BROCKTON, Mass. -- A season ago, the Plymouth South High School football team surged to the program’s first ever playoff appearance, but fell in the first round of the playoffs, one win shy of a Super Bowl appearance at Gillette Stadium.
Fast forward one year, and star running Dylan Oxsen made sure the Panthers would finally get to find out what the turf in Foxborough felt like as he powered Plymouth South past Stoughton, 14-12, in the Div. 3 South final to punch a ticket to the state title game.
“The feeling is so good to be the senior group to finally make it to Gillette,” Oxsen said. “Before last year, South had never even made the playoffs. Last year, we made it to this game and we lost. There is no better feeling than this right now.”
Added South coach Scott Fry: “It’s not a very old program; we've only been around for 20 years. Relatively speaking, when you’re talking Stoughton years, that’s not very long. We’ve always kind of been the step sister of Plymouth so it says so much about our kids and the student body.”
Oxsen, who got off to a slow start against rival Plymouth North last week, hit the ground running Friday night under the lights of Marciano Stadium at Brockton High. He ripped off both of his touchdown runs and ran for 150 of his whopping 214 yards before halftime against the Knights.
After the team’s traded three-and-outs on the first two drives of the game, Oxsen took advantage of the good field position South was given after Stoughton punted from deep in their territory.
He took the first carry eight yards up the middle before gashing Stoughton on the second touch of the drive for the final 29 that stood between him and the end zone to put the Panthers up 7-0.
Early in the second quarter, South forced another punt, this time taking over at their own 25.
Their leading man went to work once again, this time taking eight of the Panthers’ nine carries on the drive, racking up an impressive 72 yards, finally capping the drive with a 6-yard plunge to extend the lead to 14-0 with 4:07 remaining in the first half.
Plymouth South appeared on the verge of putting the game out of reach as Stoughton’s ensuing drive seemed to stall when a long pass on third down tipped off the hands of a would-be receiver.
Facing a fourth-and-8 at the South 15, Stoughton head coach Greg Burke opted to bypass a field goal attempt, instead putting the ball back into the hands of sophomore quarterback Jake Gibb.
Gibb, who took over as the starter midway through the season, responded like a true veteran as he delivered a perfectly lofted pass into the outstretched hands of Lennox Green. For the second straight week, South blocked what would prove to be a big extra point.
With just over a minute remaining in the half, a muffed kickoff looked more the part of an onside kick attempt, but the Black Knights fell on the ball just over 10 yards down field. A long pass looked to have the Knights in business, but South quickly forced and recovered a fumble.
Just three plays later, with the Panthers trying to run out the clock, a pitch ended up on the turf, and Stoughton returned the favor by recovering a fumble.
With just 25 seconds to go in the second quarter after the fumble recovery, Stoughton once again turned to the budding sophomore slinger.
After an incomplete pass on first down, Gibb connected with Joe Girolamo on a bubble screen over the middle. Girolamo followed his pulling offensive line 37 yards into the end zone for another score. A two-point rushing try was stuffed by the Panthers, sending the team’s into the break with Plymouth South leading 14-12.
Both sides came out in the second half playing their best defense of the night, and the offenses combined on one third quarter first down.
“Our defense doesn’t get a lot of credit because we have Dylan Oxsen on our team so it’s kind of the Dylan Oxsen show when everybody comes to see us play,” said Fry, “but our defense has played awesome all year minus the [Dennis-Yarmouth] game where we didn’t have everybody. Outside of that game, we’re probably averaging less than seven points against this year.”
Late in the contest, South’s defense forced a turnover on downs, leaving the Panthers looking to Oxsen for one more trip down the field.
The senior running back obliged, taking every carry during an 11-play drive that left Stoughton at their own 30 with just 2:04 remaining.
A couple of big pass completions by Gibb and a defensive pass interference moved Stoughton all the way to the South 24, but the defense came up big once again as Anthony Schena intercepted a pass near the end zone to seal the victory.
“He’s a kid who is a two-sport captain, and doesn’t always get all the credit he deserves,” said Fry. “Kids who are leaders seem to just step up and make big plays and that’s what he did there.”
Added Schena: “Our team is mentally tough and we make sure its not over ‘til the clock says zero. We just keep playing ‘til the end, that’s how football is played. That’s why we’re able to make big plays.”