Boston High School: Don Johnson

Recap: King Philip 33, North 0

October, 3, 2014
Oct 3
11:58
PM ET
NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. - As King Philip's offense was trying to adjust to a wet, muddy Community Field, the Warriors defense did more than enough to keep them in the game.

King Philip's defense forced a turnover in each of North Attleborough's first two drives and then its offense scored on five straight series between the second and third quarters to shutout the Rocketeers, 33-0, in a Hockomock League Kelley-Rex division matchup.

The Warriors didn't even have positive yardage after their first two drives but when senior Kyle Loewen picked off North quarterback Justin Gallagher in the end zone, the Warriors completely took over the game.

"They had some momentum early on, they were making some plays on us," KP head coach Brian Lee said. "We were slipping on the field a little bit and they were having some success passing against us and then the turnover, when we were dealing, was really helpful. The pick later on was huge. After we settled down and were able to get ahead, we were able to make some plays."

After the interception, senior Mark Glebus burst out to the left for a 64-yard gain to the North Attleborough 16-yard line. Three plays later, sophomore quarterback John DeLuca connected with Loewen for a 10-yard touchdown to make it 6-0 with 10:57 left in the first half.

KP's defense forced another quick three and out for North Attleborough and took over at their own 46-yard after the Rocketeers' punt. The Warriors used a mix of runs from Glebus and DeLuca and a 17-yard pass from DeLuca to Loewen to get into the red zone. Facing a third-and-8 at the 18-yard line, DeLuca floated one to the back right corner of the end zone where Loewen was able to reel it in for a touchdown. DeLuca connected with Peter Garrity for the 2-point conversion to make it 14-0.

After another three-and-out for North, KP took over at the North 48-yard line. Four of the first plays were runs from Glebus, totaling 39 yards to set up the Warriors with second and goal from the 4. From there, Glebus busted out to the left and stutter stepped around a defender and into the end zone. Sam Fleck's extra point was good to make it 21-0 with 2:27 left in the first half.

"Before with our offense it was a couple yards here and there," Lee said. "And then with Glebus its two yards, three, two, then boom [he's gone]. And then everybody feels we can start playing."

The Rocketeers tried to get on the board in the final minutes and came out throwing on their next drive. After two incomplete passes, Gallagher was flushed out of the pocket to the right sideline and heaved one up but it was Glebus who came away with the interception around his own 30-yard line and raced back to the North Attleborough 27-yard line. Glebus was rewarded three plays into that drive, taking the ball on third and 2 and rushing in for a 19-yard touchdown. The Warriors went into halftime up 27-0. Glebus finished the game with 162 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

"You can't turn the ball against them," North Attleborough head coach Don Johnson said. "They're opportunistic, they're so aggressive on defense. I give them all the credit in the world, they made all the plays tonight and we made none."

The Warrior defense didn't budge in the second half either, forcing a quick three and out from North Attleborough to start the second half. Just four plays later, Steven Eaton cut to the left and rushed the rest of the way for a 56-yard touchdown to up the score to 33-0. Eaton finished with 99 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.

Both teams turned the ball over on their next drives but the Warriors' defense was able to force yet another turnover. Facing third and four at their own 38-yard line, K.C. Webster was able to get the strip sack of quarterback Brody Barr and Brian Donahue came up with the loose ball. KP used the ensuing drive to wipe off nearly the rest of the time on the clock.

Dominating Defense: When talking about being aggressive on defense after the game, Lee had a simple answer.

"That's how you're supposed to play, right?"

For the second straight week, the Warriors defense allowed less than 10 points and allowed just a total of 29 points through four games, just 7.25 points per game.

"I couldn't be happier with the defense," Lee said. "I'll look at the film and tomorrow I'll change my mind on that but right now I'm very, very pleased with the effort and the team defense."

The team forced four turnovers against North Attleborough - two interceptions and two fumbles - and were able to turn two of those into touchdowns. In terms of yardage, the Warriors allowed just 124 yards to the Rocketeers – 36 of which came on North's final drive with just over a minute to play.

"I can't say enough," Lee said. "This team is different than other teams that I've had but they have the same KP heart. I couldn't be more proud of how they responded.

Time To Rebound: North Attleborough suffered their second loss of the season, but that might not be a bad thing. After they dropped their opener to Stoughton, Big Red went on to win two straight games with victories over Bishop Feehan (13-0) and the defending D2 state champion Mansfield Hornets (42-22).

The road will be a little tougher this time around as North will return to action next Friday when they host their biggest rivals – Attleboro.

The Bombardiers are 2-1 heading into Saturday's contest against Mansfield and swept the Rocketeers last year. The last time that North Attleborough picked up a win against their rivals was Thanksgiving 2012.
After taking down bitter Hockomock rival and defending Division 2 state champion Mansfield, 42-22, on Friday, today North Attleborough head coach Don Johnson was named New England Patriots Coach of the Week.

Here's more from today's release:
North Attleboro High School’s Don Johnson has been named this week’s New England Patriots High School Coach of the Week in recognition of his team’s 44-22 victory over defending state champion and divisional foe Mansfield High on Friday, Sept. 26. North Attleboro scored twice on special teams – recording a kickoff return touchdown and a blocked punt return for touchdown while also scoring through the air and on the ground on offense. The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation will donate $1,000 to North Attleboro High School’s football program in Johnson’s name in recognition of his Coach of the Week selection.

Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett, the team’s executive director of community affairs, visited Coach Johnson and his team on Tuesday, Sept. 30, at North Attleboro High School. The visit and check presentation will be featured on the team’s weekly television show, “Patriots All Access”, which airs at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 3, on WBZ-TV in Boston and will be available immediately after on Patriots.com.

This is the 19th year in which the Patriots join the National Football League in conducting the High School Coach of the Week program, which recognizes outstanding high school coaches and promotes youth football throughout New England. Tippett oversees the program as part of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation’s commitment to youth football initiatives.

“In the 42-22 victory for North Attleboro, you have to appreciate how all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams – played a role in in the Red Rocketeers victory,” Tippett said.

At the conclusion of the season, one high school coach will be named the New England Patriots High School Coach of the Year and will receive an additional $2,000 contribution toward the school’s football program.


NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – North Attleborough football twice took the lead in the first quarter without the benefit of an offensive play Friday night against Hockomock League rival No. 4 Mansfield.

When the Red Rocketeers finally had the ball firmly in their possession (offensively, that is), it took just one play for them to find the end zone once again before the quarter was out.

There’s no way North’s coaching staff could have drawn up the start to Big Red’s 42-22 win over the Hornets. But the Red Rocketeers’ mix of strong special teams and a couple of home-run offensive plays was exactly what they needed to depose the reigning Kelley-Rex division and Division2 state champions.

In fact, North (2-1, 1-0) never left the Hornets (1-2, 0-1) into the game. After Mansfield stalled on the first possession of the game, the Red Rocketeers exploited a weakness in the Hornets’ special teams unit. North send an aggressive rush from the corners on Mansfield’s punt. Sophomore Bobby Mylod batted the ball down before Pat Munley got his hands on the loose ball for a scoop and score at 8:03 of the first.

“It was something we’d seen in films and it was something that we wanted to go after on the very first punt, as long as the field position was favorable,” North head coach Don Johnson said. “We knew we were going to go after it.”

The Hornets responded with a plodding 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession, capped by C.J. Daniel’s 5-yard run.

Then, as North would do at several turning points in the game, another big play followed. North scored its second special teams touchdown as sophomore running back Nick Rajotte returned the kickoff 89 yards for a score.

The Red Rocketeers claimed their first two-possession lead before the first quarter was out, forcing Mansfield to a turnover on downs. On their first offensive play of the game, junior quarterback Brody Barr took an inside zone run 58 yards for the touchdown as time in the quarter expired.

Despite surrendering a safety on a bad snap through the end zone, North took a 28-9 lead to the half as senior Andrew Hanwell scored his first of two touchdowns on the game. Hanwell swept across the formation on an end around, sold with an inside zone read fake, and raced 13 yards for a touchdown with 1:48 to play in the half.

Hanwell kept the onslaught going in the third quarter, when he hauled in a 78-yard touchdown pass from Justin Gallagher at 4:54.

Mansfield got the score back on 45-yard touchdown run by Q’ra Guichard, but North once again deflated the Hornets’ buzz when Mylod chewed off a 51-yard score on a the first play of the ensuing possession.

“We scored 42 points and won a big game, but there’s plenty to improve upon on both sides of the football,” Johnson said. “Special teams were good tonight, they were a difference. That gave us some breathing room, too.”

Difference maker: Hanwell, named the ESPN Boston Player of the Game, was also a force from his cornerback spot. The senior two-way starter picked off two Matt Carafa (17 of 30, 220 yards) passes.

“He’s our best athlete out there,” Johnson said of Hanwell. “He’s the guy that plays both offense and defense and in special teams, too. Tonight it showed and he came through for us.”

Hanwell was also a part of North’s first big play, applying pressure off the edge on Mylod’s blocked punt.

“That punt block set the tone right away for us and we just didn’t stop there,” Hanwell said.

Unsung heroes: The standouts in the Red Rocketeers’ win against Bishop Feehan a week ago was its defensive line, led by Munley. Along with senior defensive tackle Maxwell Kroll, North’s defense took on a bend but don’t break attitude.

While Mansfield was able to run at will at times behind sophomore Brian Lynch (17 carries, 117 yards), North’s defensive front stiffened in critical moments. Kroll tallied two sacks, both of which helped force Mansfield into a turnover on downs in the second half.

“We didn’t want to give any yards up the middle,” Kroll said. “We wanted to get push from the outside and let our corners and our linebackers do the work.”

Notable quotables: “I guess we don’t have to be practicing all that much on offense, given that we had the one offensive play in the first quarter,” Johnson said, responding a question on North’s lack of first quarter offensive plays.

D3 Southwest: Oliver Ames 27, North Attleborough 13

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
12:38
AM ET
NORTH EASTON, Mass. – The Oliver Ames football program is having an historic season. The Tigers already completed their first undefeated regular season since 1964, and, on Friday night at Muscato Stadium, OA added its first victory over North Attleborough since 1994.

