This was a season of four games:
- A much improved King Philip team (Preseason pick as a top team)
- The annual North Attleboro rivalry after last second loss in 2009 (28-25)
- Rematches with Franklin after another heartbreaking last minute loss in 2009 (29-28).
- And the finale; The Super Bowl!
The 2010 season:
The season started off on a tough note, playing one of the top teams in NY State (Aquinas Institute, of Rochester)
without your first and second string running back was a tall order (AI 32 M 5).
Mansfield handled the next three games;
Minnechaug Regional (Man 46 Min 13 NL), Oliver Ames (M 33 OA 0), Stoughton (M 35 S 15).
The next game was a test of what was to come; Mansfield showed the league what they were made of.
The defense shut down a very good offensive team , King Philip (M 28 KP 0).
MANSFIELD - They did it through the air in the first half. They did it on the ground during the second half.
They did it with specialty teams play and they did it with defense.
It wasn't the spectacular plays that made the Mansfield High School football team successful Friday night at Alumni Field, it was the accumulation of executing the routine, fundamental plays - blocking, running, catching, kicking - that enabled the Hornets to leave no doubt as to who is the best team in the Hockomock League.
"As good a record as we may have, as good a team as we think we have, Mansfield has a way of reminding us that we still have a ways to go," sighed King Philip High football coach Brian Lee after the previously unbeaten Warriors were manhandled, an ever-so-surprising 28-0 margin.
Mansfield High junior quarterback George Busharis completed five first-half passes to senior wide receiver Jeff Hill for 58 yards and two touchdowns; senior tailback Jamel Marshall rambled for 84 of his 103 rushing yards during the second half, including a touchdown; the Hornets scoring on two of their first three offensive possessions to assume a 14-0 advantage midway through the second quarter.
The Hornet defense created four sacks of KP quarterback Alec May for 19 lost yards; 17 of the Warriors' 32 rushes were for three yards or less; KP did not venture past midfield until the final play of the first half, never advancing inside the Mansfield 20-yard line in the game witnessed by an SRO crowd.
And Hornet senior Jeremy Burke might have deserved the game ball because he uncorked a 55-yard punt to put KP on the 20-yard line to begin its first series of the game; pinned the Warriors at their own 16-yard line with just over two minutes left until halftime with a 36-yard kick; and then launched a 59-yard punt to the KP nine-yard line with the Warriors still trailing by 14 points and five minutes left in the third quarter.
"We played physical at every level," related Mansfield senior guard Kyle McGuire, the Hornets producing nearly 200 yards on the ground, nearly 100 yards through the air, while limiting a KP team which had been averaging better than 24 points per game to futility.
"We put in a lot of effort," said Hornet senior tackle Anthony Todesco, the Hornets not having a turnover and merely a trio of minor penalty infractions. "You have to commit to the program."
Busharis completed seven of 10 first half passes, directing the Hornets on scoring drives of 35 and 49 yards, tossing 15 and five yard scoring strikes to Hill. "KP is a good team too, but we came out firing."
The Hornets were so successful on offense, Mansfield had the ball for 14 minutes in the first half and did not allow KP past midfield during the second half until four minutes were left. "We got after it, it was a must win for us," said Marshall.
A 27-yard punt return by senior Mark Bowser to the KP 35-yard line set up Mansfield's initial scoring drive. Then on a fourth down and six-yard play, Busharis completed a screen pass to Marshall on the left flank for a 21-yard gain to the KP 11-yard line. Three plays later, KP's defensive secondary coverage was no match for the glue-fingered, 6-foot-4 Hill, who took in Busharis' TD toss on the left side
Three KP downs and out and Mansfield was gathering more might on offense, points on the scoreboard and clouts of confidence.
Busharis completed a 12-yard pass to Marshall, advancing the ball to the KP 38. Then he completed a 13-yard and 12-yard passes to Hill, moving the ball to the KP 11-yard line. Three plays later, facing a third down and four-yard situation, Hill ran a square-out route to the right, snared Busharis' pass for a TD and Dave Eberhart banged in the second of his three conversion kicks for a KP-numbing 14-0 score.
