NORTH ATTLEBORO — With 1:17 left in the game, the North Attleboro High football team was left with a decision to make on fourth-and-1 from its own 47-yard line — to run for the first down or to punt the ball away, leaving the clock against King Philip Regional High and a long ways to go.
Rocketeers head coach Mike Strachan elected to run, resulting in a game-ending 53-yard touchdown romp by Greg Berthiaume helping clinch a 24-14 win over the Warriors Friday night.
The win improves the Rocketeers to 5-2, and with their ranking in the MIAA’s Division 3 power rankings being at No. 2 entering the night, it’s highly likely that the Rocketeers will jump to the top spot with their win over Division 2 second-ranked King Philip.
“I think it’ll do good things for us (beating King Philip,)” Strachan said. “We’re just going to have to see who we got.”
The atmosphere at Community Field had the energy of a playoff game, with a packed house and two elite programs facing off for more than just bragging rights. The loss bumps King Philip out of a three-way tie for the top spot in the Hockomock League’s Kelley-Rex Division.
King Philip head coach Brian Lee said the playoff atmosphere, along with being paired against a playoff team, makes you find out “who you really are” as a football team.
“One of the reasons you come to play North is because you find out who really are,” Lee said. “They’re not going to lay down. They’re tough, they believe in themselves and they have a culture and history that surpasses our own. We knew it was a big deal. It definitely felt like a playoff situation. Hopefully when the playoffs come, we’ll play better than we did tonight.”
Strachan gave credit to his upperclassmen and his captains for standing out on the field.
“We play a gauntlet of a schedule,” Strachan said. “I think every game we play has got us ready for this. Our captains, seniors, the group was unbelievable. They really put the team on their backs tonight. This was a huge win for the program tonight. A huge win.”
A ground assault helped King Philip get on the board first with a Will Astorino 3-yard run capping a 62-yard drive to start the game. North answered with a rushing attack of its own, formulating an over-eight minute drive to end the first quarter and open the second quarter with a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Nate Shultz to even the score at 10:35 in the second quarter.
Mistakes got the best of King Philip throughout much of the game, with its first big mistake coming on an interception o quarterback Tommy McLeish by North’s John Gallagher — picking the ball following a drop by a KP receiver. Despite the turnover, North was unable to capitalize and score leading to a punt.
King Philip ended up punting as well on the next drive, leading to North driving down the field from its own 37-yard line all the way to King Philip’s 9-yard line. North got as close as the 4-yard line, but a combination of stifled runs and a delay of game penalty backed it up. They settled for a 26-yard field goal, putting North ahead 10-7 with 37 seconds remaining in the half.
The field goal gave North a lead it never lost the rest of the way. A touchdown to open the second half on a 21-yard pass from Chase Frisoli to Bryce Kiser put the Rocketeers ahead 17-7 with 6:01 left in the third quarter. The score remained that way entering the fourth quarter.
Owning possession through the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarters, King Philip was calculating a touchdown drive — and converted on 4th and 7, before an errant McLeish pass went directly to North Attleboro’s Jovany Rivera for an interception.
Rivera, who caught it inside his own 10-yard line, ran the ball all the way to King Philip’s 46. Despite just half a field to go, though, North Attleboro fell victim to three penalties on one series and was backed up to a fourth-and-43 situation that ended in a punt.
King Philip answered back with a drive where it converted on third down twice and punched it home with a 3-yard rushing score by Will Astorino to make it a 17-14 game with under five minutes to go.
Strachan had said earlier in the week that both teams were going to have to tighten up at the lines to make sure they’re both run=stoppers and effective run blockers, and he was right.
“It was going to come down to this type of game,” Strachan said afterwards. “It was going to be up front and both teams go at it, and I think our front stood to the challenge. They’re one of the top teams in the state and I’m very proud of how the defense played,” Strachan said.
North took over from its own 23-yard line, was backed up by an illegal procedure, and went on to get the first down before being faced with a 4th and 1 situation where Berthiaume scored.
“We got out-coached, out-played, out-hustled, North just out-classed us,” Lee said. “Compound that with the mistakes we made, we just couldn’t handle the pressure.”