The Big Red of North Attleboro High were marching down the field against the Mansfield High Hornets one evening at Memorial Field not long ago.
With less than four minutes remaining in the first half, the North Attleboro High football team and head coach Paul Sullivan were using their time outs judiciously to control the ball, control the clock and put up points.
The Rocketeers had called two timeouts and had one remaining. As the tale is told through the years by Sullivan, by the Johnson brothers, Donny and Jack, what then occurred became legendary.
With the clock clicking and heading into a third down scenario, all the referees could hear from the North sidelines was, “Timeout, timeout.”
But it wasn’t Sullivan or one of the Johnsons imploring to stop the clock, it was assistant coach Ken Nally.
“It turned into a tailspin after that,” Nally said of the expression on the face of Sullivan. “After that, I don’t think anybody talked to me for a week.”
The good news for Nally was that the Rocketeers won the game. “If we had lost, I don’t know what I would have done!”
In the interim years, Nally has worn many a hat for the Rocketeers and he was the recipient of the “Honorary Inductee” by the Attleboro Area Football Hall of Fame.
His titles have included: assistant coach with the Big Red varsity, freshman football coach, junior varsity football coach, offensive line coach, defensive line coach, tight ends coach, coach of the Rocketeers “summer league passing camp” team, and a Pop Warner program coach.
The 1986 NAHS graduate has “lived and loved” the values of the school’s football program. During his induction, Nally was cited for serving as a scout and gameplan coordinator, and helping orchestrate fundraising projects for the Rocketeers. “His pride in the program is matched only by his dedication to the young athletes of North Attleboro,” it was stated.
And best of all, Nally has watched all three of his sons — Patrick, now at Nichols College, Brandan, now at Clarkson University, and John, now at Ole Miss — all suit up for the Rocketeers.
So the Thanksgiving Day game, played at Community Field Thursday, will always be of significance to Nally.
The “Championship Awards Guy,” being the proprietor of the athletic awards business, “Nally has contributed as much as one man could,” his supporters for nomination into the Hall of Fame proclaimed. They cited his hosting of the Senior Supper, being a catalyst for the renovation of Ray Beaupre Field on campus, and the Thanksgiving Day morning breakfast for coaches.
And Sullivan, his longtime associate and coaching colleague, offered, “His added insight made our coaching staff stronger. But it was his role as a benefactor that enhanced the Big Red experience for our athletes. The opening of his home for team gatherings played a critical role in maintaining the camaraderie and culture of our program.”
Ray Beaupre was in his 10th year as the Rocketeer coach during Nally’s junior year at North Attleboro High. “We were the first team to run the wing-T (offense),” Nally recalled. “Coming off of our ’84 season (North’s last losing season), which was my junior year, Sully (Sullivan) took over as the offensive coordinator and he implemented the wing-T in my senior year.”
Nally was a tackle and tight end along the offensive line for North that 7-1-2 senior season. Scott Charron was the center, a pair of Harvard University student-athletes, Steve Connolly and Rich Puccio, were the guards, with Jeff Tagerman was a tackle opposite Nally.
The quarterback of that team was none other than current Attleboro High coach Mike Strachan — who served as the best man at Nally’s wedding — with Hall of Famer Mike McCarthy as a running back and Chris Cornetta, the late member of the North Attleboro High Fire Department, and Bill Copley the wide receivers.
“All of those guys were instrumental, we were the first program in the area to run it,” Nally said. “We went on to have a good season after that losing season and bring things back to normal.
“It’s one of those things. When it comes to Thanksgiving time, you’re full of memories,” he added, citing a recent conversation with Foxboro High coach Jack Martinelli in his office. “We talk about the old times. It seems like yesterday.
“And being involved in volunteer coaching and helping out the program, it’s a game that you develop a lot of friendships — not only in Big Red country, but also outside. All of that camaraderie, the great friendships that you develop and how that all ties in with my business.
“You meet a lot of different people who are associated with the game of football. It really is a family.
“One of the great pleasures I’ve had was having my three boys go through the (North Attleboro High) program. (Brandan wore his dad’s No. 76 jersey.) They all played for the Rocketeers and at this point, it’s about football at this time of year.”
Nally has “covered it all” in his coaching duties. “The passing league is instrumental in getting the kids ready for the season,” he said. “(Paul) Sullivan had me do that for years. Ray (Beaupre) was the one who convinced me to come and coach back in ’89.”
“The kids love him and he would do anything for the program,” current North head coach Don Johnson said. “Of course, after that time out we would never let him forget it!”
“It was quite a story,” Nally said of his calling an inadvertent time out for the Big Red at Mansfield High. “Right before the half, we had the ball, we were moving the ball. We didn’t get much yardage on second down so in Coach Sullivan’s head was the thought to not call a time out. Let’s go out there and not take any chances.
“I just automatically assumed that we had just called the two previous time outs that on third down, we were going to call another time out. So I elected to make sure the referees knew we wanted a time out.
“That led to a few choice words from the legendary Coach Sullivan all the way into the lockerroom. We won the game and I still think we should have taken the time out!”