TAUNTON, Mass. – It was a play Taunton’s Adam McLaughlin has practiced over and over again this year.
With the Taunton Tigers holding a 12-7 lead and Oliver Ames using its longest drive of the game to near the end zone in the fourth quarter, the senior defensive back watched as Oliver Ames dropped back to pass on first down. As the throw came out, McLaughlin didn’t hesitate and jumped the route, stepping in front of the receiver for an interception at his own 8 yard line.
Taunton went on to score six plays later and added an insurance score in the final minute to pick up a 25-7 win, snapping an 18 game division winless streak and registering the team’s first Hockomock League win since November 2012.
“Me and Britton [Clinton], the other safety, we were watching the comeback, watching the seam,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve been doing it every week in practice, coming up on that seam and I just read it well and came up and picked it off.”
And after he caught it?
“Run as fast I could and get down the field, it was a great feeling,” McLaughlin said with a big smile.
McLaughlin brought the ball back to Taunton’s 45 yard line. Back to back runs from Brevan Walker (18 carries, 122 yards) and then a 16 yard rush from TJ Mendes gave Taunton a pair of first downs. After OA limited Taunton to just a yard on its next to plays, Taunton faced a 3rd and 9 from the OA 28 yard line.
The Tigers used play action with sophomore quarterback Noah Leonard (7/10, 87 yards, two touchdowns; five carries, 31 yards) rolling to his right. He then fired, hitting a wide open Mike Fernandez in the end zone for 28 yard touchdown and an 18-7 lead for Taunton with 3:33 to play.
“We just missed it on the drive before on the incomplete out of bounds,” Taunton head coach Brad Sidwell said of the third down call. “[He was] wide open, so we knew we could come back to it. Teams have been doubling Adam [McLaughlin], we had a chance early on his touchdown when he wasn’t doubled. We have that route he can go up and get it he’s so big.”
It was McLaughlin that opened the scoring in the game on the aforementioned play by Sidwell. After OA was forced to punt on its first drive, Taunton marched down the field on seven plays, covering 81 yards. A pass interference call kept the drive alive early on and Walker had runs of 19, six and 16 yards to help the Tigers move down field.
On first and 10 from the 19 yard line, Leonard floated one to the corner of the end zone where McLaughlin was able to leap up and haul in the touchdown to make it 6-0.
Oliver Ames had its next drive ended when Sam Krajewski picked off a halfback pass on the first play of the second quarter. OA’s defense did its part though, forcing a punt from the hosts on a three and out.
Kyle Gagliardi led OA on its most successful drive of the game, covering 43 yards on 10 plays before finding the end zone. The combination of running backs Liston Funai (17 carries, 94 yards) and Anthony Berksza (five carries, 37 yards) proved to be tough to stop on the drive. Gagliardi hit Brandon Timulty on a fourth down to keep the drive alive and two plays later, connected with Berksza on a screen for a 15 yard score. Leandro Moro’s‘s extra point gave Oliver Ames a 7-6 lead at the break.
Taunton had an ideal first drive of the second half, retaking the lead just three plays into the stanza. Walker was able to find some space on second down and then made a pair of nice moves downfield and raced for a 66 yard touchdown. OA stopped Taunton short on the two-point attempt but Taunton held a 12-7 advantage with 9:21 left in the third quarter.
“He’s a good runner, he had a really good game against Mansfield too,” Sidwell said of Walker. “We just have to keep him going. When you can run the ball late in the third quarter and the fourth quarter, it can wear on teams so that’s what we were trying to do.”
Oliver Ames next drive ended in a punt but the defense held Taunton at bay, forcing an incomplete pass on fourth down. That led to Oliver Ames’ 10-play, 48 yard drive that was ended by McLaughlin’s interception with five minutes to play.
“Oliver Ames had a good plan tonight to slow the game down a little bit,” Sidwell said. “We had a good drive early but then they played a lot of guys up at the line of scrimmage and we had to be patient. It was a good overall fight, we ended up wearing them down there at the end. That pick was big though.”
After Fernandez’s touchdown, Taunton’s Billy DaRosa recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. On third down, Mendes (four carries, 39 yards) broke free for a 21 yard touchdown with less than a minute to play to ice the game.
After Taunton nearly upset Mansfield a week ago – a two point loss – Sidwell knew the program was headed in the right direction.
“We were really emphasizing how we were playing better,” Sidwell said. “The Attleboro game we played better, the Mansfield game we obviously played better, we’re just trying to build on it.”
Taunton football improves to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in Kelley-Rex play. The Tigers will try to make it two in a row when they travel to Macktaz Field to take on the Kelley-Rex champs, King Philip. Oliver Ames (2-4, 1-3) will try to bounce back when they host Mansfield next week.
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