NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Attleboro scored twice in its first five plays from scrimmage but with less than a minute remaining on the clock North Attleboro (4-7) was driving with a chance to steal the 99th annual Thanksgiving Day meeting between the two neighboring rivals on the soaked grass at Community Field.
Rocketeers backup quarterback Casey Poirier, who took over from sophomore Tyler DeMattio (17 carries, 83 yards) in the fourth quarter, engineered a 15-play drive from his own 20 all the way down to the Attleboro five-yard-line.
Fellow quarterback Jason Weir pushed North back when he grabbed hold of Poirier and swung him down for a nine-yard sack back to the 14 and on third and goal junior linebacker Michael Strachan came through with a game-ending interception in the end zone, sealing a dramatic 13-7 victory for the Bombardiers.
“I think we prepared really hard for this game and I think it just goes to show, this rivalry, what it means,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan after his third win in this holiday series. “[North] played great, they’re always prepared, but this is what it’s all about.”
While Attleboro (6-5) made the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in D1 South, neither team had big postseason plans this year, so both had weeks to prepare for Thursday’s game and it took on added importance, as Weir, who won the Balfour Trophy for Offensive MVP, succinctly explained.
“It means so much,” he said. “This is our Super Bowl. It’s phenomenal.”
North was able to move the ball on its opening drives, but couldn’t finish. The Rocketeers got to the Attleboro 39 on its opening possession but a bad snap on fourth and one ended the drive, while the second possession reached the Attleboro 35 but another turnover on downs meant no points.
Attleboro had none of those problems at the start of the game. The Bombardiers went 52 yards in three plays on the their first possession and then 65 yards on two plays on their second to build a solid lead.
On the first play from scrimmage, Weir (7-of-10, 104 yards) hit Ethan Cameron (five catches, 88 yards) in stride for a 43-yard completion to the North five. Two plays later, Strachan burst through the left side for a five-yard score. After completing a 13-yard pass to Cameron to start the second drive, Weir took it himself, breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage and breaking free for a 52-yard touchdown to make it 13-0.
“That was the whole game plan, come out and throw the first punch,” said Weir. “That works against any high school team, they’re going to back down right away and that’s what we did today. Our line stepped up huge today.”
Coach Strachan said of Weir, “I think we finally put him in a situation where he could make some plays for us, make him comfortable, roll him out a little bit more, and that was good.”
The visiting Bombardiers felt like they might break the game wide open and put things away, but the North defense started to stiffen, with Tom O’Neil, Ethan Friberg, and Jacob Silva all making plays that kept Attleboro from gaining more traction offensively.
Also, the North offense finally found a way to complete a drive. The Rocketeers marched 77 yards on 11 plays to cut into the lead. DeMattio led the way, with help from Tommy Whalen and a 27-yard run up the gut by Silva. Attleboro forced fourth an 10 after pressure by Trainor Sherck and a breakup by Adam Pearlstein, but then Demattio scrambled for 12 yards to keep the possession alive.
DeMattio added 16 more on a quarterback draw to get to the Attleboro four and two plays later Jared Penta took a jet sweep over the left side for a three-yard score to make it 13-7 with a minute left before the break.
“We gave up two touchdowns in the first five plays of the game and that’s been the story of our season,” said North coach Don Johnson. “We give up too many easy ones like that and all of a sudden we have to dig out of a hole.
Johnson was asked if he changed anything defensively after Attleboro’s two quick strikes and he answered, “We played a little bit of a different front, but I don’t think that was the difference. I think we just started playing a little bit better.”
The third quarter was largely a stalemate. Weir had a sack to effectively end North’s first possession of the half and Attleboro just missed out on extending the lead when Cameron was ruled to be out of bounds on a catch in the end zone on fourth and 11.
After just missing out on the touchdown, Attleboro had a chance to break the game open two plays later. Justin Daniels tipped a DeMattio pass that was picked off by Pearlstein, setting the visitors up at the North 20. The Bombardiers managed six yards on three plays and a low snap led to a missed 31-yard field goal by Colby Briggs with 9:43 to play.
Attleboro wouldn’t see the ball again for more than nine minutes.
Starting at its own 20, North took over going into the wind and put together a drive that gave it a shot at the win. Defensive MVP Isaac Gudiel stuffed Silva (nine carries, 53 yards) for a two-yard loss to force a third and 10, but then a pass interference call gave the Rocketeers a much-needed first down.
Poirier picked out Ethan Friberg for 10 yards to the 33. After a penalty backed North up five yards, Silva gained 13 on a draw. Gudiel stuffed Silva for a loss to bring up third and 11, but Poirier again had the answer with a 12-yard pass to Whalen for another first down to the nine.
Coming out of a timeout with 1:14 to play, North drew an illegal substitution penalty that backed it up to the 14, but Penta gained nine on first and goal to get the Rocketeers up to the five. Weir came flying through on second down, dropping Poirier for a nine-yard loss and forcing North into its final timeout with 27 seconds on the clock.
On third and goal, Strachan made amends for allowing an earlier completion by jumping the route and picking off a pass two yards deep in the end zone to end the game and bring Hilda back to Attleboro.
“I was on him because he missed the play before,” joked Coach Strachan about his son’s game-clinching play, “so they ran the same route and he undercut it and it was good.”
When asked about how much winning on Thanksgiving means, Strachan added, “It’s huge. We battled injuries just like everyone else has, but this was a big game for the program. Like I said to the kids, these games mean something and these kids responded.”