BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- In the ramp up to Tuesday night’s Division 2 semifinal against Duxbury, Mansfield head coach Mike Redding devised the blueprint for a Hornets’ victory. Playing a foe such as the Dragons, who had been perfect for nearly three seasons, the Hornets’ veteran coach knew his time would need to be nearly flawless itself.
Mansfield delivered exactly that game in a 23-19 win over Duxbury. With the victory, the Hornets advance to play Reading in a rematch of their classic Gillette Stadium Super Bowl battle from 2010, but they also put an end to the Dragons’ state-best 37-game winning streak.
“We had to do everything right to barely get out of here with a win,” Redding said. “We got turnovers, we got a couple of three-and-outs, and some good ball control drives to kill the clock. Everything we needed to do, we had to, and we did all of it.”
The ball control element for the Hornets (8-4) came in the form of Kevin Makie (123 rushing yards, TD) and Robbie Rapoza (67 yards, TD). The solid backfield did as it has done all season, churning out tough yards in key situations, particularly at the end of drives.
On defense, Mansfield was opportunistic, forcing three turnovers. Michael Barresi showed a nose for the ball with a fumble recovery and an interception on consecutive drives bridging the first and second quarters.
The Hornets’ defensive success synergized with the offense, as Mansfield scored points following each of its three takeaways; the finest example of which was the second quarter when Duxbury (11-1) ran only three plays from scrimmage.
“We came into the game and we knew that if we played our hardest, got a couple of turnovers, didn’t make any mistakes on offense, we’d have the game,” Makie said. “The offense fought hard, the defense fought hard and created a lot of turnovers to help us out.”
WHAT A DRAG?
The Dragons stayed in the hunt throughout, thanks in no small part to another spirited effort by senior running back Jon Hurvitz. The June bug-like back skittered past the Mansfield defense for 155 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
However, Mansfield dealt the knockout blow in the fourth quarter on Kyle Wisnieski’s 74-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Hill.
“We stuck him at the backside tight end and we’ve been running that drag route all season long,” Redding said. “People have been overplaying it, so we sold the drag and ran the flag inside. Their linebacker No. 55 [Marcus Urann] got a good hit in on Kyle [Wisnieski].”
While Hill was asked to stay around the line of scrimmage more in Tuesday’s game in a blocking capacity, his rangy 6-foot-5 frame was able to slip away from the Duxbury secondary, rumbling down the left sideline to pay dirt.
Postgame, his teammates ragged on Hill for nearly getting caught from behind at one instant during his sideline scamper, but the basketball standout’s athleticism also created separation on the play.
Plus, he’s got a sense of humor to take it all in stride.
“I’m fast when it counts,” Hill quipped.
And also appreciative of his quarterback: “[Wisnieski] makes it easy every time, he puts the ball right on my hands. It was a great call, the line stepped up big and gave him plenty of time to throw.”
SNOW FALLING ON EMBERS
At the end of the evening, Wisnieski’s bleach white jersey was as pristine at the clumpy flakes of snow falling across Southern New England.
Pass protection was point of emphasis at Mansfield practice this week, as the Hornets hoped to slow down a big and athletic Dragons defensive front seven.
As a result, the Hornets mixed up their passing schemes.
“We kept an extra guy in protection just to give us time and try to get three guys out [on the pattern] instead of four,” Redding said. “That seemed to help a little bit.”
From there, Wisnieski was able to cherry-pick the defense.
“They were bringing the heat all night,” the junior signal-caller said. “They’re big up front and our guys stepped up big. They stoned them at the line and gave me time to throw and make reads. It was great.”
Duxbury – 6 0 7 6 -- 19
Mansfield -- 3 13 0 7 -- 23
M - Mike Hershman 25-yard field goal
D - Jon Hurvitz 69-yard run (kick failed)
M - Kevin Makie 1-yard run (Hershman kick)
M - Robbie Rapoza 2-yard run (kick blocked)
D - Jon Hurvitz 15-yard run (Tucker Hannon kick)
M - Brendan Hill 74-yard pass from Kyle Wisnieski (Hershman kick)
D - Hurvitz 15-yard run (kick failed)