But he was certainly pleased with the big zero on the visitor’s side of the scoreboard.
In the season opener — and return to Fall football — for both squads, Taunton posted a 21-0 win over visiting New Bedford for its first shutout since Thanksgiving 2018.
“Typical first game… too many penalties,” Sidwell said. “Every time we’d try to get the momentum going, there’d be a flag or a mistake. But this is certainly something we can build on, something we can coach on the mistakes we made. And we have to make sure we do a better job taking care of the ball with three turnovers.”
Taunton scored twice in the second quarter and added another early in the fourth to overcome three turnovers and some untimely penalties to sink the Whalers.
The Tigers’ defense ended up stealing the show, forcing the Whalers to punt on six of their eight offensive series, including four straight to open the game. The fifth drive of the game was stopped by a turnover on downs and the first drive of the second half — and longest of the game for New Bedford — was thwarted by an interception.
Junior running back Bryan Batista had a breakout game in his first career start. He scampered for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries and also hauled in a 29-yard pass to help pace the Tiger offense. Junior quarterback Jacob Leonard also had a strong game, going 12-for-15 passing with 147 yards and a touchdown.
Leonard spread the ball around to all of his weapons with six players hauling in at least one catch, led by four receptions for Isaiah Williams. Trent Santos, Troy Santos, and Nathan Keenan all hauled in two passes as well.
Taunton forced a quick three-and-out to start the contest, highlighted by one of Ryan MacDougall’s four tackles for loss. And the offense looked poised to march down the field but the Tigers fumbled after a completion that was past the first down marker.
It wasn’t until the very end of the quarter until Taunton got the ball back on offense and this time, they held onto the ball and found the end zone. Going 68 yards on six plays that mainly featured quick short passes, the Tigers struck on a bubble screen. On third down, Leonard fired a quick strike to Trent Santos on the left side and the senior wide receiver did the rest, slicing across the field and through the Whaler defense, cutting up field and finding his way to a 22-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
John Castillo’s sack on first down set the tone for the next drive and New Bedford quickly went three-and-out. Leonard hit Batista on a screen for 29 yards to move just outside the red zone but an interception in the end zone put that drive to a screeching halt.
The defense stood tall again with a big stop on third and short, and an errant punt gave the Tigers prime field position at the New Bedford 34-yard line. Taunton took full advantage this time as Batista had back-to-back carries, the latter a 22-yard touchdown through a big hole on the right side of the line created by center Ryan MacDougall and guard Jack Moitoso.
“I thought it was good, he’s a good slash runner and was able to wear them down a bit at the end,” Sidwell said. “We have some skilled receivers too that can do some special stuff with the ball and all of them catches today and made some plays too. They’re working hard for us. Trent only had what, two catches? A year ago we had to throw it to him a lot but we’ve developed more weapons.”
The Tigers stopped New Bedford’s last-minute push when Faisal Mass came up with a big third down sack, getting the ball back with a chance to score before the break.
The offense sputtered a bit from there. Leonard and Williams linked up a couple of times to move up field as the clock ticked under a minute in the first half but New Bedford ended up applying enough pressure and the Tigers couldn’t convert before the half.
Batista opened the second half with a great run up the right side, going for 31 yards but he was stripped from behind and New Bedford took over after just one play.
The Whalers moved 30 yards and into Taunton territory but Nick Lima wrestled away a fourth down pass from a receiver for an interception to stop the New Bedford drive. The Tigers couldn’t capitalize and had to punt three plays later.
Tackles for loss from Nathan LaPlante and Lima on back-to-back plays forced the Whalers to punt just seconds into the fourth quarter and Taunton’s offense finally put together another scoring drive. Batista ran for 15 yards on first down behind the blocking of juniors Logan Frank and William Guachichulca-Torres and sophomore tackle Bryan Joanis.
Leonard hit Troy Santos on a quick strike and the sophomore receiver went for 33 yards to move into Whaler territory. Four plays later, on fourth and short, the Tigers iced the win with a 12-yard touchdown from Batista for a 21-0 lead with under five minutes left.
“It was odd, we had some film from the Fall 2 season but not knowing exactly who they had or what they’d run,” Sidwell said. “I think they were missing their top back today so that made a difference. But I thought the kids fought hard and the defense kept coming up with stops. There was some bending but hopefully, we can gain some confidence from this, smooth things out, and get some momentum going.”
Taunton football hits the road next week to renew acquittances with another longtime non-league rival, traveling to Fall River to take on Durfee. The Hilltoppers dropped a 10-7 decision to Attleboro on a field goal as time expired. Taunton and Durfee will kick off at 7:00 on Friday.
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