A big play negated by a costly turnover.
It happened twice Friday night for the in their season opener at home against Holliston High School, helping the Panthers secure a 28-15 win over the Black Knights in a non-league contest.
After fumbling the ball on the opening series of the game, Holliston, trailing 7-0, was driving the ball on their second possession, but Stoughton’s Marcus Middleton came up with an interception in the corner of the end zone, advancing the ball to Stoughton’s 10-yard line with just under three minutes to play in the opening quarter.
It was already the second turnover of the game for Holliston, the defending Division 3A High School Super Bowl champions.
But on the very next snap, Stoughton fumbled the ball, giving possession right back to the Panthers, who later scored on a five yard-run by Max Athy to tie the game 7-7.
Stoughton coach Greg Burke thought this was the turning point in the game. Holliston went on to score 28 unanswered points to take a 28-7 lead, before the Black Knights scored a late touchdown with 40 seconds left to cut the deficit to two scores.
“You can’t fumble and lose it and say it’s ok,” Burke said. “We’re not strong enough defensively to say that’s ok.”
Holliston coach Todd Kiley said his team was able to recovery quickly after their two early turnovers.
“It’s the next play, not the previous play. We’re a team that plays for 44 minutes,” he said.
On Stoughton’s opening drive of the second half, with the Black Knights looking to erase a 14-7 Holliston lead, QB Alex Fernandes connected with Aaron Mack for a 32-yard pass. Fernandes floated the ball over Mack’s shoulder and he reached out, grabbed it and tumbled in stride for the big gain.
But, on the next snap, Stoughton fumbled and Holliston recovered. Holliston’s Jake Frechette then broke a 66-yard run down the sideline; Mack made a touchdown saving tackle inside the 10-yard line, but Frechette later punched it in from six yards out to give the Panthers a 21-7 lead.
Holliston moved the ball well on the ground, amassing 263 yards on 32 running plays. Frechette led the way with 158 yards on just nine carries. Dan Barone had 65 yards on 12 carries. Both scored touchdowns, while Athy had two scores on the ground.
Holliston opened the game in a spread set, which Stoughton defended well, so they switched to a double wing set, which opened up the running lanes for the Panthers.
“We sped up the game a little bit [by going to the double wing set] and I think that was the difference,” Kiley said.
While Frechette, Barone and Athy all drew praise from their coach, Kiley said his offensive line and tight ends deserve credit for the team’s success running the ball.
“In that type of set, they have to bring it. They are a group we have to rely on.”
The game started off promising for Stoughton. Alex Kimball recovered a Holliston fumble on the Panthers opening drive, giving the Black Knights the ball around midfield.
While three straight penalties pushed Stoughton back, Holliston was called for a late hit penalty following a Kimball reception, giving the Black Knights a fresh set of downs. Stoughton took advantage, capping off a 58-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown run by Mack, going up 7-0, early in the first quarter.
But their next score didn’t come until there were 40 seconds left in the game. QB Dan Eckler connected with Malachi Baugh in the corner of the end zone, and Frankie Morris converted the two-point conversion, to account for the final score, 28-15.
For the Black Knights, Mack had 123 yards of total offense; 53 on the ground and 70 receiving. Fernandes had 38 yards rushing and completed five of nine passes for 82 yards at QB. Kimball had 31 yards receiving, and a fumble recovery on defense.
Both teams had five turnovers. Stoughton was penalized for 55 yards, while Holliston was penalized for 70.
“We played ok—that’s about it,” Burke said. “I’m not saying we played poorly, but we didn’t play great, but first game those things happen. A lot of good things happened and a lot of things we have to shore up to do better than that.”
While his team came away with the win, Kiley complimented the Black Knights.
“Stoughton is an extremely talented football team,” he said. “They’re going to win some games, no doubt about that. They have some athletes.”
Stoughton (0-1) travels to Somerset next Friday, while Holliston (1-0) hosts Auburn the same night.