Teams of the Decade #9: 2019 Mansfield Football

Mansfield football

Team: Mansfield Football
Year: 2019
Record: 11-1
2019 Kelley-Rex Division Champions
2019 Division 2 State Champions


Even though the Mansfield football team walked off the field at Lancer Stadium in Ohio with a loss to La Salle in Week 2, longtime head coach Mike Redding still had a good feeling about his Hornets.

“I was talking to some of our coaches after that game and I said ‘this team can win a state championship,'” Redding said. “Here we are, just lost by 22, but the way we competed out there against a high-level team. It was probably one of the more talented teams we’ve played in 32 years and we came up short on the scoreboard, but if you look at the film play by play, we stood up pretty equally to them.

“The feeling walking off that field…when we go back home and get everybody back on board, we could have a pretty special group that can play against anyone in Massachusetts.”

And that’s exactly what happened. The Hornets bulldozed through their league schedule, grinding out a tough win at KP while outscoring the other four Kelley-Rex opponents 152-28. The playoffs were more of the same as the Hornets limited tournament foes to a total of 15 points through four games played, including a 41-0 rout in the D2 State Championship over Lincoln-Sudbury.

The Mansfield football team opened the season with a convincing win over BC High before hitting the road for a trip to Ohio against La Salle. The Lancers featured at least a dozen Division I commits at the time of the game, including Northwestern bound running back Cameron Porter. While the scoreboard favored the hosts, Mansfield walked away with plenty of positives, including an edge in yardage on offense, and its swarming defense limited Porter to 30 yards on the ground.

The dominance back in Massachusetts wasn’t a gigantic shock as the Hornets entered the season as one of the favorites in both the Hockomock League and in the state. It felt like three years in the making as Mansfield football returned a boatload of returning players with either one or two years experience. Two seasons prior, the Hornets were swept by rival King Philip, who went on to win the state championship. A year prior, Mansfield won the regular season matchup and took home the division title but the Warriors got the last laugh in the playoffs. This season, Mansfield won both meetings, the latter earning a spot in the south final.

“I think it was back in January before the season, we were pretty honest with them and told them they had a chance to compete for the league title, which is challenging enough, but when you get in the playoffs, this is a team that can make a run towards a state title,” Redding said. “The last couple of years, we’ve lost a couple of high-level kids due to injuries.

“I think it was a big motivation for a lot of guys in this group because they had come so close before but couldn’t finish on the field because of injuries so they were a pretty hungry group. As coaches, we just hold our breath hoping they stay healthy because they have worked so hard and they deserve a chance to compete, win or lose, and you just don’t want them sitting on the sidelines watching.”

The offense started with senior quarterback Jack Moussette, who was like a coach on the field for the Hornets with his ability to manage the game. It was a pick-your-poison backfield that featured seniors Vinnie Holmes (895 yards, 8 TD), Michael DeBolt (402 yards, 6 TD), and Nick Marciano (334 yards, 6 TD) along with star junior Cincere Gill (979 yards, 10 TD). With the help of a strong, talented offensive line featuring Andrew Cowles, TJ Guy, Jake McCoy, Noah Jellenik, and Jason Comeau, the Hornets could break out a big run on any given play. Moussette (914 yards, 11 TD) connected with receiver Danny Rapoza (4 TD) for a team-high 20 receptions. On top of that, DeBolt was one of the best kickers in the area with nine field goals and 38 successful PATs.

“From the first practice we all knew we had the opportunity to be a special team,” Holmes said. “I think that the first two games prepared us for how we need to play for the rest of the season, fast and physical. We all knew we were going to be faster and more physical than whoever lined up across from us, and the La Salle game sparked that intensity. Bringing that intensity into the league paid off as we were able to get another league title.

“Going into the playoffs we knew we had a great shot at winning a state title if we can keep up our level of play. I think we soared over our original expectations by a long shot outscoring our opponents 121-15 in a four-game span on our way to a state championship season. One thing that stood out to me that I think clicked in the playoff run is that everyone knew their roles and did exactly what they were supposed to and we executed extremely well.”

As dominant as the Hornets were on offense (29.8 points per game), Mansfield’s defense was equally as powerful as they allowed under 10 points per game against some of the best competition in the state. Massachusetts foes averaged just over seven points per game with Mansfield holding opponents to seven points or less in seven contests. Similar to the offense, it all started up front with the line play, including Guy, Chris Graham, Mark DeGirolamo, and Nico Holmes. To complement that group, Mansfield football had a loaded group of linebackers (Holmes, Joe Plath, Paden Palanza) and a very talented secondary (Makhi Baskin, Nick Bertolino).

