09/06/2013 Mansfield 29 Dunbar 26
09/12/2013 Mansfield 21 Milton 0
09/27/13 Mansfield 35 North Attleboro 14
10/04/13 Mansfield 49 Attleboro 42
10/11/13 Mansfield 42 Taunton 8
10/18/13 Mansfield 20 King Philip 7
10/25/13 Mansfield 35 Franklin 13
11/01/13 Div 2 South Qtr-final Mansfield 31 Wellesley 14
11/08/13 Div 2 South Semi-Final Mansfield 42 Needham 35
11/15/13 Div 2 South Champion Mansfield 41 Barnstable 16
11/22/13 State Semi-Final Mansfield 41 Waltham 0
11/28/13 Mansfield 14 Foxboro 7
12/07/13 Div 2 State Champion Mansfield 28 St John's, 14
2. Mansfield (1-0) - Carried the flag for Massachusetts football with pride against a quality out-of-state foe.
Yes, B-R beat the Prep at the Prep. Yes, Everett held off a challenge at home against the best team in Western Massachusetts. Mansfield went down to Baltimore in a hostile environment and beat a top 10 team in Maryland.
This was the best out-of-state road win by a Massachusetts team in the last 20-plus years, maybe longer. Xaverian's 49-0 win over a New Britain (Conn.) team that won the Class LL title in 2004 came at home. Brockton's 14-6 win over an Erie Cathedral Prep team that made the Pennsylvania AAAA quarterfinals in 1992 took place at Marciano Stadium.
Is Dunbar as good as the St. Joseph Regional and St.Peter's Prep New Jersey teams that throttled Xaverian and BC High last year, respectively? No. Those teams are on another level. But the fact is the Hornets upset a team that no one thought they could beat. On the road.
Statewide Top 25
1. Reading (0-0)
2. Mansfield (1-0)
Ranked as the No. 4 team in the preseason behind the Prep, Reading and Natick, the Hornets earned this ranking.
3. Everett (1-0)
4. Walpole (1-0)
5. Bridgewater-Raynham (1-0)
6. St. John's Prep (0-1)**
7. Springfield Central (0-1)
8. Natick (0-0)
9. Duxbury (1-0)
10. Leominster (0-0)
11. Brockton (0-0)
12. Lowell (1-0)
13. Central Catholic (1-0)
14. Xaverian (0-0)
15. St. John's (S) (0-0)
16. Weymouth (0-0)
17. North Attleboro (1-0)**
18. King Philip (1-0)**
19. Tewksbury (1-0)
20. Auburn (1-0)
21. Plymouth South (0-0)
22. Waltham (0-0)**
23. Doherty (0-0)
24. Dennis-Yarmouth (1-0)
25. Westwood (1-0)
** Mansfield opponents.
September, 7, 2013
By Tom Peace and Scott Barboza | ESPNBoston.com
BALTIMORE -- The Hornets traveled for an out of state showdown, as No. 4 Mansfield battled 9-time Maryland state champions, Paul Laurence Dunbar school out of Baltimore Friday night and came away victorious, winning 29-26 over the Poets.
With less than two minutes in the fourth quarter, Mansfield (1-0) marched down the field into the Dunbar red zone and Hornets quarterback Kyle Wisnieski found senior wideout Mike Hershman in the end zone to give Mansfield the 27-26 lead. The Hornets would follow with the two-point conversion to go on to seal the win.
Dunbar (0-1) had been down 21-6 early in the third quarter but was able to put together some offense with three scoring drives to get back into the game. Dunbar quarterback William Crest went off, running in a score at the end of the third quarter to make it 21-12, then threw a 62-yard bomb to wideout Dominic Miller to bring the Poets within a point, and finally took the lead when Crest ran into the end zone from five yards out. "He was unbelievable," Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said of Crest, a senior West Virginia commit. "He was complete package, tall, big arm, athletic."
Though the Hornets never gave up and stuck with the game plan, which was play solid defense and get the football back into Wisnieski's hands.
