 @ Medway, 2 – Final – Milford senior Riley Lynch prevailed in a three set thriller, pulling out the win to secure the victory for the Scarlet Hawks. Lynch emerged with a 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 at second singles while classmate Brendan O’Shaughnessy earned a 6-1, 6-2 win at first singles and senior Cam Doherty picked up a 6-2, 6-4 win at third singles.
Attleboro, 3 @ North Attleboro, 2 – Final – The Bombardiers went on the road and took two wins in singles action and prevailed in three sets at second doubles to secure the win over rival North Attleboro. The team of Jordan Benardo and Rena Danho battled back to earn a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win at second doubles to clinch the win. Ella Lynch-Bartek added a 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 comeback win at first and Bri Aronne notched a 6-1, 6-0 win at second singles for Attleboro. North’s Olivia Wills won 6-0, 6-0 at third singles and the team of Haley Strom and Sam Martino prevailed 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), retired/injury.
Franklin, 1 @ Oliver Ames, 4 – Final – Oliver Ames defended home court, sweeping singles action and grabbing one more win in doubles play. Sarah Leger won 6-3, 6-1 at first singles and Maura Kiernan picked up a 6-0, 6-0 win at second singles. The team of Eva Belanger and Morgan Vasiliou emerged with a 6-4, 6-4 win at first doubles. Franklin’s Krissy Stoyonova and Vagmi Kantheti won 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 at second doubles.
Stoughton @ Brockton, 3:45
King Philip, 4 @ Bishop Feehan, 1 – Final
King Philip, 0 @ Taunton, 3 – Final – Taunton avenged a loss to the Warriors from earlier in the season to get a 3-0 sweep (25-10, 25-20, 25-23) on Senior Night and qualify for the state tournament for the third straight season. Senior Gage Kingman had a team-high 13 kills for the Tigers, senior Alex Tavares added nine kills, and senior Jason Khang chipped in with seven digs. King Philip’s Eric Altobello had a team-high nine kills, Jimmy Peterson added five kills, Kyle Desrochers added 14 digs, and Cam Corey dished out 21 assists for the Warriors, who finish their inaugural regular season at 14-3.
Oliver Ames, 9 @ King Philip, 8 – Final – Oliver Ames scored three runs in the top of the sixth inning, punctuated by a two-run double and run scored by Chris Pearsons, who also tossed four scoreless innings in relief, as the Tigers finished a comeback attempt at KP. Pearsons drove in Jared Spillane (HBP) and Kyle O’Connor (single), and then came around to scored on a single from Nick Marks. Pearsons didn’t allow a walk in his relief appearance, allowing the Tigers to claw back into the game. Spillane also had two hits and an RBI while Sean O’Brien had two RBI and a strong game defensively in center.
Taunton @ Mansfield – Postponed to Saturday, 5/4 at 12:00 at Taunton.
Sharon, 7 @ Stoughton, 13 – Final
Canton, 11 @ Milford, 7 – Final – Canton junior Caroline Hughes had a strong day in the circle and gave the Bulldogs a boost offensively in a road win at Milford. She struck out five and had three hits at the plate, driving in three runs. Jackie Morrissey (3-for-4) hit her first home run and Steph Trendell chipped in with three hits for Canton. Milford junior Megan Hart went 3-for-4 with a double two runs and two RBI while junior Amanda Wenckus (RBI, two runs), freshman Olivia Morelli (run, RBI) and senior Molly Moschilli (three RBI) each had two hits.
King Philip @ Oliver Ames – Postponed to a date and time to be announced.
Mansfield, 1 @ Taunton, 6 – Final – Mansfield took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third but Taunton sophomore Hanna Aldrich connected for a grand slam in the bottom half, highlighting a six-run inning as the Tigers earned a win over the visiting Hornets. Mansfield’s Mary Muldoon singled, advanced to second on a sac bunt and scored on a double from Mady Bendanillo to take the lead. But Aldrich smacked her league-leading seventh home run in the bottom half to help the hosts pull ahead. Aldrich also had three stolen bases and had a stellar day defensively at short, as did McKenzie McAloon at second and Kelsey White in the circle. White allowed five hits total while striking out six. Alexa White added two hits and a run, Rylie Murphy had a hit and an RBI, and McAloon went 1-for-3 with a run scored. Sarah Cahill allowed five hits in the circle for Mansfield, who also got hits from Caty DeMassi, Ella Verheggen, and Emma Roche.