Oliver Ames outscored the Rocketeers 20-6 after halftime and behind a punishing defensive line claimed a 27-13 victory that sends the Tigers to the Division 3 Southwest final.

OA head coach Jim Artz knew that his team was in uncharted waters at this stage of the season and was taking on a team that had dominated the overall series record. He expected his team to battle nerves early on and said that if the team was close after a quarter, then the Tigers would be alright.

He noted, “With their team speed and the way that they attack, we knew that the first quarter was really going to be tough. If we felt comfortable with where we were at and okay at the end of the first quarter then we’d be fine.”

He added, “We just had to wear them down a little bit because I think that we’re bigger and stronger and I think that we showed that.”

The Tigers (9-0) dominated the North offensive line from the first series, although on the second possession Rocketeers quarterback James Kummer somehow stood in the pocket and took a huge hit to complete a 32-yard pass to Dan Moore. North (5-4) took advantage of the big play and finished the drive with Jack Blasť running it in from five yards out to make it 7-0.

The Oliver Ames offense has been explosive this season and it was a big play by running back Matt Berksza (17 carries, 135 yards) that got the Tigers going at the end of the second quarter. His 45-yard run as the first quarter ended put OA at the North 11. Two plays later he finished the drive with a one-yard dive to tie the score.

Oliver Ames had the chance to take the lead before the break, but Nick Sanborn’s 43-yard field goal attempt, into the wind, came up short.

In the second half, the Oliver Ames offense started to click into gear behind senior quarterback Nick Cidado. Facing third and 11 at midfield on the opening possession, Cidado picked out senior wide receiver Reid Starr down the center of the field for a 50-yard, go-ahead touchdown. The North defender tried to jump in front for the interception but could not get there in time.

North head coach Don Johnson remarked, “We had good coverage, but he just misplayed the ball and it turned into a big play; caught us on the man-to-man blitz.”

Artz praised his senior quarterback for his ability to run the offense with both his arm and his legs.

“I’ve been touting him all season long. We used him a little more leg-wise tonight because they were doing a lot of slanting and trying to take away zone with Matt [Berksza] and we said if you’re going to slant that way then we’ll run back this way.”

North tried to get back on its next possession, but after reaching the OA one-yard-line, Kummer fumbled on a play that looked like his knee may have been down. The Tigers could not take advantage.

The Rocketeers forced a Berksza fumble and took over on the Tigers 22. Five plays later, Mike Lambert took a sweep to the right for six yards and a touchdown. A penalty forced the extra point back five yards and Connor Flynn missed wide left to keep OA on top, 14-13.

The Tigers responded immediately. OA went 69 yards in eight plays to extend the lead back to eight points with 9:57 remaining in the game. Cidado and Berksza rushed for 68 of the yards on the drive and junior Joey Tepper took it the final yard into the end zone.

On its next possession, the Tigers appeared to be trying to run down the clock. Instead, on second and eight, Artz took a chance and called for a play-action pass. Cidado threw a 31-yard strike to sophomore Sam Kelly (four receptions, 88 yards) to make it 27-13.

When asked about the play, Artz explained, “As long as they kept two high safeties, then we were going to run but we saw them creeping down and creeping down and they still had timeouts to burn. We could either play it safe or be aggressive and I thought it was the appropriate time to be a little bit aggressive and go for it.”

He added, “Sam Kelly is an outstanding young receiver and Cid put it right where it needed to be. It gave us a lot more breathing room and a whole different comfort level.”

Johnson was disappointed that his team was surprised by the call. He reflected, “It shouldn’t have [surprised us]; we know that is something that they like to do. It was just a poor play on defense.”

Down by two scores, North was forced to start looking downfield in the passing game, but Kummer was constantly under pressure from the OA defensive line. Chris Duggan, Josh Briggs, and Pat McNeeley each had shots on Kummer in the fourth quarter, as well as linebacker Tepper. It was a problem for which North had no answer.

Johnson admitted, “We didn’t do a good job protecting him to give him a chance. They’ve got some good, fast, strong players up front that overpowered us tonight.”

The win sets up an all-Hockomock League D3 Southwest final with Oliver Ames hosting rival Stoughton in a rematch of the Tigers' 35-7 win from earlier this season.

D3 Southwest: North Attleborough 35, Walpole 7

November, 2, 2013
11/02/13
12:20
AM ET
NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – James Kummer and Jack Blasť each accounted for three touchdowns for North Attleborough, as the Rocketeers rolled 35-7 over Walpole in a Division 3 Southwest first-round game on Friday night at Community Field.

North Attleborough scored on five of its seven possessions and did not give up a touchdown until the final five minutes of the game. However, the result could have been very different, but for a huge defensive play early in the first half.

On the first play of the second quarter, trailing 7-0, Walpole was just two yards away from tying the game. The Rocketeers defense needed to make a play and it was senior linebacker Kyle Rodriguez that provided it.

As sophomore running back Steve Cuqua crossed the line of scrimmage, Rodriguez put two hands on the ball and ripped it away. North took over at the one and proceeded to march 99 yards on seven plays for a touchdown, which made it 14-0 and took all momentum away from the Rebels.