“I think it was definitely one of the more talented teams I’ve had in the three decades plus that I’ve coached,” Redding said. “It was one of those teams that had the rare combination of being really good up front on the o-line and the d-line, which is usually enough to be competitive, but then you throw in a very, very talented group of skill players on both sides. We had the running backs and receivers, and the linebackers and secondary on defense.

“Top to bottom, it was really hard to find a weakness. So many of them had contributed the previous year or two so they came in with a pretty high level of experience. In high school, if you can put that package of skill, physical and tough kids up front, and a group that’s battle tested and confident, that’s usually a recipe for a championship run.”






Mansfield football
Mansfield football

Opponent
Result
BC HighW, 31-10 (Recap)
La Salle (OH)L, 38-16
TauntonW, 31-6
King PhilipW, 15-13 (Recap)
FranklinW, 39-9 (Recap)
Oliver AmesW, 36-6
AttleboroW, 46-7
MarshfieldW, 24-6
King PhilipW, 34-6 (Recap)
NatickW, 22-3 (Recap)
FoxboroW, 22-12
Lincoln-SudburyW, 41-0 (Recap)






Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football


Mansfield football
Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football

Mansfield football


Mansfield Secondary Steals The Show At Gillette

Mansfield football Nick Bertolino
Mansfield junior Nick Bertolino intercepts a pass in the end zone late in the second quarter of the D2 State Championship at Gillette Stadium. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
MANSFIELD, Mass. – Throughout the season, we’ve seen the Mansfield defensive line wreak havoc in opponents’ backfields, and the Hornets’ linebacking corps deny top running attacks.

In the Division 2 State Championship at Gillette Stadium, it was the secondary that took center stage.

The Hornets corners and safeties combined for three interceptions, including a game-changing takeaway late in the second quarter, to help Mansfield run away with a 41-0 win and the program’s eighth state title.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

With such a large margin of victory, it might seem unlikely that the game changed on one play. But instead of holding a one-score lead at halftime and having to kick off to the Warriors, an interception turned into a three-score lead.

With a 14-0 lead and the clock ticking away in the first half, Lincoln-Sudbury’s offense got a sudden jolt after a 15-yard penalty and a broken play that resulted in a 54-yard run from Warrior junior Jack Malone.

Mansfield senior corner Makhi Baskin fought off a would-be blocker, making a tackle inside the 10-yard line to prevent Lincoln-Sudbury from getting on the board. While it looked like a simple hustle play, the ensuing plays proved how big it was.

The Hornet defense, faced with their first red zone challenge with the Warriors starting at the 7-yard line, came up big.

The first play went backward as the Hornets came buzzing in to halt the Warriors after a bad snap. The teams traded penalties with a hold pushing L-S back 10 yards, only to regain half of that on an offside call.

Facing second down from the 18-yard line, L-S senior receiver Griffin Brown found an open spot against the Hornets’ defense in the end zone near the left sideline.

L-S junior quarterback Collin Murphy floated a pass that looked destined to drop into Brown’s waiting arms, but Mansfield junior corner Nick Bertolino read the play and timed his jump perfectly, cutting in front of the receiver and hauling in his first career interception.

“We were in zone and I was supposed to play in the flat…the guy got around me and I had great help over the top,” Bertolino said. “I just read the quarterback’s eyes, dropped back, and went up and got it.

“It felt like it was a big game-changer. They were driving on us some and had that big run but we got the ball back and went down and scored, and I felt like that kind of sealed the game.”

The Hornets marched 80 yards on eight plays, capped by a four-yard touchdown from senior Vinnie Holmes with just over a minute left in the half, and just like that, Mansfield held a 21-0 advantage.

“They had that nice run, and they threw a nice fade and I thought they had a touchdown,” admitted Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “Nick Bertolino came out of nowhere, that was a big play. [If they scored] it makes the game interesting at half but instead we get the pick and go down and score, and it goes from 14-7 to 21-0 that. I thought that was the turning point of the game for us to be able to extend the lead, and then put them away in the second half.”

While it doesn’t stand out as much as the interception, the tackle from Baskin just a couple of plays earlier inside the 10-yard line proved to be a game-changer.