"Field position was an issue," added Lee. "We needed something good to happen and couldn't make it happen. We couldn't get anything going. It's the guys in the trenches - they (Mansfield) seemed to be much more physical than us."
KP began first half series at its 20, 18, 33 and 16 yard lines, not just totaling only 8:24 possession time on offense, but after securing a first down on their first offensive play, didn't secure another until two minutes remained.
May was able to complete just one first half pass for KP, while Zack Schafer and Chris Walker dropped him twice for QB sacks, the Warriors never advancing any further than the Mansfield 40-yard line, that on his 20-yard pass to Weston Hewins on the final play before intermission.
"We ran to the football, we were very disciplined," alluded Mansfield coach Mike Redding to neutralizing KP's running attack of Jim Johnston, Chris Cacciola and Charles Ruffin, the Warriors having just 49 yards on the ground in the first half. "We mixed in some blitzes, it was just 11 kids flying to the ball."
And when, seemingly, a door might open for KP, it closed. Like when the Hornets bobbled a KP punt on the first series of the second half. Instead of the Warriors recovering the ball at the MHS 25, facing a two-TD deficit with some hope - Hornet senior Justin Pennellatore latched onto the loose pigskin to retain possession for Mansfield.
And when that first series of the second half stalled for the Hornets, Burke bombed his 59-yard roller of a punt to the KP nine-yard line, once again erasing a window of opportunity for the Warriors.
"It seemed that any time that we had a bad drive, the defense would bail us out," added Redding.
In truth, McGuire created a QB sack for Mansfield; Dan Gilmore dropped a KP runner for a four-yard loss; and KP then shanked a 15-yard punt to midfield - where the Hornets began their third scoring drive.
Mansfield used six plays to put up six more points, Marshall sending the message with a trio of superb runs - a laudatory 21-yard, second-effort run to the KP 38; a dramatic cutback, creating a 24-yard gain to the KP 14; then using the blocking of tight end Dan Hershman and Todesco, the 235-pound left tackle to escort him into the end zone that remaining distance.
McGuire and Schafer created yet another QB sack for the Hornets, while Hill astutely knocked down a KP fourth down pass, instead of intercepting the ball - Mansfield taking possession of the ball at its own 72-yard line. The Hornets needed just five plays to travel that distance for a fourth touchdown - Marshall made an electrifying cutback for a 25-yard run to the KP 47, then junior Blayne Taylor set up his own TD with a 30-yard burst along the left sideline to the KP five-yard line.
"In the first half, it was Busharis to Hill, in the second half we went to more gap blocking to get holes for Jamel (Marshall) to hit," said Redding. "I really didn't think that it would turn out as it did. I thought that 21 points would win it, I didn't think that we'd shut them out.
They took care of business in the next two games, Attleboro (M 41 A 6) and Sharon (M 40 S 7).
Then came the big test, the "North" game. North Attleboro (M 24 NA 15)
North-Mansfield doesn't disappoint
I'll be honest with you. I needed to see a football game like the one I saw at North Attleboro's Community Field Friday night.
This has nothing to do with the identities of the teams or any personal leanings I have or am perceived to have; where I was born and raised have no bearing upon the importance of that game in my estimation - although I certainly think it's far more important to me than a game involving schools from outside our circulation area.
No, I needed that game for a different reason.
It's a little discouraging when the negative tone of our times starts to feel overwhelming. It's election time here in the commonwealth, and my mailbox is filled every day with pathetic attacks by one candidate upon another, the likes of which would never convince me that the attacker should be considered a potential leader. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Negativity and selfishness are the order of the day in almost all walks of life, and the machine that stokes the fires of popular culture expects us to celebrate bad behavior or stupidity.
I've had just about enough of "Jersey Shore" and Brett Favre and just about everything in-between, and usually I find my antidote for modern society in the simple joys of watching high school sports - when that's not being tainted as well.
