It was one of the most hyped games in the history of March football.
Okay, so that’s obviously not a long history, but any time you have a defending state champion and a young, hungry league rival looking to knock them off, you’re going to get buzz whether it’s November or March.
When No. 4 Mansfield visited No. 14 Milford for a huge Hockomock League tilt on Saturday, several local media outlets were on hand and with enough fans allowed in to make plenty of noise, it had a big game feel. Ultimately, it was a story of doing just enough for the Hornets while Milford missed out on some great opportunities. Mansfield came away with a 20-7 win in the 2nd New England Football Journal Showcase of the Week with both defenses posting a shutout in the second half.
Senior Anthony Comer was the star of the game for the Hornets with a rushing touchdown and two interceptions including one he returned for a touchdown. Cincere Gill also added 121 yards on 21 carries. Mansfield moves to 2-0 while Milford drops to 1-1.
“It was very hard,” Comer said of getting the win despite not playing a clean game. “It was very hard with those penalties, they had a very good offense and we just executed well on defense, held our men to very short yardage, covered our guys and it was just a great performance.”
“This was really one of our sloppiest offensive performances in a long time,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “When we do things right we’re good, but we didn’t do things right very often today. We’re just getting way too many penalties to take good plays away. We really got to work hard on offense getting sharper executing, get rid of penalties, get lined up right and execute because we’re too good not to score in a half.”
It may not have been clean all day, but the first few minutes of the game couldn’t have started any better for the Hornets. After receiving the opening kick, Mansfield calmly moved 50 yards in six plays with Comer scoring from 18-yards out to make it 7-0 less than five minutes in. Three plays later Milford fumbled at its own 20, but as they did all day long the defense played fast and physical, forcing a turnover on downs at their own 23.
Three plays later Dom Schofield broke off a 69-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 heading to the second quarter. Brady Olson threw his first of three interceptions on the day after Milford was pinned at their own 5-yard line on a punt. The interception went right to Comer who caught the ball at the 15 and calmly strode into the end zone for the 14-7 lead.
“I saw green,” he said with a smile when asked what he saw on the play. “I just saw touchdown, I was running, I was running for the hills, that was great.”
Milford’s ensuing drive wound up deep in Mansfield territory, but once again Olson was picked off when a third down pass ricocheted off the pads of Jayden Agnew as the ball was thrown slightly behind him and into the arms of Comer. 10 plays and 82 yards later Matty Boen beautifully sold an option and easily scored from 4-yards out to make it 20-7 after a missed PAT with under a minute left in the half.
Milford got a huge kick off return from Carter Scudo – who actually fumbled on the return – down to the Mansfield 33, but the Scarlet Hawks couldn’t capitalize and Mansfield carried the 13-point lead into halftime.
In a game where the offenses were supposed to shine it was the defenses stealing the show, as the teams combined for four punts in the third quarter. With 10:45 left in the game Gill picked off Olson to all but seal the game as the offenses traded turnovers on downs to end the game.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how our kids handled themselves today,” he said. “Realistically, I look up at the scoreboard at the end of that game and it should have been 7-7. Interception down there we’re in the red zone, we have a first down on a catch down around the 10, 9-yard line, hits off our receivers chest, would’ve been a first down and goal inside the 10. We had our opportunities today. They ball controlled us, but our defense was outstanding today.
“They don’t really hurt us today with our offense, it was more a matter of our offense couldn’t get going.”
While Milford is still in the process of learning to win games against the state’s top teams, Mansfield has done so at an elite level for a while now. Redding knew that Milford was going to be a tough challenge and acknowledged there was a bit of a “must win” feel when the Hornets arrived to Milford High School on Saturday.
“We felt coming in, I thought Milford is as talented as anyone in the Kelley-Rex,” he said. “If we didn’t beat them here today, then they’re going to run the table. For us, it was like a must win game. If we want to be in the league race when we’re playing King Philip and Attleboro, we had to win today. You look at Milford’s schedule and I don’t think they lose moving forward again.
“They’ve got great linemen, I think the best QB in the league and great receivers, so we came in…we’ve won (the division title) a couple times in a row, but we felt pressure like it was a must win for us against them on their field.”