“That saved a touchdown,” Redding said. “The defense keeps playing, even if its first and goal from the one, they are battling to keep the other team out of the end zone.”

For Baskin, it was just a play he knew he had to make.

“We always go by the motto of ‘never surrender’…we just never give up, and that’s what I did on that play, and then we got the big interception,” Baskin said. “We take a lot of pride in the secondary. We have a lot of camaraderie with each other.”

Bertolino’s interception wasn’t the first or the last by the Hornet secondary in the game. The first came on the Warriors’ first possession. Mansfield was forced to punt after its opening drive stalled, and a miskick on the punt gave L-S decent starting field position near midfield.

But just a couple plays into the series, safety Michael DeBolt came down with a deflected pass for an interception to get the ball right back. And the Hornets cashed in when Jack Moussette connected with a wide-open Everett Knowlton for the opening score.

Lincoln-Sudbury ventured into the red zone for the first time in the second half but were stuffed on a run play and Bertolino and DeBolt combined for a pass breakup in the end zone.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Bertolino entered the state championship with a team-high nine pass breakups.

“He’s played great as a junior,” Redding said of Bertolino. “He’s a really good cover guy. He kind of had a breakout year, he played JV last year and didn’t play any varsity. He lines up and plays 12 weeks at corner and did a great job for us.”

After holding Murphy to just five completions for 52 yards (one play for 44 yards, the other four for eight or less yards), the Mansfield secondary capped its night when Baskin came up with his team-high third interception this season.

“This defense, even when [L-S] got inside the ten, we kept saying they’re not going to get it in, they’re not going to get it in,” Redding said. “It’s tough against our defense when you’re that close because our coverage tightens up, defense gets aggressive, and we knew we’d make them work. They wanted a shutout today, and it’s a great way to end it the way this defense has played all year.”

Mansfield Meets Massive Expectations with Super Finish

Mansfield football
The Mansfield football team celebrates with its Division 2 State Championship trophy. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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FOXBORO, Mass. – Almost from the moment that last season ended at Fenway Park, talk started about how this year’s Mansfield team had the potential to win it all. The Hornets have matched those massive expectations at every step this year and they may have saved the very best for the biggest stage of all.

Under the bright lights of the Div. 2 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium, Mansfield (11-1) put together its most dominant performance of the season, shutting out North champion Lincoln-Sudbury 41-0 to win its first state championship since 2013. The Hornets out-gained the Warriors 358-137, picked off three passes, and allowed only five first downs on the night.

“I’ve been in a bunch of Super Bowls, but nothing like this,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding, who earned his eighth Super Bowl win in his 11th appearance. “Too many weapons on offense, too much experience, just a dominant defense.

He added, “This year, we’re an elite team. Just amazing skill, we’re great up front, and I don’t know if we have a weakness as far as high school teams go.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Senior Vinnie Holmes put together an MVP performance in his final high school game. Not only was the linebacker and ever-present on the defensive side of the ball, but he also spearheaded the Mansfield ground game. Holmes gained 145 yards on just nine carries and scored three touchdowns.

“My o-line does a great job all the time for me,” said Holmes of linemen Noah Jellenik, TJ Guy, Jason Comeau, Andrew Cowles, and Jake McCoy. “I just found some running lanes and I was able to capitalize on them.

“I told myself I was going to have the best game of my life tonight and I think that’s what I did.”

Redding added, “When he’s on the field, we’re tough to beat. He’s got a great group around him but he’s a special player and we’re going to miss him an awful lot. We tried to get him the ball as much as we could today and he did his job as usual.”

Holmes stole the headlines but this was a complete team performance.

L-S tried an onside kick to start the game and Shane Downey grabbed it to give Mansfield the ball at its own 47. Although that drive stalled, Michael DeBolt got the ball right back when he picked off Collin Murphy’s second pass of the night and the Hornets were in business again at their own 48.

A 36-yard counter by Holmes put Mansfield inside the 10. Two of the Hornets’ eight penalties in the first half backed them up but Jack Moussette (6-of-8, 98 yards) ran a perfect play action fake and then hit a wide open Everett Knowlton down the seam for a 14-yard score.

“Jack had a night,” said Redding. “He was spot on. When we’re clicking with all our weapons, there’s not a bad play call on the sheet.”

