MANSFIELD, Mass. -- Attleboro stormed back in the second half of Friday night’s Hockomock League Kelley-Rex divisional opener at Mansfield, but two crucial personal foul calls against star running back Malique Clark and several strong defensive stands helped the Hornets hold on for a 21-19 victory.
Trailing by eight points with less than seven minutes remaining in the game, Clark (15 carries, 142 yards, 2 TD; 2 catches, 69 yards, TD) eluded two Hornets tacklers in the backfield with a lightning quick cut and took off for a 72-yard touchdown. During the celebration, he was called for a personal foul for taking off his helmet.
Instead of attempting a two-point conversion from the three, Attleboro (4-1) was forced to try and tie it from the 18-yard line. The attempt was just broken up in the corner of the end zone with the Attleboro sideline screaming for pass interference.
Attleboro was immediately given another chance at the lead when the ensuing kick-off was fumbled by Mike Cunningham and recovered by the Bombardiers at the 33-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage Clark rushed up the middle for a yard, but was flagged for another personal foul that forced Attleboro back to the Mansfield 47. The Bombardiers would go three and out.
Following the game, Attleboro coach Kevin Deschenes admitted to not having seen the first personal foul but made it clear that it was not the officials that cost his team. He was proud of his team’s ability to fight back.
“We played a lot better in the second half," Deschenes said. "As far as my kids are concerned, they stayed mentally tough and they fought back and we came two points shy of tieing the game.”
Mansfield (3-2) head coach Mike Redding made the biggest call of the night with his team facing third and five at the 49, trying to run out the clock. Junior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski caught the Attleboro defense with a play action pass to wideout Brendan Hill for 24 yards that effectively sealed the game.
Mansfield lost its star back, Robbie Rapoza, to a suspected concussion in the first quarter and offensively lost its rhythm in the second half.
“The interception at the end of the half was big," Redding said. "Because it would have gotten us to 28, and it would have taken Malique out of the game, and they would have had to just throw. They have a great drive to start the second half and the game changed.”
The first half was dominated by the Hornets. Mansfield limited the Bombardiers to only 12 plays from scrimmage and controlled the time of possession. It started on the opening possession of the game as Mansfield marched down field and Wisnieski hit Hill for a 12-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
After a Clark fumble, Mansfield took advantage of the short field to score again. This time it was Wisnieski on a 1-yard keeper. Attleboro answered back on its next possession with a 63-yard bomb from Tim Walsh to Clark, but the Hornets came right back with a powerful 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive finished off by senior captain Kevin Makie from a yard out.
The Hornets turned the ball over three times in the second half, but the defense limited the Bombardiers to only six points off those giveaways. Redding was proud of the way his defensive unit stepped up under pressure.
“Push came to shove, our defense came up with some big stops with their backs against the wall and kept them out of the end zone," he said. "We’ll take it any way we can get it right now.”