North Attleboro sophomore quarterback Chase Frisoli releases a pass just before being tackled by Taunton junior Bryan Joanis in the second half. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
TAUNTON, Mass. — You never know what to expect in a Hockomock League game.
North Attleboro sophomore Austin Clemente booted a 24-yard field goal with 9:33 left in the fourth quarter and senior Ayden Delaney blocked Taunton’s potential game-tying field goal attempt with 3:08 to play and the Rocketeers walked away with a hard-fought 3-0 win over the Tigers.
Taunton entered the contest averaging over 30 points per game while North Attleboro averaged just a hair under 22 points through its first five contests. Both teams had scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season.Click here for a photo gallery from this game.
But Friday night the spotlight belonged to the defenses — and special teams — as the Rocketeers earned their first shutout in three years. North limited the Tigers to under 200 yards of total offense, while Taunton kept the Rocketeers in check by doing the same.
“We knew this was going to be a grind,” said North Attleboro head coach Mike Strachan. “Our defense played really strong. I thought we stopped the run up front by mixing up a lot of fronts. It’s a great win on the road like we’ve done all year so I’m really proud of our defense and our kids.
“They’re physical and this Taunton team is a legit team. You saw a battle up front with the lines tonight. I thought [Greg] Berthiaume and [Ryan] Bannon played phenomenal and our secondary played great. I knew it’d come down to the wire but if you told me it was going to be a 3-0 game, I wouldn’t have believed you because they have athletes everywhere so I’m super proud of our kids.”
On top of Delaney’s key block, senior Greg Berthiaume blocked Taunton’s 37-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. North also forced four punts and one turnover on downs, which was a pivotal stop in the fourth.
Taunton’s defense certainly played well enough to win as well. Senior Ethan Harris had a pair of interceptions, and the Tigers forced a turnover on downs in the second quarter and forced three punts. Even North’s only points came after Taunton stood tall with a stop inside their own 10-yard line.
“Our kids came to play on defense,” said Taunton head coach Brad Sidwell. “We had that turnover on downs in the red zone, add in two interceptions…we just couldn’t quite get it going offensively. We couldn’t get a manageable third down, it was always a long one. We executed but they made some plays against us there at the end.”
Fast forward to the drive that resulted in the only points of the game. North’s defense forced a quick three-and-out after a third down sack from seniors Kaiden Leary and Zach Gallagher.
Despite a first down sack from Tanner Brannon, North Attleboro sophomore Chase Frisoli delivered a perfect third-down pass to Jovany Rivera to get the drive going. An offside gifted North a first down and then Frisoli dropped a perfect pass down the right sideline — a split second before pressure from Taunton’s Bryan Joanis — into the hands of Bryce Kiser for a 35-yard completion down to the Taunton 7-yard line.
A holding call backed North up, but Frisoli hooked up with Kiser again to get back to the 7-yard line, but good defense on third down by Taunton’s MMckyen Gonsalves forced an incompletion. With a good hold from Kyle Conroy, Clemente split the uprights for a 3-0 lead with 9:28 to play.
Taunton moved into North territory quickly on the ensuing drive as Malachi Johnson returned the pooch kick to the 43-yard line. A 10-yard pass and catch from Jacob Leonard to Jose Touron moved the sticks, and Johnson rattled off a 19-yard gain. After back-to-back short gains, Ryan Bannon swatted down a third down pass attempt and a fourth down pass play fell incomplete for a turnover on downs at the North 24-yard line.
But on second down of North’s ensuing drive, Harris wrestled away his second interception of the game on a short pass to the right sideline and returned it all the way to the 9-yard line for a first-and-goal scenario. A jet sweep only got a yard, and back-to-back runs up the middle totaled four yards.
Taunton’s attempt at a 21-yard field goal to tie it was blocked by Delaney, who came up the middle and got his hand to it. North took over at the 20-yard line and fed Nathan Shultz (14 carries, 74 yards) to a pair of first downs to run out the clock.
“With five minutes left to go and they have first and goal, and four tries against this Taunton team and how athletic they are…I thought our defense played tremendous,” Strachan said. “We practice that, and I tell the kids every day we have to practice the way we play. Those are the things that we practice and we executed, I was really happy to pull that out.”
Taunton considered going for it on fourth but elected for the field goal attempt from Sete Deletoile, which was essentially the same distance as an extra point.
“I thought we were playing tough and that’s an extra point, we have to be able to make an extra point,” Sidwell said. “If we scored, we would have had to kick it from there too. The fact that it was blocked was frustrating, [Deletoille] has done great for us, I don’t blame him. I’m proud of our kids, we just have to keep fighting. It’s a playoff atmosphere for the rest of the games we have left, it has to be.
North’s defense started strong by forcing a punt on Taunton’s opening drive, but the Rocketeers’ ensuing drive was cut short when Harris read a dump off and picked it off. Despite starting at the North 38-yard line, the Tigers went backward and had to punt.
“They are a good team, they ran the ball hard,” Sidwell said of North. “When we had to, we bowed up but offensively we just couldn’t quite punch it in. They were good inside and they covered our receivers, they made it hard for the quarterback to get the ball to them. We didn’t make too many mistakes, just couldn’t get the ball to them.”
North advanced into the red zone on its third series of the game and hurried to the line on 4th and short at the Tiger 9-yard line but a QB sneak was stuffed by Ryan MacDougall and Elijah Prophete for a turnover on downs.
Bryan Batista and Johnson helped move the Tigers down the field, a 17-yard catch and a 24-yard catch both from Touron moved the sticks twice but the drive stalled and a 47-yard field goal attempt with a minute left in the half was short.
North Attleboro football (1-2 Hock, 4-2 overall) returns to Community Field next week to host first-place King Philip. Taunton (0-3, 4-3) hits the road with a visit to Attleboro.