Another three-and-out and the Hornets got the ball in L-S territory. Mousette connected with Cincere Gill (92 total yards) for a 31-yard completion to the four. Two plays later, Nick Marciano doubled the lead with a three-yard keeper.

A roughing the passer call on a third down incompletion let L-S move the chains for the first time on the night. Jack Malone cut back against the grain for a 54-yard run down to the Mansfield seven. It looked like the Warriors might be able to make it a game, but a bad snap and a holding penalty had them backed up to the 18.

Murphy (5-of-16, 52 yards) thought he had his receiver open at the front corner of the end zone but Nick Bertolino recovered and pulled down the pick in the end zone.

Eight plays and 80 yards later, Mansfield made it 21-0. Mousette continued to be accurate in the passing game, finding DeBolt open for a 49-yard play on third and nine to get into L-S territory. Holmes capped the drive with a four-yard dive for his first score of the night.

“They had that nice run and they threw a nice fade, I thought they had a touchdown,” Redding explained. “Nick Bertolino came out of nowhere. That was a big play. That makes the game very interesting at half, instead we get the pick and then go down and score. I thought that was the turning point of the game.”

Just six plays into the second half and the Hornets tacked on another score. The defense came through with another quick stop, highlighted by Chris Graham forcing a high throw on a screen that allowed Holmes to close in and stuff the play for a one-yard loss. Gill broke a 28-yard run to the 16 and then Holmes got to the corner for the touchdown to make it 27-0.

L-S drove again into the red zone on its next possession but again came away empty. Graham stuffed a run for a three-yard loss and Bertolino and DeBolt combined on a pass breakup. The Hornets went for it on fourth and one from their own 28 to keep their drive alive and on second and 15 Holmes went straight up the gut, untouched, for a 72-yard TD, adding an exclamation point to his night.

While Holmes was speaking to reporters, Moussette stepped in and offered this assessment of the Mansfield running back, “First kid in, last kid to leave, this kid earned everything he got tonight. This kid’s one hell of a football player and I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s our MVP.”

Makhi Baskin added a third interception for the Mansfield secondary and, with a running clock in the fourth quarter, Ethan Thevenot added a late score from five yards out. It was the first shutout of the season for the Hornets, who allowed only 13 points in four playoff games combined.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

At the beginning of the season, Mansfield players set winning the Super Bowl as a goal. They knew that the talent was there to have a special season. On Friday night, they made sure that there would be no tripping over the final hurdle. In fact, they plowed right through it.

“We had a meeting in January and wrote three goals on the white board,” said Moussette. “One was ‘win the summer,’ ‘win the first week of practice,’ and ‘win the Super Bowl.’ Look where we’re at right now.

“We earned this. I’m just so ecstatic. I’m at a loss for words. I’m so happy for everyone.”

Dominant Defense Carries Mansfield to D2 Super Bowl

Mansfield football
Mansfield celebrates the Div. 2 South title and a berth in the Super Bowl after a 22-3 win against Natick in the sectional final. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NATICK, Mass. – As the celebrations took place all around him at Natick’s Memorial Field, Mansfield coach Mike Redding was able to smile and joke about the old adage that an ugly win is so much better than a beautiful loss. That counts double this time of the year.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

The Hornets racked up nearly 100 yards in penalties, had three first half drives stall inside the red zone, and didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Div. 2 South title game, but still walked away with a 22-3 road win against top seed, and previously unbeaten, Natick.

It was the defense that carried Mansfield to its first Super Bowl since 2013. The Hornets allowed only 45 rushing yards, six yards passing, had three sacks, and held Natick to only two first downs on the night. Both first downs came on one drive in the first half, and one came by way of a penalty.

“As sophomores they lost in the semis, lost last year in the finals, this year we get there and win it, so every year they just go a step further,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said of his senior class. “They’ve overcome a lot of stuff, injuries, and it’s a great group and it will be a lot of fun taking them to Gillette. I told them they’ve been through a lot but it’s all worth it when you walk down the ramp at Gillette Stadium.”

Senior running back and linebacker Vinnie Holmes (18 carries, 131 yards) added, “This just means the world to everyone. We’ve just worked so hard for this. Winter, spring, in the weight room, we just knew that this was our goal. We wanted to get to Gillette and that’s exactly what we did.”