Extra Points not Dunbar's ally: Dunbar was only able to convert an extra point once, which put the Poets behind the majority of the game. Mansfield drew first blood in the second quarter when Wisnieski ran in a quarterback sneak. Then Dunbar responded with a score but missed the extra point on a field goal try putting the Poets behind by one. Dunbar was 1-for-3 on point-after tries.
Brendan Hill is hard to miss: The Mansfield junior tight end is 6-foot-5 and blocks out the sun when on the football field. Hill has tremendous athleticism and has great hands. Wisnieski was able to find Hill easily all alone in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass to give the Hornets a 14-6 lead, heading into halftime.
Making a statement: Aside from showing the nation what Massachusetts football is all about, Mansfield proved something to themselves without playing a down.
"We really just had a great trip," Redding said. "We spent two days in Washington, D.C., and that alone made it a great trip. But for us, to come out like this, this is really a great memory. This was an opportunity to find out about ourselves."
Of course, the Hornets did much more than that, starting their season with what already might be the biggest statement win by any team in the Commonwealth this year.
"I'm not shocked," Redding told EPSN Boston, "but I'm surprised. We didn't really scrimmage that well."
Raucous environment: The stands were nearly full by the time the Hornets took the field for pregame warmups around 6 p.m. The concrete bleachers were filled with about 4,000 fans - by Redding's estimation - including the 100 or so family and friends who made the trek down to the Charm City.
"It was unbelievable," Redding said of the scene. "Even around the perimeter of the stadium, people who couldn't get in were watching through the fence. It was opening night for them, too, so it was a big deal.
"For a Week 1 game though, it felt like a playoff atmosphere."
The inside track
BY MARK FARINELLA SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
September 28, 2013
MANSFIELD - Everyone knows the Mansfield High School football team can throw the ball. But this early in the Hockomock League season, there hasn't been enough evidence to prove that the Hornets can run it as well. Exhibit No. 1 was presented to the North Attleboro Red Rocketeers Friday night at Alumni Field.
"That was the big question mark that we had, because we really hadn't seen it yet," North Attleboro coach Don Johnson said after Mansfield's 35-14 win to open the Kelley-Rex Division schedule. "We weren't really sure what they were capable of doing in the run game. They used some different formations tonight and you could see that the extra week paid off. They had us back on our heels in the beginning, and we just had a hard time recovering from it."
Mansfield (3-0) rushed for 212 yards, including 119 on 14 carries by senior back Miguel Villar-Perez, to present a well-balanced attack to the 2-1 Rocketeers. Senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski completed 11 of 16 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns (both to senior Mike Hershman), as Mansfield scored two quick first-quarter touchdowns and steadily built the lead thereafter.
The Hornets, who had lost their last two games with the Rocketeers and three of the last four, quickly dispelled any notions that they'd be affected negatively by a 14-day layoff since their last game.
"In a week, it's tough to prepare for everything (North Attleboro does)," Mansfield coach Mike Redding said. "But I thought that with two weeks, we were pretty ready to handle most of the stuff they did.
"I don't think we were worried about a letdown," he added, "but we were worried about being rusty, and being able to simulate North's speed and aggressiveness in practice."
The Hornets marched 70 yards on six plays to open the game. Wisnieski threw a 24-yard pass to Chris Buchanan and Matt Bukuras broke a 20-yard run to set up the first of two touchdowns by Villar-Perez, a 15-yarder, followed by the first of five Alex Thompson kicks for a 7-0 lead just 2:24 into the game.
A fumbled kickoff return gave Mansfield another huge opportunity, but the Hornets fumbled at the North 1. The Rocketeers couldn't extract themselves from that hole - Brendan Hill sacking James Kummer for a loss of 5 yards to the North 3 to set up a punt - and it took the Hornets just six running plays to cover 29 yards and make it 14-0 on Villar-Perez's 2-yard run with two seconds left in the opening quarter.
Mansfield had outgained North 138 yards to minus 3 in the quarter, but North came to life briefly in the second stanza. A 46-yard gallop by North's Christopher Hunter (11 carries, 82 yards) was the big play in a six-play, 54-yard scoring drive that got the Rocketeers back in the fight. Kummer threw a fade to Mike Lambert on the right sideline from 3 yards out with 8:02 left in the half.