“It was a big momentum changer,” said Rodriguez, who also recovered a fumble on the opening Walpole possession. “Down on the one-yard-line, if they score then it changes the game. He had the ball in front of him a little bit and I just knew that I had to make a play.”

Head coach Don Johnson admitted that the North defense needed those turnovers, as the Rocketeers were struggling to contain Cuqua.

“It was really important at the time because I don’t think you can say we stopped them much in the first half. That’s actually something that we work on – getting takeaways. We haven’t gotten too many this season, but we had two big ones tonight.”

The North offense took advantage of the Walpole turnovers thanks in large part to the Rocketeers offensive line creating huge running lanes. North racked up 286 yards on the ground led by quarterback James Kummer (13 carries, 74 yards) and tailback Chris Hunter (13 carries, 118 yards).

The play of the line also helped North in the passing game with the Rocketeers line opening a huge hole up the middle for a shovel pass from Kummer to Blasť for a 22-yard touchdown that capped the 99-yard drive.

The Kummer to Blasť combination had a big first half with five completions for 78 yards. In the final minute of the second quarter, they hooked up for a 25-yard reception on fourth and 18 from the Walpole 35. The play kept the drive going and Kummer would finish it off with a one-yard sneak, which made it 21-0 at the break.

Johnson credited the experience of playing against the strong teams in the Hockomock League for developing his young offensive line. He remarked that the offense is starting to click and the Rocketeers were able to put together three long scoring drives.

He explained, “We knew it was going to take time and then the one senior that we had in there, [Evan] Sweeney, got hurt playing those three monster teams in the Hock. So, we finally got all our guys back and we’ve just continued to get better every week; it really showed it tonight.”

Walpole had an opportunity to get back into the game early in the third quarter after a Hunter fumble, which junior Jack Lavanchy recovered. But the Rebels went three and out and North took its next drive 72 yards in 14 plays, which ran out the clock in the third quarter. Kummer’s second one-yard touchdown of the game put North ahead 28-0.

Walpole head coach Barry Greener was blunt about his team’s performance. He said, “They beat us every which way to Sunday. They just took it to us; we just had no answers.”

Greener added, “We looked good in practice all week. They didn’t run anything that we didn’t work on; we’re just not very tough on defense. If our offense isn’t rolling, we have serious issues.”

Blasť finished off a strong day with a 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Cuqua broke one long run for Walpole on its final possession to pass 100 yards for the night (14 carries, 106 yards). The drive was finished by backup quarterback Brendan Chaisson to avoid the shutout.

Johnson noted that the game plan for the Rocketeers to was to try and make Walpole quarterback Will Bolster beat them in the passing game. Bolster finished 5-10 for just 38 yards.

“We felt like we had to stop the run first and put them in a position where they had to throw the ball,” said Johnson. “I think we did a fairly decent job of controlling their run game.”

Rodriguez added, “In the film, they were running all over teams; we knew they had a good offense. We knew that we had to have out best defensive game of the year and we did today.”

The Rocketeers advance to play fellow Hockomock League team Oliver Ames in the second round.

Recap: North Attleborough 20, No. 19 BC High 12

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
12:52
AM ET
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 Blasť 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.

Chikomba, Perron lead through experience

November, 22, 2012
11/22/12
3:56
AM ET
High School FootballScott Barboza/ESPNBoston.comTadkudzwe Chikomba, left, and Ryan Perron star for the North Attleborough Red Rocketeers.
Takudzwe Chikomba didn’t even notice the passing of his first Thanksgiving in the United States. After his family moved from Zimbabwe to New England in his sixth-grade year, the traditions, pageantry and the football feast on the holiday were all foreign.

On Thursday, the imposing figure whose North Attleborough teammates affectionately call “Shawn” (his proper name is pronounced tuh-KUDS-wah) will play his final high school football game. Just as hundreds of other seniors around the state, players like Chikomba and Red Rocketeers senior quarterback Ryan Perron will shake off the morning butterflies and take the field with their teammates for the final time. Each one of those players has a story to tell, a unique journey of how they came together as a team – individuals banded together by a game. It’s part of the American story, how we’re all so different, and yet so much the same.

From an arm’s length, Chikomba and Perron appear normal, well-adjusted young men. They’re the big dogs on campus, stars of the gridiron, leaders of their team.

Yet, it wasn’t too long ago that both were more content to settle into the background.

These are their stories -- stories of how their background have made them who they are, stories of how football has offered each of them a home:

THE BLIND SIDE
Many of Ryan Perron’s childhood memories were the same. There was the constant shuffling between doctor’s office appointments, the boring time spent in waiting rooms. And, of course, there were maladies. There were the typical procedures, like having his tonsils and adenoids removed and then there were the ear tubes inserted to prevent him from chronic ear infections.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the youngster, there was Perron’s other condition. At the age of 5, Perron’s mother Denise noticed Ryan would tilt his head to the side while coloring and writing his name. His parents and doctors tried to figure out what was affecting Ryan before coming a diagnosis of amblyopia after a long battery of examinations. Commonly known as “lazy eye,” amblyopia is easily treatable when diagnosed and correct early. Although Perron was declared legally blind in his right eye, it improved to nearly 20/20 sight about four years later after his treatment program.

