MANSFIELD — A field goal in the first possession of overtime was not enough for the Mansfield High football team as the Hornets fell to Milford High 27-24 Friday night.
After finishing regulation time tied at 21-all, Milford was able to complete a fade route to the back right corner of the end zone to secure the comeback road victory in the back-and-forth thriller.
On the first possession of overtime, Mansfield got the ball first but sandwiched a pair of incomplete passes around a sack of quarterback Connor Zukowski to settle for a James Gilleran 30-yard field goal for a 24-21 lead.
The Scarlet Hawks answered on their first possession when sophomore Damien Carter snatched a a 9-yard TD toss for the walk-off win to improve to 5-0 overall and gain a three-way tie with Franklin and King Philip atop the Hockomock League Kelley-Rex Division at 2-0 apiece.
The play of Mansfield’s offensive line was key for its passing game as Zukowski was not sacked during regulation time and rarely found himself facing heavy pressure.
The Hornets ran a run-heavy offense, but the time afforded to Zukowski in the pocket gave him the opportunity to take deep shots to set up scoring drives. Zukowski also caught a touchdown pass himself to tie the game at 14-14 before halftime.
Hornets’ running back CJ Bell was a dynamic x-factor on the offensive end. His runs outside the tackles helped Mansfield pick up first downs throughout the game, and his speed allowed him to turn short passes into some big gains. He was complemented on the ground by Drew Sacco, whose power-rushing style up the middle proved to be a useful change of pace from Bell’s speed and agility.
Sacco was also able to punch in a goal-line rush for a score in the first half.
Senior captain James Fichera scored a 3-yard go-ahead touchdown on a right-side run in the fourth quarter for Mansfield. The gutsy call on fourth-and-goal seemed as if it would be enough, but the Hornets were unable to hold on.
Milford’s points were primarily due to the establishment of its run game in the first quarter, but Mansfield made early adjustments and the Hornets were largely able to hold Scarlet Hawks’ run game to a minimum in the second half.
“We just needed to start tackling better,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “Guys were trying to go for big hits, but we just started to settle down and wrap them up in the second half.”
The early success on the ground for Milford set up the pass game for its offense. Their Scarlet Hawks’ second rushing touchdown was set up by a slant route followed by a long run after the catch. In the fourth quarter, Milford scored a the game-tying touchdown came on a slant route that was taken for 39-yards into the end zone.
Zander Holmes nearly made a game-winning interception in overtime on second down for Mansfield, but a teammate collided into him and knocked the ball loose, giving Milford another chance to convert for the win.
After trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter, Redding said that starting stronger would be the biggest thing Mansfield needs to work on going forward.
“We have to play a first quarter,” Redding said. “The last three weeks, we’ve been chasing from behind. We play hard, we catch up, but these teams are too much to overcome being down 14 (points) early.”
The loss marks Mansfield’s second in a row, following its setback to Franklin last week. The Hornets (3-2, 0-2 Hockomock) will look to right the ship next week when they face Attleboro on the road Friday night.