Wisnieski completed four passes in an eight-play, 81-yard drive to go up 21-7 with 1:24 to go in the half. Three of the completions were to Hershman, including a nifty over-the-middle throw from 28 yards out for the touchdown.
North's last gasp at keeping the game close came on the opening drive of the second half. A 25-yard pass from Kummer to Lambert (six catches, 78 yards) brought the Rocketeers deep into Mansfield territory, but Mansfield's Max Trowbridge and Connor Finerty came up with big stops on consecutive runs to halt the drive at the Mansfield 25.
"We played great," Redding said of the Hornets' defensive effort, which included two sacks and a forced fumble by Hill. "They're a very good offensive team, and they do a lot of stuff to confuse you with motions, but our defense stayed disciplined."
The Hornets put the game out of reach with a pair of fourth-quarter scores. Hershman pulled in a 23-yarder on a third-and-19 play to end a nine-play, 43-yard march for a 28-7 lead with 7:32 left, and then they converted North's third turnover into points with a four-play possession ending in Buchanan's 16-yard sprint with 4:35 to go.
Johnson got good production out of backup quarterback Justin Gallagher on North's final possession. The junior completed four passes in a seven-play, 71-yard drive, including a 13-yarder for Lambert for the game's final score with 1:30 left.
Mansfield will put its 3-0 record on the line at the renovated Tozier-Cassidy Field against 3-0 Attleboro.
"It's a battle," Redding said. "We're getting healthier and we're getting better, but it's a long road here in the Kelley-Rex."
BY MARK FARINELLA SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
Saturday, October 5, 2013
ATTLEBORO - After both teams combined for three touchdowns in the first 4:25 of play Friday night, the impression was left that this might be one of those "last team with the ball wins" football games.
It almost was.
It wasn't until Mansfield High's Miguel Villar-Perez went up the middle for a gain of 7 yards to the Attleboro 36 with just under a minute and a half left to play that the undefeated Hornets (4-0) could feel even remotely comfortable that their 49-42 victory over 3-1 Attleboro was secure. The showdown in the Hockomock League's Kelley-Rex Division was even more than advertised - 91 total points, 842 total yards (with just 6 yards separating the two teams), 649 passing yards, 37 completed passes, and a couple of coaches left almost speechless by the offensive fireworks that threatened to melt the new plastic grass of Tozier-Cassidy Field.
"Both teams are just so talented offensively, you get a good-weather night and both teams are in a groove ... even the times when we had great coverage, they made great throws and catches," said Mansfield coach Mike Redding in admiration of the performance of Attleboro quarterback Tim Walsh (18-28, 341 yards, one interception, six touchdown passes).
"It was a great night and they're a great football team," said AHS coach Mike Strachan in praise of the Mansfield offense that featured another sterling passing performance by QB Kyle Wisnieski (19-28, 308 yards, one interception, two TD passes). "We knew that going in. We knew that they had a lot of weapons and they used them. They get that ball around and those kids are just unbelievable. They made some great plays."
Indeed, there is not enough room here to list all of the superlatives or how they came to pass. The bottom line was that two evenly-matched teams slugged it out for the full 44 minutes, each with strengths and weaknesses that enhanced the potential for an offensive showdown that became the stuff of legend.
Attleboro led 14-7 after the first quarter. The Bombardiers struck first just 41 seconds into a game on a 63-yard TD pass from Walsh to junior Damon Belin, then followed a 2-yard scoring run by Villar-Perez - set up by throws of 26 yards to Brendan Hill (four catches, 76 yards) and 34 to Mike Hershman (5-128) - with 67-yard screen-pass play to Belin (4-136) for a score.
Mansfield appeared determined to break the game open in the second quarter, scoring on all three possessions to lead at halftime, 26-14. Alex Ruddy's 1-yard TD (his first score of the year) ended a 10-play, 55-yard march just 1:17 into the quarter, and it was followed by an 8-yard TD throw to Hill with 4:19 left and a 7-yard screen to Villar-Perez with 1:24 left.
"It would be fun to just sit back and look at it on film, because I've lost track of what happened," Redding said. "It felt at halftime like we had played a full game already, but the second half was even more entertaining than the first."
