CANTON — It was late in the game, and probably decided already, but Stoughton — facing a two-score deficit that seemed like much more than that — needed to put something together offensively at Canton in a Hockomock Davenport showdown Friday night.
Black Knights quarterback John Burke found Christopher Ais in the right flat, and the junior fullback made a few defenders miss, then cut across the middle of the field. But the ball popped loose, and Canton linebacker Owen Lehane fell on it.
That was sort of how it played out all night, as Canton's defense controlled the action, and the Bulldogs' offense did just enough to take advantage in a 10-0 win at WWII Vets Memorial Field.
The victory improved Canton to 3-0 overall in the league opener for both teams and 100th meeting between the Thanksgiving Day rivals. Stoughton dropped to 2-1.
Canton's defense held Stoughton to just four first downs and 94 yards of total offense. Stoughton lost three fumbles, including a muffed punt that led to a 27-yard Lehane field goal in the third quarter.
The hosts did not do a ton of damage offensively, but didn't have to. Quarterback Johnny Hagan rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and completed 9-of-18 passes for 77 yards. Running back Kyle Fitzgerald ran for 68 tough yards on 20 carries.
"I thought coming into the game — Johnny, Fitzy, (two-way lineman) Jack (Connolly) — a lot of these guys it's their fifth time playing Stoughton," Canton coach Dave Bohane said. "When I was a younger coach, I probably didn't have enough experience, but it shows that our guys are experienced and have been through games like this. (Stoughton)'s such a good team with such good backs, and to come out with a 10-0 win was a credit to the players and the coaches."
A few observations from Canton's big win.
— Canton may only be in Division 5, but its size up front looks like a squad a few notches up.
The offensive line consists of Connolly (listed at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds), Matt Connolly (6-2, 270), Derrell Brown (5-11, 230), Carson Campbell (6-0, 205), and Lucas Bryant (6-0, 220). The defensive line included the two Connollys, Nnamdi Onyemelukwe (6-2, 310), and a smaller, quicker end in Jahmi Aldin (5-9, 175).
With Stoughton's Wing-T principles depending a lot on fullback runs up the gut, Canton's interior defensive line allowed no room there, and the Black Knights' speedy backs couldn't turn the corner on the outside.
"I thought that was a benefit that we had that in the years past we haven't had," Bohane said. "We could clog up the middle a bit, and that allowed us maybe to show a little more presence on the edge, where (the Black Knights have) been so good just this year. . . . And we're very fortunate to have all the linebackers we have, and they're all seniors."
Canton linebacker Lucas Ragusa drops Stoughton's Christopher Ais for a loss.
— Hagan's stats won't jump off the screen, but his control of Canton's offense was complete.
That much was evident when the Bulldogs took over at their own 35-yard line with 1:45 to play in the first half. Hagan quickly moved the Bulldogs down to the Stoughton 32, where his team faced a third-and-5. Hagan took the snap, followed the lead block of Fitzgerald, raced upfield and nearly dove into the end zone by the left pylon for a 30-yard gain.
Canton quarterback Johnny Hagan rips off a big gain late in the second quarter.
Two Hagan runs later, the second from a yard out, and Canton had the only points it would need.
Johnny Hagan scores the game's only touchdown with 14 seconds to go in the first half.
"Our offense is a lot like we did last year, but it has some new wrinkles, and is evolving every week," Bohane said. "Fortunately, the defense is playing well enough to give us a little patience on offense. But Johnny's one of those experienced guys. He's a team leader. He had some big runs when we needed them. They were giving us a little on the pass game as far as the shorter-yardage (plays) go, those little hitch routes. Johnny hit them, and he hit some key ones. So passing, running, I think he's very effective. I think he's one of the best players I've ever coached, and definitely in the league. We're very fortunate to have him at the leader of our offense."
— Canton really outplayed Stoughton in all three facets, but the turnovers were a killer for the Black Knights. The muffed punt that led to Lehane's field goal allowed Canton to hold onto the ball for the first eight minutes of the second half.
Canton linebacker and captain James Murphy recovers a muffed punt.
Owen Lehane boots a 27-yard field goal to give his team a 10-0 lead in the third quarter.
Stoughton's best chance to score came in the second quarter when Christian Ais rumbled 33 yards down the Black Knights' sideline to the Canton 15.
Stoughton's Christian Ais gives his offense its only big play of the night with this run.
Two plays later, though, Matt Connolly pounced on a fumble to end the threat. Stoughton did not pass midfield again. In fact, the Black Knights did not cross their own 40 the rest of the night.
"I thought we hung in, but we fumbled down here (pointing to one side of the field), down there (pointing to the other)," Burke said. "Hat's off to (the Bulldogs). They did a great job."
— So, too, did Stoughton's defense, for the most part, especially considering how long it was on the field.
The two Ais brothers, Kamari Grant, Christian Georges, Carlvin LaGuerre, Savion Scott, and John Burke, among others, all helped keep Canton from running away with it.
"Burkey and his defense, you can talk about them being the best in the state year-in and year-out," Bohane said. "He's got them playing. We ran a screen pass that they hadn't seen us run probably ever and his kids were right on it. They're just well-coached fundamentally. Very good job, as usual."