Needless to say, I was not a happy camper after the game I attended in Norton two Fridays ago. I went to what I expected to be a hard-fought battle between two teams and instead saw one admittedly good team not just beat the local team, but then told to keep its foot on the accelerator pedal to the final gun - not exactly the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship that I believe has to be taught to every high school athlete in every sport by coaches who have the power to influence the lives of these young men and women.
Fortunately, the game between the 6-1 Mansfield Hornets and the 7-0 North Attleboro Red Rocketeers reminded me that things can still be done the right way in this day and age.
I won't bore you with a retelling of the game itself, other than to underscore that there's a lot of history between the two schools, a lot of emotion as well, and a game of this sort can sometimes be overcome by that emotion.
Mansfield and North Attleboro have been playing football for a long time - since 1921, four years before Mansfield started playing Foxboro and 26 years before those neighboring towns started playing on Thanksgiving Day. Friday's game was the 81st between the schools, one more than Mansfield and Foxboro have played and just 10 fewer (nine if you don't count that MIAA Division 3 Super Bowl) than there have been between North Attleboro and Attleboro in the same time span.
There have been times when North Attleboro was dominant, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, when Mansfield's program struggled with a lack of talent and enrollment-based depth. There was also a time during that period when the rivalry was almost too intense, when the competition lacked respect and restraint and the penalty yardage rose accordingly.
That's been a thing of the past for a while, however, and even if you just moved into the area and knew nothing of the history between these two schools, you'd have to look at the last two games and come to the conclusion that this was the best football that this area has to offer.
Last year, North Attleboro came to Mansfield's Alumni Field as underdogs, struggling to cope with the shocking news that one of its own, Marine Capt. Kyle Van De Giesen, had died in action piloting his helicopter in Afghanistan. Resolved to play as hard as they could in memory of the former North quarterback, the Rocketeers rallied from an 11-point deficit in the last five minutes to win, 28-25, on Joe Kummer's 10-yard pass to Dan Johnson with 41 seconds left.
Emotional as that contest could have been, it was competed with respect for the finest traditions of the game. And a year later, the two teams did it again.
North entered with an unblemished record, and Mansfield with one loss to an out-of-state foe. As usually is the case, the outcome of the Hockomock League race would be profoundly affected by the result.
On the opposing sidelines were two men who know each other well - Mansfield coach Mike Redding, standout wide receiver for North Attleboro and Holy Cross nearly 30 years ago, who exchanged his red trappings for green 23 years ago and has built one of the best programs in the state, facing his former high school and college teammate, Don Johnson, who ascended to the top spot last season after years of preparation as the Rocketeers' defensive coordinator.
The ability and character of these men dictate not just the quality of their teams, but also how grounded they are in concepts that some may believe to be outmoded in this "me, me, me" era. The Hornets and Rocketeers are "teams" in the best sense of the word, bands of brothers that work together, sweat together and bleed together to accomplish a common goal. Football is not just a sport to these teams and their coaches, it's a learning experience for the players and a teaching tool for the coaches. Life lessons are taught in Mansfield and North Attleboro, but just don't take my word for it - ask the athletes. They'll tell you.
Friday night, the game was close as expected. Yards were hard-earned and came at a premium. Mansfield led 10-3 at the half and clung to a 10-9 edge when Jeff Hill, a player whom some might consider too talented to be on special teams, proved why the best must be expected to contribute in any phase of the game by blocking a conversion kick.
Mansfield extended the lead to 17-9, but North came roaring back. Dan Johnson was again a central figure in the comeback, throwing an 8-yard halfback option pass to Ryan Flannery in the left corner of the end zone to bring the Rocketeers within two points, but the conversion rush was stuffed.
The Hornets added one more score, and could consider themselves fortunate to have done so with so little time left on the clock for North. The Rocketeers had no intention of quitting, and players such as Johnson, Flannery and quarterback Paul McCarthy battled to the very end of the 24-15 Mansfield victory.
The competition was intense, but clean. Players on both sides wanted the victory, but not at the expense of potentially hurting their own teams by making bad decisions based upon the emotions of the moment. They battled tooth-and-nail for 44 minutes and then shook hands and congratulated each other in a manner worthy of the traditions that have been built and sustained in North Attleboro and Mansfield.