The treatment for strengthening the weak eye is placing an eye patch over the dominant eye. So for more than a year, Perron wore an eye patch 24 hours a day. The time with the patch then decreased during the next three years, and by the time Perron was 9, his eyesight had improved to the point where he no longer needed it.

“If someone would ask me what was wrong, I’d say, ‘Nothing,’” Perron said after football practice at North Attleborough High School on Tuesday, “because it was just something that I was born with, something that I needed to fix.

“The worst part was the patch. It was like putting on a shirt and tie when you’re a kid, you’re just so uncomfortable and you can’t wait to take them off.”

Perron’s parents became creative with his patch, in an effort to make Ryan feel comfortable with what made him stand out from the other kids. For a time, he wore a pirate costume eye patch. Later on, Perron wore a pair of corrective glasses with a blackened lens on the right side.

Around the same time, he began playing football. Perrons parents carved out rods through the padding in his helmet so it could fit over his glasses’ frames. They made every effort to make sure Ryan felt normal, even though he stood out from out his classmates.

“Even if a kid was making fun of me, or laughing at me, I’d just shove it off or not pay any attention to it,” Perron said. “I just kept doing my thing.”

Perron entered his senior season as a bit of an unknown at quarterback for the Red Rocketeers. Although he’d started with the junior varsity squad, he had no varsity experience.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder was forced to take on a bigger part of the offensive load after an early season injury to dynamic running back Alex Jette. The adversity piled up near midseason, when the Red Rocketeers fell into a three-game losing streak with Hockomock League losses to Foxborough, Franklin and Stoughton.

That’s when North head coach Don Johnson saw Perron become a leader.

“He was the glue that held us together during that stretch. I think the difference was his confidence. It kept growing with every week.

Through Thanksgiving, Perron was among the state Division 2 scoring leaders with his 11 total touchdowns, eight of which have come through the air. From the highs to the lows, Perron’s taken it all in stride. It’s a quality he traces back to his younger self.

With the aid of glasses and contacts, Perron has fine enough eyesight to pilot the Red Rocketeers offense, but people diagnosed with amblyopia can have difficulty with depth perception. Perron said he doesn’t feel his condition hurts his ability to read passing plays as they develop.

But it’s unquestioned how it has affected him.

“He’s always positive,” Johnson said of Perron’s leadership qualities. “A lot of what he has to say is helping another kid – it’s instilling confidence in them, giving them a pat on the butt, reminding them what they’re supposed to do on a particular play. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him have a negative thing to say about anything.”

TAKING FLIGHT
Zimbabwe’s Highway A-1 runs between the capital of Harare and the city of Chirundu, heading toward the African country’s northern border with Zambia. Along the way is Chinhoyi, a city of about 50,000 residents. There, along the Highway, you can find Takudzwe Chikomba’s family’s restaurant. Like an American highway rest stop, they serve a complement of grab-and-go foods and snacks, like potato chips. They also serve sadza, a traditional dish of ground cornmeal that’s often served with a stew. It’s a dietary staple.

Of course, food has become an issue in Zimbabwe in recent years. An August report compiled by the United Nations and the Zimbabwean government estimated that 1.6 million people in its rural areas will need food assistance in the coming year. The dire situation is the result of a confluence of issues, including the controversial farm policy of President Robert Mugabe and historic droughts.

Before the food started running out in Zimbabwe, money began running out following a brutal civil war. Well, it’s not as though the money disappeared as much it became worthless. The country, which has no national currency today and has relied on other nation’s money, buckled under the pressure of hyperinflation and the destruction of its economy.

Like many others, Chikomba’s family sought to leave Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s rule. They are among the lucky ones who’ve fled among the chaos in the last two decades.

Chikomba came to the United States while he was in the sixth grade. He settled in Attleboro with his mother, Midia, and they lived with Takudzwa’s uncle who’d immigrated in the 1990s. Chikomba’s father remains in Zimbabwe, where he maintains the family business.

Upon arrival, Chikomba had never encountered American football. He’d played soccer and cricket growing up, but when he entered high school at North Attleborough, he heard his classmates making a fuss.

“I knew nothing about it,” Chikomba said. “I didn’t even know what the difference between a quarterback and a running back was, or offense and defense.”

Yet, he decided to try out.

Chikomba’s grown into his frame (he now stands at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds) since then, but he immediately stood out.

As Chikomba continued to adjust to American life, he saw more and more playing time on the Red Rocketeers’ defensive line.

“There were some plays last year, when as soon as you say it, you said, ‘Wow, that was something,’” Johnson said.

He was a raw heap of modeling clay, built in the mold of the NFL’s new breed of athletic defensive ends, such as Jason Pierre-Paul or the Patriots’ Chandler Jones. From early on, Johnson and his staff spent extra time with Chikomba, explaining the intricacies of the game.

“There was a lot more one-on-one there early on,” Johnson said. “When the first-team defense was out there, we had him standing there next to us, watching that defensive end and explaining what’s the thought process behind everything that’s going on.”

In time, as Chikomba has become more comfortable in his surroundings and in football, he’s come out of his shell. A warm presence, with a huge disarming smile, Chikomba’s became a popular fixture at the school. It’s evident on Friday nights at Community Field, where you can often find a Zimbabwean flag aloft in the student fan section.

