NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – At the time, Joe Oram’s tackle looked like a game-saver.
When No. 5 Mansfield added a final-minute touchdown, giving the Hornets their final margin of victory at 24-15, it only distorted the importance of Oram’s stop while providing further clarity to what could have been a photo finish.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that scenario,” Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said. “If they score and tie up with two minutes to go, then I’m thinking, do we go for it or do you play it safe. I’m glad it didn’t have to come down to that.”
North Attleborough was two points down with 2:07 to play, after Dan Johnson broke left into the flat and hit Ryan Flannery with a 7-yard touchdown pass on a halfback option. Leading up to the ensuing two-point try, both Redding and Red Rocketeers head coach Don Johnson played each other’s bluff in aligning their squads. When No. 10 North Attleborough broke the huddle, the play call was for a run, a keeper for quarterback Paul McCarthy. His lane up the middle collapsed, so he bounced to the outside in an effort to find space.
There he was met by Oram, who drove McCarthy back short of the goal line and, in effect, put the Hornets in control to win the Hockomock League title this season.
“He was running inside on the dive, but Kyle McGuire came down and plugged the hole,” Oram said. “When he bounced it outside, I just met him at the line and drove him back.”
The linebacker continued, “This win is just huge. It means a lot to us.”
Mansfield (7-1, 6-0) still had to finish the win by recovering an on-side kick attempt following the missed two-point play. It looked as though the Red Rocketeers (7-1, 5-1) might force a punt and get the ball back again, holding the Hornets to a third-and-seven. But George Busharis hit Jamel Marshall for a crushing 17-yard pickup on a throw to the flat.
Two plays later, Greg Donahue added a point of emphasis with a 28-yard touchdown run.
“I think the difference was, and it happened in both halves, they won on third down,” the elder Johnson said. “We played great defense on first and 10 and, then beyond that, we struggled.”
Mansfield broke the defensive maelstrom in the second quarter, when Jeff Hill used every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to come down with an 18-yard score from Busharis. Dave Eberhart added a 23-yard field goal later in the second stanza for a 10-0 Hornet lead.
North Attleborough got back three points just before the half on Zach Horton’ 22-yard field goal as time expired.
Big Red found greater offensive consistency in the second half, when McCarthy tested Mansfield with his arm (11 of 22, 131 yards) and his feet (8 carries, 63 yards).
“I thought we were able to mix it up,” Johnson said of the Red Rocketeers offense in the second half. “We kept finding ourselves in long-yardage situations early. We kind of got stuck where we had to throw a little too much. We were able to run the ball a little inside and then that opened up the outside, then we could pass on other downs.”
McCarthy hit Brady Shorey on a perfectly executed screen pass for a 51-yard touchdown with 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Hornets answered with a plodding 12-play, 6:40 drive that culminated in a 5-yard touchdown by Marshall, who carried the ball on seven of those plays while finishing the game with 25 carries for 159 yards.
North Attleborough bounced back with a score of its own, on the halfback option play from Dan Johnson. Redding was prepared for trick play, but didn’t quite have the particulars down.
“We’d talked about Donny’s [Johnson] son throwing, [but] we though he was right-handed,” Redding said. “He’s actually left-handed, so going left and throwing, we covered him pretty well, but it was a great catch by Flannery.”
Then, it was left to Oram’s anticipation.
Mansfield was determined not to let McCarthy beat them and wanted to neutralize his top target, Flannery.
“I think when they saw us in that defense, they went to the run,” Redding said, “and fortunately, that weak-side blitz caused some penetration. That made the difference.”
No. 5 Mansfield 0 10 0 14 -- 24
No. 10 North Attleborough 0 3 6 6 -- 15
Mansfield Jeff Hill 18-yard pass from George Busharis (Dave Eberhart kick)
Mansfield Dave Eberhart 23-yard field goal
North Attleborough Zach Horton 22-yard field goal
North Attleborough Brady Shorey 51-yard pass from Paul McCarthy (kick blocked)
Mansfield Jamel Marshall 5-yard run (Eberhart kick)
North Attleborough Ryan Flannery 7-yard pass from Dan Johnson (rush failed)
Mansfield Greg Donahue 28-yard run (Eberhart kick)