Simply stated, this is how it's done.
Some enterprising soul should take the films from Friday's game and market it as an instructional video that shows how the game should be played and how the players, coaches and fans should conduct themselves. As disheartened as I may have been entering Community Field, I left remembering why I got into this business in the first place.
Well done, everyone.
Followed by the rematch of the "defending Hock champ", Franklin (M 21 F 7)
MANSFIELD - Last year's Hockomock League champion is the latest road block in the path of the Mansfield Hornets. Coming off their biggest win of the year, coach Mike Redding and his team will host the Franklin Panthers on Friday, a team behind where it was a year ago, but going in the right direction on the learning curve.
"Their young kids are definitely a little bit more experienced," said Redding, adding that the Franklin players are improving on a weekly basis. "They're a team I wish we played earlier in the season."
Mansfield (7-1, 6-0 league) comes in with the Hockomock League's best record, but will need a win against Franklin and next week against Canton to clinch at least a share of the league title. North Attleboro and King Philip (both 5-1 in league) are looking up at the Hornets, waiting for a slip.
The book is out on the Panthers. There will be a quickened pace as a result of coach Brad Sidwell's no huddle spread offense. It's not the schemes that are of concern to Redding, it's quarterback Will Richards, whom he heaps high praise on.
"He kind of reminds me a little bit of Nate Robitaille in Attleboro," he said. "You have to cover four or five receivers and still worry about him scrambling."
Brett Weaver, a slippery runner, is likely to see a lot of carries for the Panthers. The four- and five-man defensive fronts Mansfield will see are similar to North Attleboro's defense, which is fresh in the minds of the Hornets.
Those Hornets are as sound in body as they are in mind, as they may be the healthiest they've been all year. All of Redding's starting lineup will be ready to go against Franklin and running back Jamel Marshall should be 100 percent.
The matchup will only be Mansfield's third home game of the season. This week is Senior Week for the Hornets, so if the Panthers expect to deflate the Mansfield balloon as Foxboro did to them last week in Franklin, they might have another thing coming.
"I don't think there are any worries of a letdown," said Redding. "We're peaking at the right time. We control our destiny down the stretch."
Panthers put scare in Hornets
MANSFIELD - Looking at a 7-0 deficit at halftime Friday night, Mansfield High football coach Mike Redding had no choice but to put the Marshall Plan into effect.
He handed the ball to his 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior running back, and Jamel Marshall delivered a 21-7 victory over Franklin that kept the 8-1 Hornets (7-0 in the Hockomock League's Kelley-Rex Division) on track to becoming the league's MIAA playoff representative.
"This was a gut check for this team," Redding said after the second-half comeback at Alumni Field. "We didn't play well in the first half. But we came to play in the second half, and that's the sign of a championship team, to step up when we really needed it. We couldn't waste a possession in the second half."
Marshall was immense after intermission. He carried 20 times for 167 yards in the second half, finishing with 196 yards on 29 totes, scoring all three Mansfield touchdowns, and adding a 5-yard reception for good measure.
Not only did he get Mansfield back in contention with his hard running, he also got to play the Corey Dillon role in the fourth quarter by carrying on 10 of the 12 plays in an 85-yard march, picking up 70 yards (including a 2-yard touchdown run with 2:03 left after he shed would-be tackler Lloyd Mann behind the line of scrimmage) and helping to take 5:55 off the clock.
"We wanted to pound them in the second half and not mess around with throwing," Redding said. "We wanted to avoid penalties and not get into negative-yardage plays, and when you give it to him, you're going to get at least three or four or maybe more."
The Hornets certainly were shocked at how easily Franklin (5-4, 3-4) scored on the game's opening possession - seven plays, 85 yards in 3:45, with quarterback Will Richards (14 carries, 99 yards) setting up his 22-yard pass to Steve Santangelo for the lead with his own 58-yard scamper up the middle to reach the Mansfield red zone.