“It was hard at first,” Chikomba said. “Back in Zimbabwe, I could be very friendly with my classmates. But when I came here, I didn’t know what kids here did. It was difficult.”

His personality shined through earlier this season in the Red Rocketeers’ season opener against Rhode Island power La Salle Academy. Chikomba burst through the Rams’ offensive line with a strong swim move and hauled the quarterback down for a sack. He shot right back to his feet to show off a little shimmy and shake in the backfield.

“His personality has really started to shine through,” Johnson said. “He’s one of the most popular players with his teammates. He’s got a great sense of humor, a great smile. He doesn’t say much. But really it’s because, we feel he’s a great story, but he doesn’t think like that. He’s so humble.”

-----

So what lies in store for Chikomba and Perron beyond Thursday?

Once again, the Red Rocketeers were edged out in a tight Hockomock Kelley-Race division race, so it’s a one-game season for North against border rival Attleboro. It will be their final high school game.

Both would like to play football as long as they can, but both have ambitions beyond the game. Though Johnson contends Chikomba could have some snaps ahead.

“I don’t think he realizes his own potential and the future that might lie ahead of him.”

Yet, Chikomba remains focused on his studies. He hopes to become a commercial airline pilot as a career. He grew up in the shadow of a regional airport back in Zimbabwe and passed the time watching flights takeoff and land. He recently was part of a student group from North which toured T.F. Green.

Perron has applied to a host of four-year colleges and looks to enter undeclared. He said he’ll make all attempts at prolonging his football career.

“It’s been such a big part of my life,” he said.

But all that’s assured is one more day on the field.

“There’s a lot of preparation and pride that goes into this week,” said Perron whose parents are Attleboro natives. “You’re doing it for the school, for the alumni, the coaches, your teammates, everybody who’s gotten you to that day.”


NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – Bewitched, bemused, bewildered, be- anything about the way the season’s gone so far in the Hockomock League. Trying to predict which teams will claim the respective division titles this year is a bit like tossing pebbles into the Manchester Pond Resevoir.

And so Friday night’s battle between No. 19 Mansfield and North Attleborough did not disappoint, with the Red Rocketeers separating themselves in the fourth quarter in a 36-21 win. It only further obfuscated the playoff picture in the Kelley-Rex division, paired with a Franklin loss to Taunton.

“Welcome to the Hockomock League,” North head coach Don Johnson quipped postgame.

The Red Rocketeers (5-3, 2-1 Kelley-Rex) have endured a seemingly never-ending tide of injuries throughout the season, but saw multi-threat running back and defensive back Alex Jette return for their showdown with the Hornets (5-3, 2-1).

North’s early offensive play calls massaged Jette into the flow, running him across the field on passing plays as a decoy in the backfield, faking toss sweeps. They also put the ball in the hands of senior quarterback Ryan Perron (7 of 14, 162 yards, 2 TDs) who effectively piloted the Red Rocketeers’ passing attack with a steady stream of screens and intermediate routes in three- and four-receiver sets.

Lately, Perron’s also shown off a big-play capacity, however, and it showed Friday night with two touchdown passes. On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Perron hit Jake Dellaire on a seam route for a 62-yard touchdown and an instant 7-0 lead. Just before the half, Perron connected with Jette on a shallow fade for a 40-yard touchdown pass which provided North with a 20-7 halftime lead.

“That was probably the biggest difference tonight, he made good decisions,” Johnson said of his quarterback. “He was just playing with so much confidence tonight, running and throwing the ball.”

Mansfield worked its way back in the second half behind a thumping run game. The Hornets bruised their way downfield on a 9-play, 64-yard drive to open the third, capped by Kevin Makie’s 6-yard touchdown run to make it a one-score game.

The Hornets claimed their first and last lead of the game on the final play of the third quarter as quarterback Kyle Wisnieski hit Mike Hershman for a 35-yard touchdown. With a successful point-after try, Mansfield took a 21-20 lead.

On the ensuing drive, Perron again piloted the Red Rocketeers’ offense, embarking a four-plus minute, 67-yard drive. Perron called his own number for his second rushing touchdown of the game, breaking a tackle in the open field to run 10 yards for a score. He then hit a wide-open Mike Lambert (INT, 2 PD) on a two-point conversion for a 28-21 lead with 6:32 to play.

Looking to even the score, Mansfield was hampered by a couple key penalty calls on its ensuing drive. The Hornets were stung by an illegal forward pass call on what would have been a huge third-down conversion pass to Brendan Hill on third and 14. The call resulted in a loss of downs and forced a Mansfield punt.

With the ball back in their hands and looking to soak the clock, North running back Dwayne Hunter broke the game open two plays later with a 75-yard touchdown run to ice it.

BIG IN STATURE
Listed at 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, Hunter makes up in punch for what he lacks in stature. His running style belies his stature. He’s willing to initiate contact, but also hard to bring down with his low center of gravity.

Hunter (8 carries, 127 yards, TD) came up huge for the Red Racketeers however in the fourth quarter. His 25-yard gain on an outside pitch to the left side on fourth and 2 set up North first and goal from the 10-yard line with under seven minutes to play in the fourth. The next play saw Perron run for the game-winning touchdown. The senior running back then placed an exclamation point on the evening with his 75-yard touchdown, made on his adept cutback across the teeth of a Mansfield all-out blitz.