Stoughton, 11 @ Sharon, 0 – Final – Stoughton sophomore Nicole Baker allowed just two hits and walked one, striking out 11 in a strong performance on the road. The Black Knights had 19 hits as a team with Lexi Baptista and Brianna Ferrandiz leading the way with three apiece. Karly Estremera (two RBI), Jordan Lyons (RBI), Nikki Coppola, Julia Driscoll, and Baker (three RBI) each had two hits while Melody Casna and Sydney Menz each contributed one hit for Stoughton.
Stoughton, 2 @ Attleboro, 9 – Final – Attleboro sophomore Mike Strachan scored a hat trick and senior Trevor Koppy made 12 saves behind a stellar defensive performance to lead the Bombardiers to a non-league win over Stoughton. Junior Thomas Shipman added two coals for Attleboro while junior Cam McKenna, sophomore Aidan Diggin, and freshman Keigan Conley each scored once.
Foxboro, 6 @ Newton North, 10 – Final – Foxboro’s Brendan Tully and Bobby Yerardi (assist) each scored twice but the Warriors fell on the road at Newton North. Pete Conley and Shayne Kerrigan each scored once while Ronnie MacLellan had a strong game defensively.
Sharon, 5 @ Shrewsbury, 13 – Final
Canton, 20 @ Quincy, 15 – Final
Foxboro, 9 vs. Notre Dame Academy, 18 – Final
Mansfield vs. Ashland, 4:30
Sharon, 11 vs. Ursuline Academy, 12 – Final (2OT) – Sharon rallied from a four-goal deficit at halftime (9-5) to tie the game at the end of regulation but fell in double overtime to visiting Ursuline Academy. Jenna Goldstein had a team-high six goals, Emma Eberhardt totaled seven points with three goals and four assists, Bridget McManus scored twice, and Mia Lappen had an assist for the Eagles.
Taunton @ New Bedford, 4:00
Canton @ Milford – Postponed to a date and time to be announced.
King Philip @ Oliver Ames – Postponed to a date and time to be announced.
Stoughton @ Sharon – Postponed to Thursday, 5/9 at 3:45.
Mansfield @ Taunton, 3:45
Milford @ Canton – Postponed to a date and time to be announced.
Oliver Ames @ King Philip – Postponed to a date and time to be announced.
Sharon @ Stoughton – Postponed to Thursday, 5/9 at 3:45.
Taunton @ Mansfield, 3:45
King Philip, 3 @ Keefe Tech, 1 – Final – King Philip jumped out to a two game lead and then earned a win in the fourth game to prevent a comeback from Keefe Tech to win 3-1 (25-9, 25-21, 21-25, 25-16). Cam Corey had a strong game for the Warriors, dishing out 39 assists, adding 17 service points and finishing with seven digs. Eric Altobello (13 kills), Jimmy Peterson (10 kills), and Billy Hughes (six kills, block) paced the Warriors’ offense while Kyle Desrochers (10 digs) and Alex Bernhard (four digs) shined defensively.
ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The North Attleboro players looked around for Hilda, the trophy awarded to the winner of this Thanksgiving rivalry, but the trophy was nowhere to be found. So, instead, the Rocketeers lifted freshman kicker and quarterback Tyler DeMattio to celebrate another win in the long-running series with Attleboro.
It was fitting that DeMattio’s teammates would lift him up after the game, since he stepped up in the second half and propelled North to the victory.
In his first snaps as varsity quarterback, DeMattio scored three touchdowns and accounted for all of North’s points on Thursday morning at a bitterly cold Tozier-Cassidy Field, sparking North to a come from behind 20-7 win over the Bombardiers.
“Tyler is a talented player, who has had a great year as a freshman and we’ve been watching him all along and felt like he was the next best available quarterback, so got him ready,” said North coach Don Johnson about DeMattio stepping in for the second half. He joked that DeMattio was North’s “secret weapon” and agreed that he was the “spark” that the Rocketeers needed.
Attleboro came close to adding to its 7-0 halftime lead on its first possession of the second half. Justin Cote (24 carries, 114 yards) and Jason Weir (14 carries, 95 yards) continued to find seams in the North defense and moved the ball down to the Rocketeers eight, using up almost the entire third quarter in the process.
DeMattio took over from sophomore quarterback Matt Penta (nine carries, 43 yards), who replaced Nick Raneri as the starter following Raneri’s shoulder injury against Duxbury. After a pair of keepers, the freshman dropped back and heaved a ball down field. It avoided a group of Attleboro defenders and fell into the hands of Ryan Gaumond, who raced the rest of the way to the end zone for an 85-yard score that tied the game with just 59 seconds left in the third.