"Our kids came out emotionally ready to go and played hard," Franklin coach Brad Sidwell said. "We controlled the ball, which is what we needed to do, to keep getting first downs."
Mansfield was also frustrated on two lengthy drives into Franklin territory, The first was a 14-play, 57-yard march to the Franklin 15 that ended when a pass to Jeff Hill was slapped away by Franklin's Kevin Brunelli, and the second was a nine-play possession stopped at the Franklin 21. The Panthers were similarly stopped on a fourth-down incompletion at the Mansfield 25 just before halftime.
Mansfield started the comeback by marching 71 yards in eight plays, as Marshall broke gallops of 14 and 26 yards and went off left tackle from 6 yards out to tie the score (after Dave Eberhart's kick) with 6:47 left in the third quarter.
Getting the ball back after a Franklin punt to their 24, the Hornets were back in the end zone eight plays later. Hill's clutch third-and-7 catch of 12 yards to the Franklin 37 kept the drive going, and Marshall covered 33 yards on the last two plays - a sweep for 14, and a quick-cut run to the right side for 19 yards and a 14-7 lead with 16 seconds left in the quarter.
The Hornets had to beat back one last Panther challenge that was somewhat of their own making. Three Mansfield penalties accounted for 30 yards and Richards (7-16, 100 yards, two interceptions) found Zach Bieler for 20 yards to the Hornet 19. But two plays later, Mansfield's Dan Gilmore intercepted Richards at the Hornet 4 to end the threat.
After Marshall's time-consuming drive, which contributed to a 14:06-to-7:54 possession advantage for the Hornets in the half, defensive end Zack Schafer added an interception at midfield to put the game away.
After that the team took on Canton (M 41 C 0), Foxborough (M 32 F 12)
and first round play-off opponent Walpole (M 28 W 0).
All of this was to culminate in one of the greatest wins by a Mansfield team in the history of the school. If you didn't see it or a replay of it, find someone who has a copy and watch it.
Sat. 12/4/10 Reading (M 29 R 26) @ Gillette Stadium
Won for the ages
FOXBORO - There is no other word to describe it.
"I don't know if we've ever come back from down 19," Mansfield High School football coach Mike Redding said Saturday evening at Gillette Stadium, "and to do it in the state championship against a great team like Reading, this will go down in the annals as maybe one of the best games ever."
No doubt, Mansfield's 29-26 triumph over the previously unbeaten Rockets in the MIAA Eastern Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl will be recalled for decades to come with awe and amazement by the players, coaches and fans that shared the experience. Down 26-7 at halftime and playing as if all of the lessons of 12 previous games had been forgotten, the Green Hornets (12-1) took stock of themselves during the intermission and resolutely set about the quest of undertaking a near-impossible comeback.
First, the defense had to prove that it could stop Reading's talented senior quarterback, Brian Bourque, who had rushed for 76 yards on 10 first-half carries - most on the same shotgun draw that wasn't disguised in any way - and completed all six of his passes for 74 yards.
That was accomplished when senior linebacker Joe Oram dropped Bourque for a loss of 3 yards on a first-down carry at the Reading 35 on the first Rocket possession of the half. Then two plays later, it was further confirmed when senior Mike Mallon sacked Bourque for a 2-yard loss, forcing the first punt of the game.
Taking over at its own 32, the reborn Hornet offense debuted when junior quarterback George Busharis found senior receiver Jeff Hill all alone down the right side of the field, a play that carried 68 yards to cut the deficit to 26-14.
"In the first half, we weren't playing our style of football," said Hill, who caught five passes for 192 yards despite an injury to his left shin suffered in the semifinal against Walpole. "We were turning it over and the defense wasn't doing so well. But at halftime, we rediscovered our identity as a hard-nosed defensive team, and the offense started rolling."
A three-and-out by Reading, and Mansfield went right back to work - a 55-yard catch-and-run by Hill over the fallen Bourque to the Reading 5, followed by Jamal Marshall's 5-yard TD run and Dave Eberhart's kick with 2:51 left - two plays, 60 yards, just 18 seconds.
And suddenly, it's a five-point game.
