Photos in the media gallery by Fran Leonard.
Led by a defense which forced four turnovers and shutdown a potent Mansfield offense and thanks to four rushing touchdowns from fullback Frankie Morris, the Stoughton High football team beat Mansfield 25-6 Friday night at home in a rain-soaked affair.
"I'm not calling a game off unless there's lightning," Stoughton head coach Greg Burke said. "This is why football is the greatest game on Earth - you play in this stuff, you don't take days off."
With the win, Stoughton is now 4-0, while Hockomock League foe Mansfield falls to 2-2.
Burke praised his "spunky" roster and said he was pleased with his team's tackling, ball security and senior leadership. Most of all, he was glad the team improved from the week before.
"We played better than last week - that's our goal," Burke said. "Our goal is to play better than the week before and every week we played a little better."
"When they brought their 'A' game, we brought out 'D' game, and that's not a good recipe against [Stoughton] on the road," Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said.
Despite coming into Friday's game with a 3-0 record (including a pair of wins over 2011 Division 3 playoff teams), and upsetting the Hornets 8-0 in Mansfield last September, the Black Knights were the consensus underdog.
"We were still considered underdogs even after last year. We were projected to lose by everyone," Adam Leonard said.
"We had a paper on our whiteboard having a [list of projections] of everyone telling us we were going to lose and we all used it as momentum and came out hard and we wanted to get this 'W' just to prove everyone wrong," Marcus Middleton said.
It was Stoughton who played as if it was the team seeking to avenge an upset loss; it was Stoughton that played like the team with a chip on its shoulder.
The Black Knights forced a three-and-out on Mansfield's opening offensive drive. On Stoughton's first drive, the offense drove the ball 50 yards behind Morris and Malachi Baugh runs, capping the 10-play scoring drive with a four-yard Morris touchdown run. After the extra point, Stoughton took a 7-0 lead with 3:44 left in the first.
Mansfield faced a third and 12 on the third play of the ensuing possession and Leonard, at middle linebacker, sacked Hornets quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, forcing a fumble, which Shawn Connolly recovered, giving Stoughton the ball at the Mansfield 5.
Three players later, Morris scored his second touchdown of the game. The extra point attempt failed, but Stoughton took a 13-0 lead with 1:39 left in the opening quarter.
After somewhat slow starts in the team's first three games of the season, Mike Connelly said the "most important part" of Friday's victory was that Stoughton "opened up and came out strong."
Mansfield went three-and-out again on its third possession. On the fourth possession, midway through the second quarter, the Hornets recorded their first first down, and drove the ball from their own 21 to Stoughton's 13. But pressure from Leonard forced an incomplete pass on third down and pressure from Connolly forced an incomplete pass on fourth down, with Mansfield turning the ball over on downs.
Two plays later, Morris scored his third touchdown of the game, an 86-yard run along the Stoughton sideline. The two-point attempt failed, but Stoughton went up 19-0 with 1:35 left in the first half.
"I was just hoping I wasn't going to get caught," Morris said.
"He's big. There's no one stronger, there's no one faster for his size in this area," Burke said of his fullback, listed at 6 feet, 200 pounds. "When he gets going it's like a locomotive."
Stoughton took the 19-0 lead into the half. On Stoughton's second possession of the third quarter, the Black Knights capped a 67-yard drive, highlighted by a 33-yard Aaron Mack run, with Morris' fourth touchdown, this one from six yards out. The extra point was blocked, but the Black Knights were up 25-0 with 3:15 left in the quarter.
Mansfield responded with a 70-yard touchdown drive, with Kevin Makie scoring from 10 yards out. The extra-point failed, leaving the Hornets trailing by 19, 25-6, with 7:35 left in the game. It was too little, too late for a Mansfield team which struggled to find an offensive rhythm all game.
Stoughton was successfully able to limit Mansfield offensive threats Wisnieski, Robert Rapoza, Michael Hershman and company. Leonard was the key cog in Stoughton's defensive dominance, which held Mansfield to about 150 yards of offense.
"He's just a tremendous leader, smartest kid we got. Unbelievable student," Burke said of Leonard. "He knows where to be; he knows everything about the defense...He studies more film than I do. Someday he'll take my job."
In addition to Leonard, Joey Wilder, Andrew Kelly, Connelly and Connolly also came up with tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Imani Pina, Middleton and Mack intercepted Wisnieski passes.
On offense, Stoughton turned the ball over just once (an interception). Morris led the way with 161 yards rushing, while Baugh added 58 and Mack had 46. Mack credited the offensive line (Pat Raeke, Tim Porter, Dominic Evangelista, Leonard and Wilder) for Stoughton's success running the ball.
"The blocking was great," he said. "We won the battle on the line."
Stoughton has its first Hockomock League Davenport Division (small schools) contest next Friday, Oct. 5 at home against Foxborough (3-1). Foxborough is fresh off an upset win over North Attleboro. Mansfield, meanwhile, looks to rebound against 4-0 Attleboro in the first Hockomock League Kelly-Rex Division (large schools) game for either school.
Josh Brown contributed reporting. Suzanne Jolley contributed photos.