WRENTHAM, Mass. -- A late September game took on the feel of a late November must-win for No. 15 Mansfield football.
Facing perennial Hockomock League power No. 12 King Philip on Friday following an upsetting 8-0 blanking at the hands of Stoughton last week, the Hornets carried a playoff mentality into this week’s game. And it showed. Mansfield held on for dear life in the waning seconds of the 27-26 win over the Warriors, denying a KP attempt at a potential game-winning two-point conversion.
“This was pretty much a playoff game for us,” said senior captain Greg Donahue, who rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns. “If we didn’t get it, we would have a hard time making the playoffs.”
Both sides emerged energized for the rivalry game, with the teams trading off three touchdowns in the span of 33 seconds in the first quarter.
Donahue had Mansfield (3-1) to a 7-0 lead eight minutes in with a 33-yard touchdown run. On the next play from scrimmage, KP’s Charles Ruffin (21 carries, 158 yards) sped 61 yards down the field untouched to tie the score 15 seconds later. After the ensuing kickoff, Mansfield had the ball at their 43 before Blayne Taylor went 57 yards the other way for another rushing score.
After the point after was blocked, the Hornets held a 13-7 lead. That’s how the score would remain after much less crisply played second quarter when neither team could gain any offensive momentum.
In the second half, Mansfield got another big play via the passing game with quarterback George Busharis finding Zach Schafer down the sideline for an 81-yard touchdown.
KP (3-1) responded in the fourth with John Dillon hitting Mike Viola on an 11-yard touchdown pass. But when Donahue punched in his second rushing score of the game with 5:08 remaining, it looked as though the Hornets had put it out of reach.
“I give our quarterback credit,” Warriors head coach Brian Lee said of Dillon, a sophomore. “He hadn’t really dealt with any adversity yet this season, like we saw tonight, and to come onto that kind of stage and play like did was impressive.”
Dillon, who completed 13 of 29 pass attempts for 188 yards, spread the ball around to get KP back within a score with a 9-yard pass to Ruffin with 2:29 to play. The 10-play drive was extended by a key fourth-down conversion on an 18-yard connection from Dillon to Matt Aucoin.
KP recovered the on-side kick that followed with Mike Winbourne pouncing on the ball.
Dillon again led the Warriors downfield, despite a persistent Mansfield rush from the weak side, and he again turned a clutch fourth-down conversion into a scoring drive. Dillon linked up with Joe Cochrane on a 33-yard play on fourth and 19, before Ruffin scored his third touchdown of the game with a 1-yard run.
It was 27-26 with 44 seconds remaining.
It was also a familiar, sinking feeling for Redding whose team has been involved in four straight one-possession games to start the season.
“We’ve had four of these [close games],” he added. “I can’t take it anymore.”
After a timeout, Lee went for the kill, sending his offense onto the field for the 2-point conversion. Dillon again dropped back to throw and looked to Ruffin, streaking on a crossing route. It looked as though he might have time to sneak the ball into tight coverage with a crisp throw, however, Hornets junior defensive back Kevin Makie made perhaps a season-saving lunge at the ball, knocking the pass down before it could reach Ruffin’s outstretched hands.
“We had one guy underneath and one guy over the top,” Makie described the defense on the play. “We did a nice job jamming it and I just read [Ruffin] going across the middle. We knew they were going to do that, so we played it like that.”
And, like that, the defending Division 2 Super Bowl champions kept their “postseason hopes” alive.
WHAT TO DO ON D?
Seemingly no matter what the Hornets threw at Dillon in the fourth quarter, the Warriors’ young QB was able to handle. When Mansfield came at Dillon with a weak side stunt, the sophomore would coolly roll out and relieve the pressure. As the Hornets played more zone defense to neutralize the KP attack, Dillon had a knack for finding a receiver on the seam.
“They got into a groove,” Redding said. “When we blitzed, they got people open. When we backed off, we gave them too much time.”
Even two fourth-and-long situations didn’t confound him.
“I’m not looking forward to playing defense against him for two more years,” Redding exclaimed.
With its Wing-T and quick screen passing game, Mansfield made adjustments at the half to try to slow down the Warriors’ aggressive, athletic defense by running the ball more up the gut. The change was apparent on the Hornets’ fourth-quarter scoring drive finished off by Donahue’s 11-yard score. Redding has two talented runners in Taylor and Donahue, who complement each other well. But when push came to shove, it was time to simply run the ball up the gut.
“Taylor and Donahue ran hard,” Redding said. “We ran a lot of double tight [ends] to try to go north and south with them. We’re normally a Wing-T, perimeter team, but they have such great team speed that we wanted to go more north, south and attack them.”
THE DUDE ABIDES
After yet another 100-yard rushing performance to go along with three touchdowns, Ruffin showed why he’s one of the top backfield talents in the state. The KP senior made it a priority to bulk up in the offseason, adding more muscle to an already impressive frame. However, when Ruffin fell to the turf awkwardly after rolling his ankle on a third-quarter carry, it was as though the air had been let out of a balloon.
Ruffin missed the next offensive series, only to return and play an integral part of the Warriors’ final drive at victory. When the penultimate 2-point play was broken up, Ruffin again rolled up on the grass in pain.
It was yet another gutsy performance from the Warriors captain.
“Charles is our dude,” Lee said of Ruffin’s performance.
Somewhere Jeff Bridges is surely smiling.
Mansfield (3-1) 13 0 8 6 -- 27
King Philip (3-1) 7 0 0 19 -- 26
M - Greg Donahue 33-yard run (Mike Hershman kick)
KP - Charles Ruffin 61-yard run (Ryan Dunn kick)
M - Blayne Kelley-Taylor 57-yard run (kick blocked)
M - Zach Schafer 81-yard pass from George Busharis (Donahue run)
KP - Mike Viola 11-yard pass from John Dillon (Dunn kick)
M - Donahue 11-yard run (kick blocked)
KP - Ruffin 10-yard pass from Dillon (kick failed)
KP - Ruffin 1-yard run (pass failed)