Attleboro seized upon a few lapses by the Hornets early in the second half to not only get back into the game, but also briefly take the lead.
A muffed punt snap ended Mansfield's first possession at its own 40, and it took the Bombardiers just two plays to score - a 17-yard pass to Tom Burns followed by a 23-yarder to a wide-open Luke Morrison in the end zone, followed by one of Mike Cannata's six successful PAT kicks.
Then, Attleboro's Ross Killion recovered a fumbled kickoff return at the Mansfield 29, and three plays later, Burns made a spectacular one-handed catch from 22 yards out at the eight-minute mark, Cannata's kick putting the Big Blue up 28-26.
The Hornets absorbed the pressure of the moment and responded with a four-play, 69-yard scoring drive that featured throws of 32 yards to Hershman and 38 to Hill to set up Wisnieski's 1-yard keeper into the end zone with 6:37 left in the quarter. Hill contributed a one-handed catch of the conversion pass for a 34-28 lead.
The Hornets made it 42-28 with 2:09 left in the quarter, going 65 yards in seven plays to reach the end zone on Kyle Hurley's 3-yard catch and a conversion rush by Ruddy.
When Beau Palanza's interception set up a 27-yard sweep by Villar-Perez for a 49-28 lead with 10:40 left in the game, the Mansfield lead seemed insurmountable - but not to the Bombardiers and their supportive fans.
With 8:42 left, Walsh found Morrison from 25 yards out to end a five-play, 65 yard drive that took just 1:58 off the clock. Then when the Hornets went three-and-out, Walsh was an incredible 6-for-6 on his next possession, covering 69 yards in just 2:10 and making it a one-touchdown game with a 17-yard scoring throw to Burns with 5:09 to go.
"When do you have to score 49 and then hang on at the end," asked Redding. "(Walsh) has got great feet. He senses when the ends get up field, he goes underneath and when we pressured, he gets out of the pocket and keeps plays alive."
AHS had a great chance to tie the game when Belin intercepted Wisnieski at the Attleboro 45 and returned it to the Mansfield 37 with 3:24 to go, but the Hornets contained the scrambling QB and forced a fourth-and-15 incompletion to regain possession with 2:29 to go.
"It just goes to show you that it comes down to the little things, and making plays, and they made a couple more than we did," Strachan said.
Mansfield entertains Taunton on Friday, while Attleboro will play host to North Attleboro in the first non-holiday, regular-season meetings of the long-time rivals.
Mansfield 49, Attleboro 42
BY MARK FARINELLA SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
Saturday, October 19, 2013
WRENTHAM - Given how things had gone for Mansfield High quarterback Kyle Wisnieski earlier in Friday's game at King Philip, maybe it was only fitting that his throw for the go-ahead score had a little extra "flair" to it.
Operating out of the shotgun on a first-down play at the King Philip 23 just four plays into the fourth quarter, the Hornets' senior signal-caller briefly bobbled the snap and had to pick it up cleanly before the KP rush could get to him. He executed the recovery flawlessly and spied Kyle Hurley breaking free along the left sideline, and fired a perfect pass to the senior receiver to take a 14-7 lead.
"I made a mistake and dropped it, and wanted to make up for it right away," Wisnieski said after the Hornets' 20-7 triumph in the battle of 5-0 teams, clinching an automatic berth to the MIAA playoffs. "It just happened to sit right at my feet and I had plenty of time, and I just made the completion. He was wide open."
Wisnieski had struggled in the first half under strong pressure from the KP defense, the stingiest unit in the Hockomock League, completing just seven of 19 passes for 81 yards as the teams left the field in a 7-7 tie at the break. He finished with 181 yards on 12-of-17 passing.
"We just weren't in sync," Mansfield coach Mike Redding said of his team's early struggles. "We just could never get comfortable running routes. They were banging guys and they got pressure on Kyle, but he's a trouper. He's a poised kid; he settled down and made some big throws to get us the win in the second half."
King Philip (5-1, 3-1 in the Kelley-Rex) got off to a great start, forcing a three-and-out from Mansfield in the opening possession and them marching 63 yards in six plays to Mark Glebus' 4-yard TD run just 3:38 into the game.