"We just played possession by possession," Redding said. "We thought if we could score first, it would be a game. If we could get a second or a third, it was wide open, and it went according to script.
"The key was our defense," added the 23rd-year coach. "We were 0-4 in the first half and they were 4-4 scoring on drives, and in the second half, we held them to a shutout. You wouldn't have predicted that at halftime."
To turn the tide, Mansfield had to stop Bourque from taking the snap and racing for big yardage through gaping holes in the defensive line. Mission accomplished; the 6-foot-5 senior was held to 14 yards on nine carries in the second half.
"We just tried to get more guys in the box and actually blitz less," Redding said. "If they see run, they could rally to it ... pass, get back. A little less blitz, more guys in the box. But I didn't think we could shut them out."
Those last five points would be a huge obstacle to overcome, however. Eberhart's interception with eight seconds left in the third quarter put Mansfield in business at its own 17, and Busharis (8-14, 232 yards, one TD, two interceptions) lofted a 40-yard pass to Greg Donahue to get to the Reading 19.
A face-mask call on Marshall's next run brought the ball to the 9, but the Rockets stopped the senior back on three straight plays and a pass in the end zone for Dylan Finerty sailed long, turning the ball over on downs at the 2 with 5:08 left in the game.
Reading again went three-and-out and Mansfield got the ball back on the Rockets' 45 after the punt, but on a third-down throw, Reading's Sean Gildea intercepted Busharis at the 1 with 1:32 left. Gildea was falling backward and out of bounds, but the officials ruled that he did not go into the end zone for a touchback - a huge break, and crucial to what followed two plays later.
With second-and-10 from the 1, Bourque dropped back to pass and was intercepted by Mansfield junior Dan Gilmore, whose 20-yard return to the Rockets' 2 presented Mansfield with one more opportunity to complete the comeback for the ages. Marshall did not disappoint, running off left tackle into the end zone with 1:07 left and following with a similar conversion rush.
"I knew it was possible," said Marshall (18 carries, 91 yards, two touchdowns). "I never gave up on my team. We have a strong unit and we've been working hard for four years together."
And to further frustrate the Rockets, Mansfield called for its third onside kick of the game and senior Ken Barsomian recovered it, allowing the Hornets to run off all but three seconds of the remaining time.
"We're doing the onside kicks, which may not have been the smartest things, but you have to be aggressive, you've got to play to win and not play not to lose," Redding said.
Mansfield's amazing second-half rally was in direct contrast to a mistake-filled first half.
Marshall, who broke a 42-yard run on the first play of the game, fumbled the ball away two plays later and Reading converted it into a 10-play, 74-yard drive capped with an 11-yard end-around by senior Nick Scali for a 6-0 lead.
Marshall atoned nicely when he fired a 47-yard halfback option pass to Hill for a touchdown with eight seconds left in the quarter.
"The halfback pass, I'm the only receiver that goes out," Hill said. "Jamel is one of the best backs in the state. So if they see him get the ball, they'll be coming up on the run."
Scali blunted the Hornets' excitement by returning the ensuing kickoff 72 yards to the Mansfield 17. Four plays later, Bourque ran the shotgun draw in from 2 yards out for a 12-7 lead.
From there, things began to snowball against the Hornets. Busharis was stripped of the ball after a 7-yard gain to the Rockets' 37 with 5:20 left in the half, and a 32-yard pass from Bourque to Scali (followed by that connection on the conversion) made it 20-7 with 1:01 to go.
Reading's Larry Gilligan was no little buddy to Busharis with 19 seconds left, picking him off at the Reading 34 and returning it to the Mansfield 40. Then, after a 22-yard pass to Gildea, Bourque raced 18 yards to the end zone as time expired, building a 19-point lead that would be extremely difficult to overcome.
As it was - but Mansfield proved it wasn't impossible.
"Our seniors are great leaders, a lot of character, and it came through today," Redding said. "If you don't have leadership and character, there's no way you're winning this game today."