“The linebackers were blitzing, so I had to cut it up quick,” Hunter said of his run. They were overloading on one side, so I had to make a quick decision.”

Johnson heaped praise on his back, calling Hunter a “tough nut.”

Like the rest of this Red Rocketeers team, he just doesn’t crack.

… BUT THEY BEND
North’s defensive front seven looked strong throughout, but saw Robbie Rapoza (14 carries, 135 yards, TD) and Co. find success against them in the second half. Yet, the Red Rocketeers turned Mansfield’s high-flying aerial attack, which scorched a good King Philip unit a week ago, into a relative non-factor.

Wisnieski was dealt with a steady stream of pressure, applied by rangy defensive end Tadkudzwa Chikomba (3 QB pressures) and linebacker Ben Jette.

Ben Jette, the fraternal twin of Alex, sealed a strong performance and the win for North with a strip-sack of Wisnieski on Mansfield’s final offensive drive. Ben Jette finished with three tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

“That’s why I’m so proud of these guys because we’ve been going through that now for about six weeks, asking guys to play different positions every week,” Johnson said. “Losing Harry [offensive/defensive lineman Harrison Carmichael] tonight, he’s one of our dominant players on both sides of the ball. We had to use [Sean] Peters at defensive end, he hasn’t gotten many reps out there and he’s banged up with his shoulder. We had to use [Eric] Beckwith as a guard … We’ve asked a lot of players to step up and they’ve done that.”

The pressure applied by the Red Rocketeers up front came in concert with strong efforts from Alex Jette and Jack Blasť at the cornerback positions. Jette tallied three passes defended, two of which came on a promising Mansfield drive late in the second quarter that ended in a turnover on downs and set up Jette’s touchdown reception.

“We didn’t blitz as much as we normally do, we felt that we just couldn’t give up the big play against them, so we played a lot more zone,” Johnson said. “We’d bring one of two guys here and there, but I think we did enough to keep them off-balance.”

Game of the Week: No. 19 Mansfield at North Attleborough

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
3:09
PM ET
NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. -- Community Field in North Attleborough will be rocking come Friday night as Hockomock League rival No. 19 Mansfield comes in for a pivotal Kelley-Rex division game in our Massachusetts Army National Guard Game of the Week.

Editors Scott Barboza and Brendan Hall break down the action from Community, as well as our weekly picks, in our Thursday Football Preview show. We also caught up with Red Rocketeer senior players Alex and Ben Jette, quarterback Ryan Perron and head coach Don Johnson.

Also, we give you a reminder to come out to North for some free ESPN Boston gear and from the National Guard. We'll be there in advance of Friday night's 7 p.m. kickoff.

(Video shot and edited by Greg Story)

Recap: No. 23 Stoughton 12, North Attleborough 7

October, 13, 2012
10/13/12
12:24
AM ET
NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. -- In a game where defense ruled, it was the Stoughton football team’s offense that ensured the Black Knights came out on top against North Attleborough, winning, 12-7, on the road at Community Field on Friday night.

A 17-play Red Rocketeers drive that spanned 10 minutes – the last six of the third quarter and the first four of the fourth – resulted in a touchdown with 6:53 left in the game put them up 7-6, and seemed like it shifted momentum completely in their favor.

Until the kickoff, when Malachi Baugh picked up a rolling kick at the 13-yard line and returned it 42 yards to the North 45.

“Through that whole drive, I was just trying to keep strength and focus,” Baugh said. “On the kickoff, I just saw some holes and took advantage and ran up the field.”

Baugh followed up with a 12-yard carry and an 18-yard carry to move the ball down to the 15-yard line.

“That was huge,” Stoughton coach Greg Burke said. “I don’t know what else to tell you. The fourth-down conversion before they scored shouldn’t have happened, but that’s high school football. It was a big play, though. Baugh is real tough.”

Frankie Morris finished the job two carries carries later, scoring on a 14-yard sweep left to put Stoughton back on top.

The flurry of late scoring played out completely different than the rest of the game, in which North Attleborough (3-3) totaled 180 yards of offense and Stoughton had just 163.

The teams each possessed the ball just once in the first quarter, and North’s 14-play opening drive stalled out after a chop block penalty erased a 1st-and-goal opportunity from the 4-yard line.

After a couple of penalties and plays that resulted in a loss of yards, Stoughton took over on downs at the 25.

The Black Knights (6-0) piled up a 16-play drive, but eventually came up short at the 4-yard line. Stoughton’s defense turned in an impressive three-and-out, forcing a punt from the 10. The punt wobbled out of bounds at the 24, setting the Knights up for an easy score.

Five plays later, Morris took off on a sweep left – the same play he scored the game-winner on – and plunged into the end zone from six yards out with 2:14 left in the first half.

From there, the teams traded defensive stands until the Red Rocketeers took over with 5:09 left in the third, when they set out on the 17-play drive.

Quarterback Ryan Perron, who finished with 13 carries for 45 yards and was 9-for-13 passing for 65 yards, was the driving force behind the extended scoring series.