But after the fast start, of among KP's 10 subsequent possessions, five were three-and-outs.
"They were just better," KP coach Brian Lee said. "Not by much, but you don't have to be by much in order to win. They make plays when they have to make plays, and they did."
"It was just good, old-fashioned Hockomock League football," Redding said. "Dirt field, two teams physically hitting each other hard ... they were as advertised on defense, very, very good and very physical.
"But I think the story of the night was our defense," he added. "We gave up one early, settled down and played great run defense against a very physical team."
The Hornets limited KP to 71 rushing yards, 21 apiece by Glebus and JJ Dillon and 20 by Joe Johnston. Dillon tried to compensate through the air, but the Hornets came up with big defensive plays when needed.
Two of them came on consecutive plays in the third quarter. KP's Kyle Loewen was stopped a yard short of a first down on an 11-yard, third-down catch at the Mansfield 15. Then on the fourth-down try, Dillon went to Loewen in the end zone only to have the ball slapped away. Each time, Mansfield safety Mike Barresi was the man to make the big stop.
Then in the fourth quarter, on a first down for the Warriors at the Mansfield 43, defensive end Brendan Hill dropped Dillon for an 8-yard sack, stripping the ball and recovering the fumble to preserve a two-touchdown lead.
Mansfield finally broke the ice with a one-play drive in the second quarter, an 88-yard sprint through early traffic and into the clear by Miguel Villar-Perez (12 carries, 122 yards). The Hornets also got into position for a successful 42-yard field goal by kicker Alex Thompson after a 12-play possession at the end of the half, only to have a false start negate it. Thompson's 47-yard try then hit the upright.
But that was the drive that told Wisnieski that he had finally found the range, and that was proven early in the fourth quarter when a stellar 35-yard catch by Hurley set up his touchdown catch with 9:20 left in the game.
Then on Mansfield's next possession, junior Q'ra Guichard ran for 12 yards on third-and-3 to the KP 26, and Hill's 21-yard catch to the KP 5 set up Villar-Perez's second TD run with 4:20 left.
The Hornets will look to complete a perfect Kelley-Rex season Friday at Franklin, while KP will try to clinch the second automatic berth from the division at home against a surging Attleboro squad.
The battle for supremacy in the Hockomock Kelley-Rex was everything expected -- taut defensive battle that required extra effort from each team's best assets.
In the end, Mansfield scored twice in the fourth quarter to overcome an early KP score and a strong defensive effort. Mansfield's defense was just as strong, limiting the KP running attack to 71 yards.
Mansfield has now clinched an MIAA playoff berth, while KP and Attleboro will do battle for the second Kelley-Rex berth next Friday at KP.
Tonight, the No. 3 Red Raiders travel to Mansfield face off against the No. 1 Hornets in the Division 2 South final.
"I just think our whole schedule, in general, has prepared us for this. We're just ready for any type of game in this playoff atmosphere due to what we did in the regular season," said Barnstable coach Chris Whidden, referring to a regular season slate that included the likes of BC High, Xaverian and Bridgewater-Raynham. "The kids are ready for their moment. We just need to be sure they're ready for the opponent."
Barnstable will have its hands full with Mansfield quarterback Kyle Wisnieski and tight end Brendan Hill, a 6-foot-5 junior who's already drawing interest from Division 1 colleges. The 1-2 punch connected for 152 yards and three scores last weekend.
"That assignment is going to be put on the entire secondary - it's not going to be on just one guy. He doesn't just line up in one spot, so we need our whole secondary to be prepared," Whidden said.
The coach added that defensive end Conor Walsh and linebackers Chris Kennedy, Nate Yingling and Clyde Perry will need to have big games.
Meanwhile, Mansfield will have to slow down Hayden Murphy, a throwback, ironman player who runs over opponents at running back and keeps them honest in the secondary. The senior had three touchdowns in Barnstable's win over Natick.
"He's just a good, old-fashioned football player. He runs hard, he makes catches, he hits, and he never comes off the field," Mansfield coach Mike Redding said. "He just seems to find a way to win games for those guys. There are good kids around him, but he seems to be the heart and soul of that football team."
