NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – BC High had one more chance.
Down by eight points and with the clock closing in on 30 seconds remaining in Friday night’s season opener at Community Field, the Eagles faced a fourth-and-13 from the North Attleborough 31-yard-line. BC High had gotten the ball as close as the 24, but a bad snap had pushed the ball back.
Junior quarterback Sean Heffernan took the shotgun snap and was immediately under pressure from a North blitz. He rolled out to his right and decided to keep it, but his eight-yard carry was five yards short of the marker and turned the ball back over to the Rocketeers, who took a knee and ran out the clock on a season-opening 20-12 upset.
It was the Eagles’ sixth drive of the game that ended in North territory without garnering any points. Following the game, head coach Joe Gaff rued the team’s mistakes and missed opportunities.
“We’ve got to finish,” he explained. “We’ve got to make plays and we just didn’t do that tonight. Some of that is on North Attleborough. They were fast; they blitzed us a lot. It was a little bit of that and a little bit of us making mistakes.”
It was a game filled with turning points. On the opening drive of the game, the Eagles (0-1) took just three plays to get into the red zone junior running back Brendan Smith fumbled as he was headed toward the end zone and North (1-0) recovered for a touchback.
The Rocketeers would promptly march 80 yards on eight plays for the go-ahead score. Senior quarterback James Kummer, making his first career start, was 3 of 3 for 62 yards on the opening possession and found Jack Blasé on a play-action bootleg pass for the seven-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
“We just can’t come down on the opening drive, third play, and fumble in the end zone,” reflected Gaff after the game. “Especially a young team, it took a long time to rebound. I thought we did really well tonight, just every time we needed something – we made a mistake.”
Kummer would finish the game with an efficient line of 10 of 13 for 131 yards and drew praise from head coach Don Johnson after his composed performance, but Johnson also noted the importance of developing a balanced attack.
“He’s got to be a dual threat for us,” Johnson said. “He’s got to be able to run and throw the ball and we have to put him in a good position. He’s not a guy that can just drop back; he can’t see a thing if he drops back, so we got to play action them. But that’s only going to work if the run game is effective, so I thought the run game was key.”
It was a North misstep that got BC High back into the game in the second quarter. On a Rocketeers’ punt, the snap sailed way over the head of Kyle Rodriguez, who chased it down on the edge of the goal line. Starting the drive mere feet away from the end zone, the Eagles would only need one play to score. Fullback Steve DiCienzo powered in for the one-yard TD, but the extra point was missed keeping it 7-6.
The Rocketeers responded immediately. Senior captain Matt D’Attilio returned the kick-off 43 yards to the 49-yard-line. Six plays later, he took the ball into the end zone from nine yards out to build the lead to 13-6. D’Attilio finished with 69 yards on nine carries and had three sacks and a forced fumble on defense.
With 4:29 left in the third quarter, following a fumble by Heffernan, North Attleborough had a chance to pull away, but Mike Lambert fumbled as he was about to cross the goal line. The Eagles recovered in the end zone and turned to workhorse senior running back Robert Harnois to try and get back into the game.
After 84 yards in the first half, Harnois would take over the Eagles offense in the second. After the Lambert fumble, BC High marched 80 yards on six plays, all of them carries by Harnois. He would finish the drive with a three-yard score but the attempted two-point conversion was stopped, which kept the Rocketeers up by a single point at 13-12.
Johnson could only marvel at the struggles that his team had with Harnois, who finished with 217 yards on 26 carries.
“I didn’t have an answer for it,” said Johnson. “They’re running that counter play. They ran it weak, they ran it strong, and you think that you have it shut down and he cuts it back to the other side of the field. We really didn’t have an answer for him.”
With momentum on the visitors’ side, North responded again. The Rocketeers moved the ball inside the BC High 10-yard-line, but the drive was in danger of stalling. On fourth-and-goal from the 10, Kummer rolled out and hit senior split end Dan Moore at the front pylon. It was right on the edge of the end zone and the official on the line signaled touchdown.
BC High would have two more possessions and both ended in North Attleboro territory, but the Rocketeers defense held both times. North’s linebackers and safeties blitzed relentlessly in the second half and Heffernan struggled to find open targets. He would complete only 3-10 (his first seven passes were incomplete) and two completions were for negative yards.
Gaff insisted, “I’m proud of my guys, you know, they kept fighting back. We just couldn’t get over that edge. We just couldn’t catch up with them.”
As the crowd and players streamed onto the field following the final whistle, there was a palpable feeling that North had proved the doubters wrong. Johnson hopes that his young team will not allow one impressive win to impact the focus for the next game.
He remarked, “We’re a young, inexperienced game with a lot of guys playing their first varsity game, so you hope that this gives them the confidence to propel. The danger with a young, inexperienced team is that they overreact to this one and they come out and flop in the next one.”
BC High will have a quick turnaround with a game next Thursday against Andover. North Attleborough will have its bye week before a rivalry game against Bishop Feehan on Sept. 20.