Friday's non-league game at Bridgewater-Raynham had no bearing on Stoughton's postseason fate. Win 100-0, or lose 100-0, Stoughton would have been in the exact same position come game's end.
None of that seemed to matter, however, to the Stoughton High football players, who played this game like it was a playoff contest and their season was on the line.
Clinging to a four-point lead with Bridgewater-Raynham driving, the ball just past midfield, Malachi Baugh intercepted B-R quarterback Jordan Cohen with one minute left in the game.
The Stoughton sideline erupted, perhaps the loudest it has been this season, and the Black Knight offense took the field, running out the clock, cementing a hard-fought 25-21 come-from-behind win.
"I was happy with the way we just battled, we just keep battling and that's the way you have to do it," Stoughton coach Greg Burke said after the win.
Stoughton improves to 9-1, while B-R falls to a tough-luck 5-5, with all five of the losses coming to high-quality opponents. While the win won't help Stoughton in its playoff push, it at the very least further proves the Black Knights are among the elite teams in eastern Massachusetts high school football this season.
Stoughton went into the half trailing 14-6, with running back Brandon Gallagher scoring two touchdowns for B-R. Gallagher, just a sophomore, proved tough to tackle all night, finishing with more than 150 yards on the ground, recording all three scores for the Trojans on the evening.
Aaron Mack caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Dan Eckler for Stoughton's only first half score. On the Stoughton scoring drive, Eckler and Mack connected three times for 95 yards, including a 50-yard pass on third and 17, and a 16-yard pass on 4th and 7.
After Marcus Middleton had a relatively quiet first half with 22 yards rushing, he exploded in the second half, starting with the opening kickoff in the third quarter. Middleton, celebrating his 18th birthday Friday, returned the kick 90 yards for a touchdown, bringing Stoughton within two, 14-12.
"I have to give it all to my blockers, my second and first line on the kick return," Middleton said. "They blocked their butts off in order for me to run. All I do is follow their blocks and try to run as far as I can."
Middleton proved to be problematic for B-R in all three phases of the game in the third and fourth quarters - the senior had 68 yards rushing and a touchdown (90 total), 25 yards receiving, and an interception on defense to go along with the special teams touchdown.
Following Middleton's touchdown return, B-R advanced the ball to the Stoughton 36, but Middleton intercepted Cohen's third down pass near the goal line, ending the Trojan drive.
The Stoughton offense took over at its own six and drove the length of the field, with Aaron Mack finishing off the 10-play, 94-yard, 4:15 scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving Stoughton its first lead of the game, 18-14, with 3-minutes left in the third.
But B-R responded with a lengthy drive of its own to retake the lead. Gallagher scored from 3-yards out to cap a methodical 16-play, 56-yard march, which took 9 minutes off the clock, giving the Trojans the lead again, 21-18, with 4:55 left in the fourth.
"We knew we were going to have a tough time [stopping the run]," Burke said. They're big and tough and we don't have that type of size and we did the best we could and made them earn their points."
With time running out for the Black Knights, Stoughton delivered in the pressure situation driving 61-yards for the score in just 3:30, with Middleton again coming up big. Eckler hit Middleton for a 25-yard catch and run to get the ball into B-R territory, and later in the drive, a 16-yard Middleton scamper got Stoughton to the B-R 3-yard line. Middleton ran it in for a touchdown on the next play. Shawn Connolly added the extra point, giving the Black Knights the 25-21 lead with 1:32 left in the game.
"We did a great job moving the ball," Burke said. "We took it to them a little bit too...We got our points. That's a few too many points for us to give up, but that's fine. We'll take it."
On the ensuing B-R possession, the Trojans converted on a 4th and 1, crossing over into Stoughton territory, but Baugh came up with what was in effect a game-ending interception on the next play.
Stoughton defensive backs Andrew Valle, Middleton and Baugh intercepted Cohen a total of three times with the ball in Black Knight territory Friday night, a testament to Stoughton's bend-but-don't-break defense. Linebacker Andrew Kelly also had a number of stops at or behind the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble (recovered by B-R).
Eckler finished 4 of 9 passing for 120 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Mack added 25 yards rushing to go along with 95 receiving, scoring twice for the Black Knights. Baugh had 62 yards rushing.
Stoughton is off until Nov. 22, when the Black Knights host Canton in the annual Thanksgiving Day showdown. At 9-1 Stoughton will be looking for its first double-digit win total in Burke's two-decade tenure with the team. Stoughton has won seven consecutive Thanksgiving games vs. Canton and 15 of the last 17, dating back to 1995.
"This is a great victory for us," Burke said after beating Bridgewater-Raynham. "We have one [game] left. Hope we can finish up strong. Who knows what's going to happen. We have one left, maybe a few more."
Unfortunately, it turns out there will only be one more game left.
Despite Stoughton's success this season, the team's loss to Sharon meant the Black Knights' playoff fate would be decided Saturday, Nov. 10 when Sharon and Foxborough squared-off at 1 p.m. in Sharon. Stoughton needed a Foxborough win to stay in the Davenport playoff race heading into Thanksgiving, but Sharon won, 14-7, clinching the Davenport Division for the Eagles.
Josh Brown contributed reporting.
The Stoughton High football program will be holding its 3rd annual alumni flag football game Nov. 17 at 1 p.m. The game will also involve parents of current seniors and juniors. Cost is $35 per person, which goes to fund scholarships for graduating Black Knight seniors. Anyone interested in participating, contact Coach Greg Burke at email@example.com.