Hornets romp to sectional title
BY MARK FARINELLA SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
MANSFIELD - It's a quirky sort of thing for an unbeaten football team to need, but the 10-0 Mansfield High School Hornets have developed a tendency to wait for a figurative alarm clock to go off before they kick things into gear.
And yes, it even happened in a sectional championship game.
"It's funny, all year we've tended to get down a little early, then it seems to wake us up," Mansfield coach Mike Redding said Friday night after his Hornets swarmed past No. 2 Barnstable, 41-16, to capture the MIAA Division 2-South title at Alumni Field.
The 8-2 Red Raiders scored on their second possession of the game, a 27-yard field goal by senior Dereck Pacheco, to lead the Hornets 3-0 with 4:29 left in the opening quarter. But Mansfield put 14 points on the scoreboard in the next 2:26 of play, and the outcome never seemed in doubt thereafter.
"We got down 7-3 to Wellesley, got down at Attleboro, got down at King Philip and it just kind of gets the guys fired up," Redding said. "They don't lose their poise. I just thought we kind of exploded after that. After the field goal, we got it going offensively, and once we get in a groove with our offense, we're pretty tough to stop."
The Hornets didn't wait long to assert themselves after Barnstable took the lead. Taking over at his own 25, senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski completed three passes to cover the 75 yards in just 58 seconds - a 3-yarder to Miguel Villar-Perez, a 26-yarder to Michael Hershman, and a 46-yard scoring pass over the middle to Kyle Hurley with 3:31 left, Alex Thompson adding the conversion kick.
Then, after Hornet linebacker Dhruv Patel intercepted a pass by Barnstable's Kristian Lucashensky at the Raiders' 28, Wisnieski got it all on his next pass, a bullet to Hershman, for a 14-3 lead with 2:03 left in the opening quarter.
Wisnieski completed seven of his first eight passes for 128 yards, compensating nicely for Barnstable's attempts to take the Mansfield ground game away.
"They were loading the box early," the senior signal-caller said. "They were bringing some heat, and they were trying to cover some of the receivers one-on-one. We had the confidence that they could get open and it happened."
"It just seems like the bigger the spotlight, the better he gets," Redding said of Wisnieski, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 281 yards and four touchdown passes. "We've got some guys that are clutch guys. Mike Hershman had a great night, Brendan Hill, Kyle ... those guys have played in a lot of big football and basketball games and they just don't get rattled. They can handle pressure.
"There are just too many weapons," he added. "As good as anybody is on defense, you can't handle four receivers, three backs, a good line, a beautiful night to play ... it's just tough to stop all the things we can do with our guys."
The "too many weapons" theme was a familiar one after Mansfield posted 398 yards of total offense.
"They showed us what we expected," Barnstable coach Chris Whidden said, "but their good kids were very good and they made all the plays when they needed to today. They're diverse. They've got a lot of weapons that you've got to account for."
The Hornets made it 21-3 with a nine-play, 46-yard drive in which the running game kicked back in. Eight of the plays were runs, including Villar-Perez's 7-yard sweep (hurdling the last Raider defender in the process) with 6:25 left in the half.
The Raiders briefly threatened to make a game of it by marching 84 yards in 10 plays (aided by two 15-yard Mansfield penalties), ending in Lucashensky's 2-yard sneak to make it 21-10 with 3:17 left.
But the Hornets responded with a sharply-executed drive of 71 yards in 12 plays. Wisnieski completed six passes to five different receivers, and converted three third-down situations before finding Hershman (seven catches, 132 yards) in the back of the end zone with 14 seconds left for a 28-10 lead.
Mansfield went 56 yards in 10 plays on its second possession of the second half, leading to Alex Ruddy's 10-yard run for a TD with 1:01 left. Then, after Mansfield's Michael Barresi intercepted Lucashensky at the Hornet 33 on the next-to-last play of the third quarter, the home team went 67 yards in eight plays to make it 41-10 on Brendan Hill's juggling 21-yard catch in the middle of the end zone.
Hurley added four catches for 80 yards and Hill three for 45 yards.
