MANSFIELD, Mass. – At the heart of defending against Mansfield’s offense is a simple numbers game.
“There’s just too many weapons,” Hornets head coach Mike Redding said Friday night. “As good as anybody is on defense, you can’t handle four receivers, three backs, a good line, on a beautiful night to play. It’s tough to top what we’re able to do with our guys.”
Coming off one of the more impressive defensive performances in the MIAA football playoffs a week against Natick, Barnstable entered the Division 2 South title game looking to shut down an equally explosive unit. After picking apart one of state’s top aerial attacks with Troy Flutie, the Red Raiders faced another tall task in trying to stop Mansfield quarterback Kyle Wisnieski and his cache of weapons.
Unlike the previous week’s performance, Barnstable was unable to slow the Hornets as Wisnieski dissected the Red Raiders to the tune of 276 yards and four touchdowns as Mansfield rolled to a 41-16 victory.
The Hornets (10-0) advance to play North champion Waltham in the Div. 2 state semifinal next week.
“They played a lot of [Cover] Three and man, and we have good package against zone defense, going over and under on people,” Redding said. “The thing that’s tough with us is our play-action game. Natick really didn’t bring that against them, they’re all throwing. But we have the ability to run and then play-action.”
Of that multi-pronged offense, Michael Hershman featured prominently.
From the get-go, the Hornets’ script featured a strong supporting role from the senior wide receiver who has long been hobbled by a sports hernia injury (which will eventually require surgery). Hershman led all receivers with seven catches for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also was heavily involved in the running game, taking several jet sweeps off tackle.
“He looked like the Mike Hershman of old,” Redding said.
But the Hornets’ offensive output came from a multitude of sources, with Brendan Hill and Kyle Hurley adding touchdown receptions in addition a sound ground game with Miguel Villar-Perez and Chris Buchanan.
Barnstable (8-2) claimed the first lead of the game, coming on a 28-yard Dereck Pacheco field goal with 4:29 to play in the first quarter.
However, it wasn’t long before Mansfield’s offense began to sync, with a three-play touchdown drive on the ensuing possession, with Wisnieski hitting Hurley in stride for a 46-yard strike.
The Hornets would hold the lead from then on, requiring just one play on their next touchdown drive, with Hershman making a terrific, off-balance catch in the back of the end zone for a 28-yard score with 2:03 remaining in the quarter.
Mansfield took a 28-10 lead to halftime with 14 seconds remaining on Hershman’s second of the half, a 9-yard hookup. It marked the end of a highly efficient first half for Wisnieski and Co., as the quarterback neared the 200-yard mark through two quarters (193) while completing 14 of his first 18 pass attempts.
BIG PUSH: While Wisnieski’s uniform remained as unscathed at game’s end as it was at game’s start, the same could not be said for Kristian Lucashensky. The Red Raiders quarterback was sacked three times and hurried on three other snaps as the Hornets got a good push out of their four down lineman.
In particular, Mansfield’s defensive tackles were spot on.
“The guys that nobody really knows about other than us when we look at the film: John Keefe, Dhruv Patel, Andrew Horstmann, they’ve quietly been playing great defense all year,” Redding said. “We’re not very impressive [physically] when we go out, we’re not big. We don’t have guys that are 250, but but when you see those guys in the weight room all summer, you know how strong and tough they are.”
Patel showed up in all facets of the defense, snatching his first career interception while covering a screen pass out of the backfield at the tail end of the first quarter.
“It was just a four-man rush, but I read the screen and just got back there,” Patel added.
Brendan Hill, Horstmann and Keefe all tallied sacks. The Hornets tackles were also successful in their two-gap responsibilities, limiting the effectiveness of Barnstable’s talented running backs Justus Chaffee and Hayden Murphy.
“Their interior defense gave us trouble,” Red Raiders head coach Chris Whidden said. “We weren’t able to run the ball, and when you can’t do that, you can’t set up the pass.”