The Stoughton High football team found itself in an unfamiliar situation Friday night at North Attleboro - trailing in the second half.
But when Stoughton was down by one after North Attleboro scored a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Black Knights were able to answer on offense and the defense came up with two turnovers late in the game to cement what coach Greg Burke called a "hard-fought" 12-7 comeback win to improve to 6-0 on the season.
Stoughton is now 4-0 against Hockomock League teams this season. Meanwhile, North Attleboro has lost three in a row after a 3-0 start to the season. This is Stoughton's first win over North Attleboro since 2006.
With Stoughton leading 6-0 with 7:25 left in the game, North Attleboro faced a 4th and 4 from the Stoughton 18. Quarterback Ryan Perron completed a 14-yard pass to Tyler Sellner and on the next play scored on a quarterback keeper from 4-yards out. The extra point gave North Attleboro a 7-6 lead with 6:53 left.
It was the first time the Black Knights trailed since surrendering a touchdown to Holliston on the opening drive in the first game of the season, snapping a span of nearly 250 minutes of game action over the first six games where Stoughton was either tied or had the lead.
The North Attleboro touchdown capped a 16-play, 89-yard drive which started with 5-minutes left in the third quarter.
The Stoughton offense had been forced to punt on its previous three possessions, including the first two of the second half, but the ensuing drive for the Black Knights received a much-needed kick-start thanks to a 42-yard kickoff return from Malachi Baugh to the North Attleboro 45-yard line.
Baugh ran for 10-yards on Stoughton's first play and broke a 20-yard run on the second play of the drive to get Stoughton to the North Attleboro 15. Two plays later, Frankie Morris scored his second touchdown of the evening, this one from 14-yards out. Quarterback Dan Eckler's two-point conversion attempt was intercepted by Jake Dallaire, but Stoughton retook the lead, 12-7, with 4:51 to play.
Stoughton countered the methodical 10-minute North Attleboro drive with a quick, four-play, two-minute scoring strike.
"I just saw a lot of openings in the defense and I just put my faith in God and I just went down the field," Baugh said of his two big runs to set up the Morris score.
"Baugh is tough. You give him any room [and he will take adavantage]," Burke said. "They did a great job taking away Morris [inside]. He's been ripping it up all year. They did a great job. We sort of knew that. We knew we had to get outside - they couldn't take away everything."
North Attleboro got the ball back at its own 32 following the kickoff. After Shawn Connolly almost intercepted a pass on second down, Marcus Middleton came up with an interception on third down, giving Stoughton the ball back with 3:49 left.
The Black Knights were unable to run out the clock, however, as the North Attleboro defense forced a turnover on downs, giving the NA offense another chance to win the game.
"You want to be able to secure a victory and we didn't get that done. Hats off to them. We didn't do a good job on that [fourth down] play," Burke said.
But the Stoughton defense was ready.
North Attleboro advanced the ball to midfield, but Perron was sacked by a host of defenders on third down, and on fourth down was sacked by Connolly. Connolly stripped the ball and fellow defensive lineman Mike Connelly recovered it, giving Stoughton the ball back with 1:53 left.
Connolly and Connelly combined for a sack to end a North Attleboro drive towards the end of the first half. This play effectively ended the game.
"[North Attleboro has] a really good line. They were giving us a battle all game. I saw Shawn shoot a gap. I saw him sack the quarterback. I saw the ball on the ground and grabbed it," Connelly said of his fourth quarter fumble recovery.
Following the fumble recovery, the Stoughton offense went into victory formation, kneeling on the ball to end the game. After losing 22-21 in overtime last season at North Attleboro's Community Field, Stoughton was able to avoid a second-straight heartbreaker.
Stoughton's first score came on a 5-yard Morris run with 2:14 left in the second quarter (the extra point attempt was no good). The Stoughton scoring drive was set up by a 12-yard North Attleboro punt. North Attleboro punted from its own 12 and the ball sailed out of bounds at the NA 24, which is where Stoughton took over.
Both teams started the game with sustained, methodical marches towards the end zone, but came up empty. Friday's game was a defensive battle where neither team eclipsed 200-yards of total offense.
Baugh led the Stoughton offense with 55 yards rushing and 33 yards receiving. Morris had 42 yards on the ground and two touchdowns (giving him a total of 10 scores on the season). Aaron Mack had 17 yards rushing and 13 receiving. Eckler added 42 yards through the air on 3 of 6 passing.
North Attleboro was without injured running back, senior captain Alex Jette Friday night, and now Stoughton may be dealing with an injury to one of its stars.
Senior captain Adam Leonard, a leader on defense at middle linebacker and on offense at center, left the game late in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. Leonard is essentially on the field for every offensive and defensive play, and losing him to injury would create a significant void on both sides of the ball.
"He's one of the best players in the state. Hopefully he's okay," Burke said.
Stoughton travels to Sharon (5-1) next Saturday, while North Attleboro looks to snap its losing streak next Friday at Taunton.
Check out the media gallery for photos and a video interview with Malachi Baugh and Mike Connelly.
Josh Brown contributed reporting.