Barnstable's Derek Estes scored on a 22-yard throw from backup QB Griffin Burke on the last play of the game. Mansfield will await an announcement from the MIAA for the site and time of next weekend's state semifinal, at a site somewhere within the North section. Waltham, a 34-7 victor Friday night over Lincoln-Sudbury, will provide the competition for the right to play in the Division 2 Super Bowl Dec. 7 at Gillette Stadium.
The Mansfield Hornets are the MIAA Division 2-South champions after QB Kyle Wisnieski threw for 281 yards and four TD passes, and senior WR Mike Hershman caught seven passes for 132 yards and two scores.
The last time a Mansfield High School football team played for a championship at Gillette Stadium (2010), it faced a 26-7 halftime deficit and still won.
Saturday's circumstances may have looked a little less dire on the scoreboard at intermission - a 14-7 deficit to St. John's of Shrewsbury in the MIAA Division 2 state championship game - but each and every Hornet knew that five first-half turnovers could have put them on a course to disaster, if it hadn't already.
"We knew we didn't play our football in the first half. That was not Mansfield football," quarterback Kyle Wisnieski said after his team rallied for a 28-14 triumph, the Hornets' seventh Super Bowl championship and their first of the true-state-championship era.
The Hornets did some serious soul-searching in their locker room after surrendering four fumbles and one interception in the first half.
"We knew a negative attitude wasn't going to do anything for us," Wisnieski said. "So we came together and got behind each other. We came here as a family and we went out there in the second half and just played our football."
Fortunate to be trailing only by a touchdown after the nightmarish first half despite a wide statistical advantage, the Hornets (13-0) scored on their first three possessions of the second half - and went into victory formation on their fourth after stopping the Pioneers' last-gasp possession at the Mansfield 19 with 55 seconds left to play.
"We knew we were playing pretty well," senior captain Steve Zieselman said. "We just had to hang onto the ball better and execute some plays better. We came into the second half with our minds more focused, more hungry, wanting to win this game."
In the end, the Pioneers were equally generous with the football - and the Hornets were able to turn one of quarterback Andrew Smiley's three interceptions into a quick score at the start of the second half to start a seismic shift in momentum.
Mike Barresi's interception at the St. John's 37, returned to the 11, came just three plays into the half. On the next play, Mansfield senior Alex Ruddy burst through the line for a touchdown with 8:43 left in the quarter - and while a rare point-after miss by kicker Alex Thompson kept the Pioneers in the lead by a point, confidence had been restored to the Mansfield sideline.
What followed were probably the two most "clutch" drives of Mansfield's season - a 10-play, 59-yard march leading to Mike Hershman's 8-yard counter for a touchdown and Miguel Villar-Perez's two-point conversion run for a 21-14 lead with 3:09 left in the third quarter, and a 14-play, 80-yard possession that killed 7:49 off the clock, ending in Villar-Perez's 3-yard run with 2:38 left to play.
"The first half, it was defense, keeping them to 14 (points) with all the turnovers," Mansfield coach Mike Redding said. "The second half, it was that drive. You don't want to give them the ball down seven. You just didn't want to do it, and we were able to punch it in and put it away."
The common threads in both lengthy possessions were the efforts of the Hornets' walking wounded - Hershman, who has grappled with a sports hernia for the better part of two seasons, and Villar-Perez, whose shoulder popped out of place in the Thanksgiving game at Foxboro, but healed sufficiently for him to be one of the best players in the crown jewel of Mansfield's seven championships.
Hershman not only caught a game-high six passes for 71 yards, he also carried the ball eight times for 67 yards.
"He played both ways and ran the ball better than he ever had, and we just felt he could do more damage running than receiving," Redding said. "Coming in, we felt we could really run the ball, and thank goodness we were able to do it to extend the lead."
Villar-Perez, meanwhile, exceeded all expectations by carrying 18 times for 118 yards.
"It was funny, over the weekend I thought that Brendan (Hill, injured wide receiver) would play and Miguel wouldn't," Redding said. "Brendan had the MRI and found out that he couldn't, but Miguel got better every day - he practiced Wednesday and felt OK, practiced Thursday and felt better, and by Friday we were convinced he could help us."
