In week two, it was all about the Hornets’ defense.
Going up a powerful Milford offense that put up 34 points in their first game of the season, Mansfield’s defensive group was near perfect. The Hornets forced four turnovers, limited the Hawks to under 200 yards of offense, and pitched a shutout for the final three quarters to earn a 20-7 win on the road.
It marked the first meeting between the two squads since Milford joined the Hockomock League for football in 2013 with the Hawks making the switch to the Kelley-Rex division at the start of the 2020 school year.
“Story of the day, the defense played lights out,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “Scoring a touchdown for us, which in this game, was huge. Instead of just a six-point lead, it’s 13. The defense did a great job against a very good collection of receivers and [Brady] Olson can throw the ball. We gave them a few but nothing big, they popped the one run but after that, we were lights out, and thank goodness because this was really one of our sloppiest offensive performances in a long time.”
Mansfield forced a turnover on Milford’s first possession of the game, Anthony Comer grabbed back-to-back interceptions with the first returned for a touchdown, and Hornets added another pick in the early moments of the fourth quarter.
The Hornets opened the game in style with freshman CJ Bel giving the visitors good field position at midfield after a good return. From there, Mansfield needed just six plays to find the end zone. Cincere Gill (20 carries, 117 yards) broke free for a 16-yard run on third down (his longest carry of the game), and three plays later, Gill — out of the wildcat — handed it off to Comer on a sweep to the left for an 18-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead less than four minutes in.
Milford completed a third down pass on its opening drive but Mansfield corner Nick Bertolino punched the ball free and recovered the fumble, giving the Hornets the ball back at the Hawks’ 20-yard line. But as good as Mansfield’s defense was throughout, the Milford defense had a strong outing as well.
Hampered by a fumble and a holding call (Mansfield was flagged 10 times in the game), the Hornets offense stalled and Milford forced an incompletion on fourth to get the ball back. The momentum carried over to the offensive side of the ball and the Hawks cashed in just two plays later. With the offense spread out with four receivers, Milford handed it off to senior Dom Schofield up the middle and he found a hole and went the distance for a 69-yard touchdown, tying the game 7-7 with 3:45 left in the first quarter.
From that point, there weren’t many offensive highlights for either squad.
Mansfield had to punt on its next two possessions, but the second one off the foot of Gill took a favorable bounce for the Hornets and was downed at the Milford 5-yard line. On second down, Mansfield’s Caden Colby and Mark DeGirolamo came flying in at Milford quarterback Brady Olson (9/28, 91 yards), who fired a short pass to the right side. Comer read the play, stepped in front and intercepted the pass, and sprinted into the end zone for a 14-yard return.
“It was a hard game, it was hard with our penalties, and they have a very good offense but we just executed on defense,” Comer said. “We held our guys to short-yardage and covered our guys. On the pick-six, I saw green. I was just running for the hills, I wanted the touchdown. We watched a lot of film, watching how they execute so we were ready.”
Milford started to orchestrate a response as Olson hit Max Martin for 13 yards on first down, and then a late hit on the Hornets moved the ball 15 more yards to the Mansfield 39-yard line. TJ Guy stopped the Hawks for a loss in the backfield but a holding call in the secondary once again moved the chains for the hosts, getting to the Mansfield 24-yard line.
Guy helped stuff another Milford run on first down, and on second down Olson’s pass hit off a receiver’s hands and Comer was able to come down with the deflection for his second straight interception, putting an end to another Milford drive.
“Anthony played a great two-way game for us,” Redding said. “We felt we really needed him on defense today to cover, he’s one of our quicker guys and made some big plays for us. We’ve played two good spread teams and held them each to 7. We still have to get sharper on offense but the next couple of weeks it will be more about defending the running game. Taunton and KP are big, they’re going to try and bang, run the ball.”
Mansfield capitalized on the interception with its best drive of the game. The Hornets traveled 82 yards on 10 plays, taking off five minutes of game clock, and cashed in with another touchdown with under a minute to play in the half.
Gill had three straight runs that combined for over 20 yards early in the drive, and when the Hornets were backed up by a delay of game call, Gill hauled in a 21-yard pass from quarterback Matt Boen, just eluding the Milford defender along the sideline.
Comer turned a broken play into 18 yards, Nico Holmes burst up the middle for 7 yards, and on second and goal from the three, Boen sold the option and kept it himself, leaping across the goal line for a touchdown, giving Mansfield a 20-7 lead with 0:49 left in the first half.
“That was big, I thought we wasted [an opportunity] before that…we came down and scored, got the ball back but we didn’t convert and they come down and tie the game,” Redding said. “We fortunately got a couple of more before half, and I thought the one right before halftime was a big turning point.
“When we do things right, we’re good but we didn’t do things right very often today. We’re getting way too many penalties and we just really have to work hard on offense getting sharper and executing because we’re too good not to score in a half no matter who we’re playing.”
Carter Scudo had a big return to the Mansfield 33-yard line to give the hosts a final shot before the break, but the Hornets forced four straight incompletions.
“All we ask for today is for them to give us 48 minutes and I thought they did that,” said first-year Milford head coach Dale Olson. “A couple of plays didn’t go our way today, that should have been 7-7 game in the fourth quarter and anybody’s game. But you live and you learn. But this is what Milford football is going to be from here on out, we’re going to contend. We have to get back on the horse because we have to play a very good KP team next week.”
Olson connected with Keithly Sutton on a bubble screen to move the chains on Milford’s first drive of the second half but the Hawks couldn’t capitalize as the Hornets shut the hosts down on the next three plays, including a perfectly-timed pass breakup by Bertolino.
“We feel Milford is as talented as anybody in the Kelley-Rex so if we didn’t beat them here today, they were going to run the table so, for us, it was basically a must-win game,” Redding said. “We want to be in the league race when we’re playing KP and Attleboro so you have to win today. I don’t Milford loses again moving forward, they have good linemen, I think the best QB in the league, great receivers. We’ve won [the Kelley-Rex division] a couple of times in a row but we felt pressure that it was a must-win for us against them on their field.”
Milford’s defense continued to do its part as Mansfield managed just two total yards on its first two drives, both resulting in punts including a third down kick to try and flip field position. The Hawks did a good job bottling up the Mansfield rushing attack, getting key tackles and pushes up front from the likes of Schofield, Scudo, Evan Cornelius, Grant Scudo, Alex McColl, Evan Hazard, Nick Yohn, Mario Lee, and Tyler Lane.
“I think we struggled a little bit today getting off jams at the wide receiver spot, I thought [Brady] pressed a little bit today,” Olson said. “Instead of standing in there a few times, he got out of the pocket when he didn’t need to. But listen, that’s a great football team we just played. I couldn’t be prouder of how our kids handled themselves today.
“Realistically, I look up at the scoreboard and it should have been 7-7. We had our opportunities, could have had 1st and goal but instead, it was an interception. They ball-controlled us but our defense was outstanding today. All of the film I’ve watched, I haven’t seen a team hold Gill like that. They didn’t really hurt us today with their offense, I thought it was more a matter of our offense couldn’t get going.”
However, the Hawks’ offense just could never get going, punting twice to start the second half and then had its third drive of the second half come to a sudden stop when Gill intercepted a pass at his own 30-yard line.
Mansfield was able to move the ball enough to kill a lot of clock in the fourth quarter and Milford’s final drive ended on downs.
Mansfield football (2-0) is on the road for the second straight week when it travels to Taunton for a 4:30 kickoff on Friday. Milford (1-1) will face another stiff test next week when it hosts King Philip (2-0) on Saturday at 1:00.