MANSFIELD — Led by a tough-nosed defense that featured a pair of timely takeaways, the second-seeded Mansfield High football team rolled No. 7 seed Marshfield High 24-6 under the lights of Alumni Field Friday night in an MIAA Div. 2 quarterfinal playoff game, setting up the ultimate Hockomock League rematch with King Philip Regional High next Friday night.
Hornets captain Michael DeBolt opened the scoring in the first quarter by recovering a fumbled snap from Marshfield on its own 8-yard line and took it into the end zone. DeBolt’s scoop-and-score touchdown came on the first offensive snap for Marshfield, giving the Hornets a 7-0 lead after their opening drive had ended in an interception on a deep pass from Jack Moussette.
“Our defense played lights out,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said. “We played some really dominating defense against a highly-skilled team. If we play defense like this, you don’t need to score a lot of points to win.”
The Hornets forced a three-and-out on Marshfield’s following possession, and immediately drove downfield on the back of junior running back Cincere Gill (14 carries, 115 yards), who capped the drive with a 14-yard touchdown scamper.
Gill led all Hornets in rushing, but Holmes racked up 73 yards on 12 carries and added a pair of receptions, DeBolt ran the ball eight times for 37 yards while Nick Marciano carried the ball five times for 25 yards out of the quarterback position in the ‘Wildcat’ formation.
“Over the long haul, we don’t have anyone that’s banged up or tired — they all have fresh legs,” Redding said. “Cincere (Gill) and Vinnie (Holmes) carry the load obviously, but we have other guys that can step up and take some carries when those guys need rest.”
After Mansfield stopped the Rams’ offense twice, the Hornets rattled off a 12-play, 72-yard drive that culminated in a Vinnie Holmes touchdown reception on a screen pass from Moussette (6-of-14, 96 yards, TD). With all the action of the Mansfield offense heading right, Holmes caught a pass behind some blocking and busted into the end zone, extending the lead to 21-0 with 7:07 remaining in the first half.
The Rams took advantage of a breakdown in the Mansfield coverage for their only score of the game when quarterback Owen Masterson connected with Cade Chabra for a 57-yard touchdown with 5:23 left in the first half.
Just before halftime, when the Hornets were faced with a third down and 37 yards to go near midfield, they elected for a surprise punt that was executed perfectly, pinning Marshfield at its own 1 yard line with no chance of adding points before the half.
DeBolt, also the kicker for the Hornets, eclipsed the 200-point mark with a 37-yard field goal which pushed the Mansfield lead to 24-6 with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter. DeBolt was also 3-for-3 on extra point attempts.
With Marshfield finally finding its groove in a no-huddle style offense, the Hornets forced a fumble to kill all momentum. The Rams had driven 61 yards on eight plays when T.J. Guy stripped the ball and Paden Palanza recovered.
“We can throw the ball more when we have to, but we were kind of chewing the clock. We did what we have to do to move on, but King Philip will bring the best defense we’ve seen all year,” Redding said about what the Hornets will need to do going forward.
The matchup with King Philip marks the third consecutive season the two teams will meet in the playoffs, with this year’s version coming in the semifinals.
Last year, King Philip edged the Hornets 10-7 in the Div. 2 South final, while also defeating Mansfield 13-11 in the 2017 Div. 2 South final.
“King Philip is going to play great defense next week so we’ll have to bring our A-game and score more points,” Redding said of his upcoming battle against the three-team reigning sectional champion.
“I feel like it’s the AFC East,” he noted. “We play them twice every year. I wish we were playing them for the championship but we are two of the better teams and sooner than later we were going to run into each other again. It’s been a great rivalry in the league so it’ll be a good one next Friday.”