With the added help of Chris Buchanan's seven carries for 21 yards (and a second-half return to the field after a second-quarter knee injury) and 28 yards on four totes by Ruddy, the Hornets amassed 295 rushing yards on 46 carries on the way to a 386-251 advantage in total yardage.
After forcing a three-and-out from the Pioneers and taking over at their own 41, the Hornets ran the ball on eight of the nine plays before Hershman's TD - Hershman adding an early 11-yard tote and Villar-Perez picking up 29 on three carries. He had to fight a lot harder for the two-point conversion, but received able assists from Wisnieski and Nick Paquin for the final push into the end zone.
St. John's threatened after the go-ahead score, running back Shane Combs (15 carries, 104 yards) breaking a 32-yarder on the second play of a nine-play possession. But the march stalled as the Pioneers reached the Mansfield red zone, and Barresi made the big breakup of a fourth-and-1 pass from Andrew Smiley to Tom Kelley at the 20.
Again, the Hornets relied upon the run game to get the insurance touchdown. The biggest play of the 14-play possession was a fourth-and-1 burst of 14 yards by senior Aurian "Peewee" Dawkins to the Pioneers' 32, followed four plays later by Buchanan's 13-yarder up the middle to the St. John's 5. Villar-Perez and Thompson made it 28-14 with 2:38 left.
Smiley (8-23, 64 yards, three interceptions) completed three passes to get inside the Mansfield 20 on his team's last possession, but a grounding penalty against the senior effectively sidetracked the drive.
The Hornets had only a 148-116 edge in total yards in the second half, but were buoyed by a whopping 13:17-6:43 possession advantage. And, of course, they didn't commit any turnovers - a huge difference from their sputtering start.
They opened the game with a confident 10-play, 73-yard march that was again run-heavy (nine of 10 plays on the ground), and featured Hershman catching a 21-yard pass and running for 13 on the next play - all setting up Ruddy's 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 5:33 left in the opening quarter.
But Buchanan's fumble at the 40 with 3:07 left (a questionable call in that his forward progress on the run had been stopped well before the ball was stripped) was followed by Smiley running for 35 yards and then from a yard out to tie the score with 2:15 left.
The Pioneers' Sam Norton pulled the ball out of the air to end Mansfield's next possession at the St. John's 37, but the Hornets' Joe Moreshead stood up Combs on fourth-and-1 at the Mansfield 23 for a loss of 2 yards.
Seven plays later, Buchanan was injured on the third lost-ball play (Jacob Byczko recovering) and St. John's had the ball at midfield, Combs running it in from 19 yards out for a 14-7 lead with 4:18 left in the half. Further disaster from a fumbled kickoff return was averted when Dawkins intercepted Smiley in the end zone with 3:03 left, and the two quarterbacks traded picks before the half ended.
Two quarters of football later, and all of the frustrations were forgotten.
"A lot of those guys just battled through some pain and knew that this was it," Redding said, "and it was just great to see their dreams come true."
|First||Mansfield||Alex Ruddy 1 run||Alex Thompson kick||5:33|
|First||St Johns||Andrew Smiley 1 run||John Coveney kick||2:15|
|Second||St Johns||Shane Combs 19 run||Coveney kick||4:18|
|Third||Mansfield||Ruddy 11 run||kick failed||8:43|
|Third||Mansfield||Mike Hershman 8 run||Miguel Villar-Perez rush||3:09|
|Fourth||Mansfield||Villar-Perez 3 run||Thompson kick||2:38|
Mansfield — Villar-Perez 18-118, Hershman 8-67, Buchanan 7-26, Ruddy 4-28, Boisvert 4-7, Wisnieski 6-35, Dawkins 1-14.
St. John’s — Smiley 13-94, Combs 15-104, Jones 1-minus 2.
Mansfield — Wisnieski 8-15-1—91.
St. John’s — Smiley 8-23-3—64.
Mansfield — Hershman 6-77, Villar-Perez 1-7, Buchanan 1-8.
St. John’s — Jones 4-41, McGillicuddy 2-12, Kelley 1-0, Combs 1-11.