Lines pave way for Hornet win
FOXBORO - Reading's 26-7 halftime lead over Mansfield at Gillette Stadium was the glaring number. Sure, your eyes told you that Rockets' quarterback Brian Bourque was orchestrating another sonata on the field, but the 19-point deficit is about enough to erase any shades of gray as to the who-what-where of the first half.
Depending on who you talk to, Hornets coach Mike Redding either delivered an inspirational halftime speech or a very straightforward one. What's not debatable is the effort put in by Mansfield's corps of linemen. While points were needed, the Herculean comeback began in the trenches, where those players with numbers in the 50's and 60's do their dirty work.
The linemen don't appear on the scoresheet, but their success is determined by disrupting those on the opposition who do. For all Reading's talent and ability, target No. 1 was clearly Bourque. After a perfect 6-for-6 first half with one throwing touchdown and two rushing, Mansfield did what no other team could do, get in Bourque's head by getting at his body.
In one key third-quarter stretch, Mansfield sacked Bourque twice in the course of three plays to bring Reading's drive to a screeching halt. On a first and 10 with about seven minutes to play in the quarter, eye-blacked senior Joe Oram dragged down Bourque, spinning him to the Gillette Stadium turf. Two plays later, on third down, center and nose guard Mike Mallon popped the 6-5 quarterback as he looked for running space outside the tackle box.
After a punt, Mansfield began its offensive resurrection with a 68-yard bomb from George Busharis to Jeff Hill. One play, six points. The Mansfield defense couldn't make such a marked difference on a single play, instead having to consistently find a way to stop Reading's larger offensive line. Luckily, it's a task the Hornets have been up to previously.
"We just battled to make plays," said Redding. "Our 11 guys, you put them in a room in street clothes, you wouldn't believe they're our starters. They're small and they're undersized. But they're tough, they're fast and they work hard in the weight room. They came to play in the second half. To shut out that team for 20 minutes is a heck of an accomplishment."
Reading's 25-game winning streak is one to remember, but its second half against Mansfield is one Bourque would rather forget. He rushed for just 15 yards and completed one pass, while having two intercepted.
Oram and Mallon check in at under 6-feet and much of their line mates aren't much bigger, but where size lacks, experience leads. In order to stop the Rockets' balanced offense, Mansfield would need to play its best single half of football of the season.
"I'm really not sure how we shut them out in the second half," admitted Redding. "Bourque and their backs can pound you inside. If you get too many guys inside, they got four good receivers. They're tough to defend."
Three of five offensive linemen and the entire Mansfield D-line are comprised of seniors, including Chris Walker, Sean Otto and two-way starter Kyle McGuire, a Hockomock League all-star, who was among the first in line to accept the championship trophy with tears in his eyes and fresh blood smeared above his nose.
"Our line has been tough all year," he said. "We're always smaller than most of the kids we go up against but we played tough. We have a lot of heart. That's what matters."
The Hornets struggled to score the game-winning touchdown, twice having drive's stall and relying on the defense to get the ball back - a task they happily performed. When the Mansfield offense did get the ball back on the Reading 2-yard line, Hockomock MVP Jamel Marshall was handed the ball in what was Redding's bread-and-butter play on the afternoon, a power run to the left side. Nearly every one of Marshall's 18 carries went to the left, a conscious decision designed to both utilize the blocking of stellar left tackle Anthony Todesco and left guard Carlos Arevalo and to avoid game-changing edge-rusher Jeff Covitz, working against right guard Nick Leonard and right tackle McGuire.
"I have not done a game plan to avoid one lineman as much as we did (with Jeff Covitz)," acknowledged Redding. "He's a great high school player, should be a scholarship college player. We did not want to run to him on a regular basis. That's why all the runs (went) left. We have good linemen over there but it was a mix of utilizing our strengths and avoiding their strengths."
The ability to wash away three first half turnovers and ignore the dismal score staring them down from Gillette Stadium's two large video boards at each end zone turned an inconceivable comeback into a 29-26 storybook victory.
"If you don't have character guys today, you don't win the game," said Redding. "Second half, we held them to a shutout. You wouldn't have predicted that when we went in at halftime."
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