On its second possession of the game, Mansfield started to move the ball. Jack Moussette (6-of-11, 64 yards) hit Cincere Gill for a perfectly executed 16-yard completion to the near sideline on third down to jumpstart the drive. Gill (seven carries, 41 yards) then weaved his way for 17 to the far sideline and Michael DeBolt (six carries, 41 yards) added 10 more to the Natick 14.

A chop block penalty backed the Hornets up and, despite a completion and a draw play to Holmes making it a manageable third and four, the Natick defense held firm. DeBolt booted the Hornets into the lead with a 26-yard kick.

The hosts answered right back. Natick started at its own 40 and two plays later were given a boost on a 15-yard penalty to reach the Mansfield 37. Two five-yard runs, including one by quarterback Will Lederman, who had missed the last four games with a knee injury and wasn’t expected to start the final, and an offsides call made it first and five at the 22.

Holmes stuffed a play for a three-yard loss and a pair of incomplete passes forced Natick into a 41-yard field goal by Sam Waltzman to tie the game. It was as close to the end zone as the Redhawks would get all night.

Mansfield again marched into the red zone in the second quarter but an illegal push call backed them off the goal line and a hold backed them up to the 13. In the end, DeBolt was forced to come on and get Mansfield three more with a 21-yard kick.

Natick fumbled the ensuing kick and Mansfield appeared to recover it, but the officials ruled that the ball went out of bounds first. Lederman nearly hit Nick Ofodile on a bomb on the first play but it was dropped. Nico Holmes and TJ Guy stuffed the next play for no gain and on third down Everett Knowlton pressured Lederman into an incompletion.

Vinnie Holmes broke free for the first time on a 53-yard run to get the Hornets to the 32. After a nine-yard pass from Mousette to Danny Rapoza, Mansfield had first and 10 at the 17. Moussette tried two passes to the corner but both fell incomplete and DeBolt came out again to kick a 28-yard field goal and make it 9-3 at the half.

“We moved the ball but just couldn’t finish,” Redding explained. “They’ve got some big dudes and once we got in the red zone, they know we’re not going to throw and it just got tough and then we shoot ourselves in the foot with all the penalties. It felt like at the half we should’ve been up 14, 17-3.”

On the opening drive of the second half, Mansfield was struck by a controversial penalty on Gill. The junior running back was ruled out for the rest of the night, but Redding saw the ejection as adding even more fuel to his team’s second half push.

“I thought it was unwarranted,” he said, “but it rallied the troops for sure and emotionally everybody stepped up and everybody got more physical. Backs were running hard and it was like, this is our game and we’re going to take it.”

Late in the third quarter, Mansfield appeared to convert a third and 14 on a screen pass to Holmes only to have it called back on a penalty. On the next play, Mousette connected with Nick Marciano for a sliding, 15-yard grab. Facing fourth and one, Marciano gained eight on a draw play to keep things moving. Marciano (nine carries, 41 yards) got the call again at the three, running the wildcat and finding a hole on the right side for a touchdown.

“We couldn’t punch one in, settled for three field goals,” said Holmes about Mansfield offense. “In the locker room we were just saying we need to punch this next one in. We need to punch it in and that puts us in a good position to win.”

Chris Graham sacked Lederman to start the next drive and then he and Holmes pressured the quarterback into an incompletion for a three-and-out. Mansfield’s offensive line and running game seemed to have worn down the Natick defense. Holmes and Marciano combined for nine plays and 53 yards, with Holmes breaking an 11-yard rush, to make it 22-3 with just 4:45 to play.

“Defense played great all night,” said Holmes. “Everyone just played their hearts out, played with enthusiasm. It was a great game.”

The Hornets continued to make plays defensively. Graham got his second sack of the night, then combined with Nico Holmes to stuff Natick running back Jalyn Aponte for no gain. On third down, Nick Bertolino stepped up from his cornerback position to make a big hit and a fake punt came up short.

“Oh my God, it’s crazy,” said Graham following the trophy celebration. “It’s great to be able to go back to Gillette. We wanted it so bad, we’ve been working so hard, trying so hard. Every morning in the summer we were up early in the weight room.”

He added, “When we got into the locker room on Monday, we had a note taped on the locker that a Natick player said we weren’t going to score one point on them. That their defense was too god. Well, we came out 22-3.”

Mansfield (9-1) will take on North champion Lincoln-Sudbury in the D2 Super Bowl at Gillette the weekend of Dec. 7. The date and time of the state title game has not been set.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.