“That was the momentum changer no question,” said Johnson. “That was a pop-up thrown by the freshman but that’s pretty good that your first varsity pass is a touchdown on Thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter what it looks like.”
Attleboro coach Mike Strachan said, “The catch that Gaumond made in the wind, I think that turned the game for us. It really did and DeMattio gave them a spark.”
Attleboro’s next possession ended with a turnover. Brendan McHugh (nine carries, 38 yards) took advantage of a slip by Michael Strachan and picked off Weir’s pass to get the ball back at the Attleboro 30. Three keepers later and DeMattio slipped through the middle of the Bombardiers defense for a seven-yard score and the lead.
The game had turned around for the visitors in just three minutes.
“I’m proud of the way we played,” Strachan said, “we just got away from a few things, fundamentally, in the second half and I think DeMattio did a good job.”
The Bombardiers had a chance to tie the game. After a Strachan carry, Attleboro was as close as the North four-yard-line, but Duane Bryant got into the backfield and stuffed Cote for a six-yard loss on third down. On fourth and nine, Cote’s pass to Ethan Cameron was tipped aside by Bryan Engler.
“A couple turnovers down inside and we just can’t do that,” said Strachan. “I said turnovers would play a big part in this and ended up being a huge part of it in the end.”
North still needed a first down to seal the win. The Rocketeers got that and a lot more, as DeMattio broke through the middle and raced 90 yards for his third touchdown of the game and the cue for the Attleboro crowd to head to its cars.
“They were running Weir on the quarterback follows, so we had trouble with that, and Cote was doing a great job bouncing the powers outside and we weren’t getting good force,” said Johnson about the change North made defensively in the second half. It was mentioned that the defensive line, led by Kummer and Davenport division MVP Ryan Clemente, dominated after the break and Johnson responded, “They did, but I thought the secondary did a good job coming up and making plays in the run game.”
Attleboro was on its heels at the start of the game, as North drove into the wind all the way to the Bombardiers 10. On first and goal, the Rocketeers fumbled the hand-off and Raneri dove on the ball for a loss of two. Penta was stopped by a host of Bombardiers on second down, including Nick Evans, and gained only one. Isaac Guidel pressured Penta into an incomplete pass on third down and then the fourth down pass to McHugh was inches out of the back of the end zone.
“It was disappointing, I think it would’ve changed the complexion of the game,” said Johnson of the first drive. “But, give Attleboro credit, they played good defense and stopped us.”
The Bombardiers flipped the momentum by driving down field and taking the lead. Cote gained 18 yards on a third-down toss to the left and Weir broke free for 44 yards on a pair of keepers to get inside the North five. Cote punched it in from two yards out to make it 7-0.
The teams traded turnovers for the remainder of the half. Desmond Woodson recovered a fumble, but Attleboro went three-and-out to give it back. Then Cameron picked off a Penta pass, only for Engler to intercept a Weir pass inside the 10. Weir got the ball back with a fumble recovery just before halftime to keep the Bombardiers in the lead at the break.
North Attleboro closes the season at 8-3 and won its 61st game in the series, which had its 98th Thanksgiving Day installment on Thursday. Attleboro closes the season at 4-7.
MANSFIELD, Mass. – All the build-up to Friday night’s Kelley-Rex division title showdown at Alumni Field presumed that Mansfield and Attleboro were going to slug it out in a defensive battle with points difficult to come by. It turned out to be the exact opposite.
Senior Khristian Conner scored with 32 seconds remaining in the game to give Mansfield the edge over the Bombardiers 42-35 and clinch the Hornets at least a share of the league title. It is Mansfield’s first division championship since 2013.
“It means everything,” said Conner about getting back on top in the league. “We worked hard over the summer for it. We just kept with it, didn’t let anything stop us and we just got the win. It feels amazing. It feels awesome.
Mansfield coach Mike Redding added, “This was an unbelievable high school football game. They came to play, they answered every time we had the momentum. Thank god we answered when they did.” Redding joked, “So many plays on both sides…it will be a fun one to watch; it was a tough one to coach.”
Attleboro took its only lead of the game with 1:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. Justin Cote (seven carries, 50 yards), who had also caught a 20-yard pass on the go-ahead drive, raced up the middle for a 12-yard score that tied the game at 34-34. Two false starts pushed the extra point attempt back 10 yards but sophomore Colby Briggs was unfazed and split the uprights to put the visitors in front.
The Bombardiers had forced Mansfield to punt just twice on the night, but after Nick Evans sacked Hornets quarterback Aidan Sacco for no gain the hosts faced fourth and 10 from their own 26. Sacco (5-of-8, 111 yards) bought time and hit Cincere Gill for 28 yards over the middle. The sophomore, who rushed for three touchdowns on the night, was covered but managed to pull in the pass to keep the game alive.
