In the first two games this season, the Stoughton High football team allowed Holliston and Taunton to move the ball, but kept them off the scoreboard. As the opposing offense drove down the field, the Stoughton defense often came up with a big play or turnover, setting the Black Knights' offense up for a score.
A classic 'bend, but don't break' style of play.
It was more of the same Friday night against Pembroke in Stoughton's home opener, a 27-7 win at Sarno Field to give the Black Knights a 3-0 record.
Pembroke (1-1) had the ball eight times, crossing over into Stoughton territory seven times, but fumbled twice, had two interceptions and turned the ball over on downs two times. Three of Stoughton's four scores came off a Pembroke turnover.
"We bent a little bit - it's sort of going to be the way it's going to be all year, but we came back and made a big play when we had to," Stoughton coach Greg Burke said.
"We're not the biggest team, but we've got some strength and some speed and that wins high school football games - I hope," Burke continued. "I know we have a long way to go, but that's a good way to start it off for us against three pretty good clubs."
After Stoughton punted following its first possession, Pembroke advanced the ball from its own 31 to the Stoughton 43, but on 4th and 1, Stoughton's Shawn Connolly stuffed the ball carrier, with Pembroke failing to convert and turning the ball over on downs.
With Stoughton back on offense, quarterback Dan Eckler connected with tight end Andrew Kelly for a 44-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the drive. The extra point was good, putting Stoughton up 7-0 in the first quarter.
However, Pembroke tied the game on its next possession on a 4-yard run by Colin Claflin.
Stoughton put itself in position to take the lead on the ensuing drive, with Marcus Middleton breaking a 39-yard run to put the ball at the Pembroke 6-yard line in the opening minute of the second quarter. But, three plays later, Eckler made his only mistake of the game, with Pembroke's Matthew Benting intercepting a pass intended for Kelly.
Pembroke took the ball from its own 15 to the Stoughton 48, but fumbled, with Malachi Baugh recovering the ball for the Black Knights with 7:30 left in the second.
"The kids are tough, they come back...they get ticked off, they want the ball back," Burke said of his team's mentality following the Eckler interception. "That's a great sign, that's something you can't teach, can't coach it."
The Stoughton offense went back to work. A 34-yard completion from Eckler to Middleton set up a pair of Frankie Morris runs to get Stoughton in the end zone, with the Black Knights taking a 13-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Pembroke looked like it might answer the Stoughton touchdown, driving the ball 51 yards in four minutes to the Stoughton 25. But the Stoughton defense came up with another key stop. With 1:28 before the half, Pembroke quarterback Cory Brandon targeted Robert Queen in the end zone, with Middleton providing tight coverage on defense. Both players initially appeared to get a hand on the ball, but Middleton came away with it, snatching the interception.
On Stoughton's first possession of the second half, Baugh broke a 40-yard touchdown run on the third play of the drive. Eckler found Aaron Mack for the 2-point conversion, putting Stoughton up 21-7.
"[Baugh is] tough. You're not going to find a tougher kid than him. When he hits [the hole], he's gone. He's the strongest kid on the team pound for pound," Burke said of the 5'9" 175-pound back.
On the second play of the next Pembroke drive, the Stoughton defense helped put the game away. Lennox Green stepped in front of a Brandon pass, intercepting it at the Pembroke 43 and returning it 40-yards to the 3-yard line. Two plays later on offense, Morris scored his second touchdown of the game for Stoughton. The extra point attempt failed, but the Black Knights took a 27-7 lead midway through the third.
Neither team scored in the fourth.
Burke said his team's goal is to get to 300 yards of offense per game - "we get 300, we're going to win a lot of games," he said.
Stoughton easily surpassed the mark, thanks to a four-man rushing attack, which combined for more than 250 yards. Baugh led the team with 94 yards on the ground (and had another 22 receiving); Middleton, in his first game of the season, picked up 65 yards on the ground (and had 34 yards receiving); Morris ran for 53; and Mack ran for 41.
Eckler added 100 yards through the air, completing four of seven passes, including the long touchdown to Kelly.
Baugh, Middleton and Green had the big plays on defense. Defensive lineman Joey Wilder continued his strong start to the season, making a couple of tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Stoughton (3-0) hosts Mansfield (2-1) next Friday. Stoughton shocked Mansfield, 8-0, last season on the road, beating the Hornets for the first time since 2000.
Photos in the media gallery by Justin Braga and Suzanne Jolley. Josh Brown contributed reporting.
Check out a postgame interview with Malachi Baugh, Marcus Middleton and Aaron Mack in the media gallery.