FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Mansfield made a living off of their vaunted and talented offense this year, but it was the defense that won them the Division 2 state championship against St. John’s (Shrewsbury) on Saturday afternoon.
The biggest focus for Mansfield coach Mike Redding coming into the game was game-planning for St. John’s dual-threat quarterback Andrew Smiley, an offensive player of the year candidate who has torched opposing defenses this year with his feet as well as his arm.
“Oh man, he’s a great athlete, we knew we had our hands full with him and Combs running the zone read, they do that so well and they keep you honest with the four great receivers,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said.
Smiley has found his deep core of receivers early and often this year, especially junior Davon Jones and seniors T.J. Kelley and Mike McGillicudy. On Saturday though, Jones and McGillicudy were only able to pull in a combined three catches for 22 yards. Smiley, who threw two interceptions and scored a rushing touchdown, was able to muster just 80 total yards.
“The goal was to try to get six in the box to handle the run game, we tried to double Davon Jones because he’s an exceptional athlete. Then we got away from that and we got seven in the box because of the run game and to mix it up,” Redding said, “we played man, we played zone, we mixed in some blitzes. If you stay with any one thing their coordinator and their guys will eat you alive. They hit us now and then and we bent a little at times but never broke, never gave up the big one, and really played tough in the red zone.”
Michael Hershman, who has been playing the majority of this year with a sports hernia, picked Smiley off in the second quarter to help the Hornets stay in it after five first half turnovers—which resulted in a 14-7 halftime lead for the Pioneers. Mike Barresi intercepted a Smiley pass of his own early in the third quarter, initiating an 89-yard drive that brought the Hornets back to 14-13.
“To have five turnovers and only be down seven, we felt good about things at halftime. I thought the big thing in the third quarter was if they scored next then we were in trouble. We were trying to get a stop, we had to get the next one, then Barresi makes the pick and we punch it in. It’s a whole new game, you’ve got your confidence back, you’ve got momentum,” Redding said.
St. John’s was held scoreless after halftime—managing just over 100 total yards in the final two quarters. Shane Combs finished with 100 yards on 14 carries on the afternoon for the Pioneers, one of the lone bright spots for St. John’s in the second half.
“We’ve thrown the ball very well, but tonight it was defense and it was running the football. Bottom line, to win championships you have to do both of those—our O-line did a great job blocking and we threw a little bit, but we just didn’t have to,” Redding said, “to shut them out in a half, I don’t think they’ve been shut out all year, just an unbelievable defensive effort. Mark DeGeronimo just made this young defense so good over the course of the year—it won us a championship today.”
Smiley, a Navy lacrosse commit, received high praise from Redding after the game for his play this year, as well as a very bright future waiting for him:
“The thing I’m most proud of playing against a guy like that who goes off to Navy to play lacrosse, he’s gonna serve his country. It’s so neat to compete against young men like this who are great athletes and will be doing even bigger things after high school.”