Sacco (nine carries, 79 yards) rushed for nine yards and then broke free on a keeper to the left sideline for 26 yards and got out of bounds at the Attleboro 11. On the next play, Conner completed the comeback by finding a seam right up the gut for the score.
“They’re a really good team – good defensive team, good on offense – and they have great players but we just had to fight through it to be the better team,” Conner said.
Attleboro’s offense had found ways to come back all game long, but with only 32 seconds, there just wasn’t enough time to get up the field and a pass to Cote for four yards on fourth and 10 ended the game.
“Our offense played really, really well,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “Weir played awesome, it was just back-and-forth. We could definitely win the game, we just didn’t give him enough time at the end.”
Both offenses were able to move the ball from the opening kick-off. Mansfield took its opening possession 56 yards on seven plays to get a quick lead. Gill finished off the drive with a seven-yard sweep.
The Bombardiers returned the favor with a 12-play, 75-yard drive on its first possession. Attleboro surprised the Hornets by going to the air with greater frequency than usual and junior Jason Weir (18-29, 251 yards) had a big night, hitting nine different receivers. After catching a halfback pass from Ethan Cameron (five catches, 69 yards), Weir capped the drive with a three-yard toss to Jacob Weatherford.
Mansfield got the lead back late in the second quarter when Sacco threw a 26-yard strike to Conner, who had gotten wide open in the front corner of the end zone. Attleboro answered right back, as Weir connected with sophomore Justin Daniels to make it 14-14 with 2:28 left in the half.
That was plenty of time for Mansfield to add another touchdown. Sacco got the Hornets to the Attleboro 31 and then Gill broke free for his second score of the night. He cut back on a sweep, finding a hole in the middle of the line and exploding through it.
“He’s special and I think we have a very good running back,” Redding said of Gill. “Vinnie [Holmes] had some decent runs, but they were bottling us up inside and Khristian ran hard, Cincere ran hard, Aidan had some nice runs and throws and just doing enough to overcome some injuries.”
Even with just a minute on the clock, Attleboro was able to get the ball into the red zone again and had a touchdown called back when the officials ruled Weir had cross the line of scrimmage before he threw. Makhi Baskin picked off the final throw of the half. Coming out of the break, the Bombardiers got the ball again, but on the first play Weir was stripped of the ball and Holmes recovered for the Hornets at the Attleboro 23.
Mansfield took advantage of the short field and Sacco got on the board with an 11-yard keeper to make it 28-14. It felt like the Hornets were about to break the game wide open. Instead, Attleboro came right back down field and cut the lead to one score. A 13-play, 75 yard drive ended on a one-yard sneak by Weir to make it 28-21.
The track meet continued on Mansfield’s next possession. Sacco hit Conner for a 26-yard completion to get into Attleboro territory. Four plays later, on fourth and two from the 21, Gill took another sweep around the end and broke free, adding his third touchdown of the night. Attleboro would give itself a lifeline by blocking Michael DeBolt’s extra point attempt, but it was a 13-point Mansfield lead.
Attleboro made it a quick response. Weir got the ball out to the sideline to Kevin Velazquez-Rivera, who then turned up field and showed off his speed for a 45-yard touchdown. Evans made a huge stop on third and five, stuffing Sacco for a four-yard loss and forcing a rare Mansfield punt.
The Bombardiers came right back, with Weir connecting with Cameron on a fourth down pass to the near sideline that kept the drive going. After a 20-yard completion to Cote, the senior running back took it himself, going straight up the middle for the 12-yard TD. Briggs held his nerve to put Attleboro in front and on the verge of arguably the program’s biggest win since its move to the Hock.
But, Mansfield showed that it has some grit as well. The Hornets found a way to pull out the victory and will go into the final week of the regular season with a chance to clinch the title outright.
“These games just always seem to go back-and-forth,” Strachan said. “We’ve just got to bounce back against Franklin and play well. I thought we did a good job; they’ve got athletes everywhere, you’ve got to defend everything.”
Redding noted that the Hornets lost a pair of seniors, Chris Copponi and Daenin Walker, to injuries. He said, “We’ve had adversity every week but still find a way to beat an awfully good football team.”
Mansfield (5-1, 4-0) will travel to Oliver Ames next week to try and close out a perfect league campaign and potentially take the top spot in Div. 2 South. Attleboro (4-2, 2-2) will try to bounce back and possibly secure a first round home game in the Div. 1 South tournament with a trip to Franklin.