On fourth and 2 from the 19, he delivered a 16-yard pass to a wide open Tyler Sellner, who had three catches for 32 yards.

On the ensuing first-and-goal play, Perron plunged three yards into the endzone. A made point after try gave them a brief lead.

INJURIES AFOOT
The Red Rocketeers went into the game knowing two of their best players would be watching from the sidelines.

Alex Jette, the team’s starting running back and their most dynamic playmaker, was in a walking boot with a stress fracture in his foot.

Fellow senior captain Sean Peters missed the game after his shoulder flared up earlier this week in practice. Peters, a two-way lineman who is catching some Div. 1 interest, tore his labrum playing basketball last year.

“We didn’t lose this game because of who we didn’t have,” North Attleborough coach Don Johnson said. “We lost this game because, like the last few weeks, we didn’t make plays we needed to make. If we had those guys, would we have won this game? I think so, but we didn’t have them and we didn’t get it done.”

Late in the game, Stoughton lost Adam Leonard to a leg injury that required splinting before he was carried off the field.

“I hope Leonard is OK,” Burke said. “He’s one of the best players in the state, and not having him is going to be a big blow to us. I don’t know what the injury was, I’m not a doctor, but we’ll find out soon.”

ESPN Boston Week 2 football picks

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
2:41
AM ET
NO. 19 AUBURN (1-0) AT HOLLISTON (0-1)
The Skinny: Retribution is on Holliston's mind after last year's tough 14-13 loss in Auburn, and they'll face an uphill battle in trying to return the favor on their own turf. The Panthers fell to a talented Stoughton squad last week, while Auburn looked sharp in an easy victory over Shrewsbury. Holliston's Max Athy is a playmaker on defense, but the Panthers will have their hands full against an Auburn offensive line that averages nearly 280 pounds across and has been playing together for the last two seasons.

Co-editor Scott Barboza: The Panthers have some nice athletes on defense, the Rockets line simply takes over. Auburn, 28-14.

Co-editor Brendan Hall: Rockets will win again, and this time there will be no dispute about it. Auburn, 21-6.

DENNIS-YARMOUTH (0-0) AT NO. 4 BARNSTABLE (1-0)
The Skinny: The last three results of this early-season rivalry have been decided by a total of five points, with D-Y holding a two-game win streak in the series, making this the fiercest non-Thanksgiving rivalry on Cape Cod. Barnstable figures to have the advantage offensively, with Nick Peabody leading a potent and speedy attack that is coming off a 55-3 blowout of Durfee, but the Dolphins have always devised a great defensive game plan to slow things down. The key matchup might be in the trenches, where Barnstable center Tom Grimmer is expected to square off with D-Y tackle Joe Tyo.

Barboza: I think the rivalry factor keeps this game closer than it might look otherwise. Barnstable, 25-21.

Hall: On paper, the Red Raiders have an advantage in many facets of this game. But they don't call it a "Backyard Brawl" for the seafood chowder. I'm hoping to get out of Hyannis in one piece after this one.

Barnstable, 21-20. NO. 6 LONGMEADOW (1-0) AT NO. 18 ST. JOHN'S OF SHREWSBURY (1-0)
The Skinny: St. John's may have answered any offensive questions with its 47-point outburst over Holy Name last week, but may have raised defensive ones by allowing 40 points and over 460 yards rushing. The road doesn't get any easier this week, with some calling this Longmeadow's best shot at getting an elusive win over the Pioneers. As usual, they'll do it behind a surgical Wing-T scheme, with an all-senior line led by Rob McClure and Lou Calabrese. Pioneers quarterback Andrew Smiley looked impressive in his varsity debut, and he'll be hoping for another big day from Shadrach Abrokwah to open up the middle of the field again.

Barboza: I think Longmeadow is able to play ball control and keep St. John's offense off the field. And it doesn't matter where Frankie Elder is lined up, he makes it happen. Longmeadow, 20-13.

Hall: Much like Holy Name last week, this is the year Longmeadow has to beat St. John's. But if this turns into a track meet again, I don't like the Lancers' chances. St. John's, 30-20.

NO. 1 EVERETT (1-0) AT NO. 15 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL (1-0)
The Skinny: A season ago, Central rolled into Everett Memorial Stadium and was swiftly handed a 42-13 loss. The Golden Eagles have grown up a lot since that fateful night in Everett, reeling off 10 straight wins en route to the 2011 D1 West Super Bowl, and return many key components, including quarterback Cody Williams and defensive tackle Shawn Lockett. Everett remains unsettled, with running back Kenny Calaj's status up in the air and the quarterback situation a mystery. Last week, the Tide resorted to Gilly De Souza under center, even though he'd never played the position before, but he got the job done in a 29-7 win over Leominster. The biggest question might be whether the Eagles' secondary can contain Everett's talented perimeter players, specifically Jakarrie Washington and Jalen Felix.

Barboza: Similar to Everett's matchup with Leominster last week, Central is a strong team in its own right, but just not enough to dethrone King Crimson. Everett, 34-21.

Hall: Central might have its own "Honey Badger" (the good kind, of course), but the Tide have "Felix The Cat". Everett, 35-14.

No. 21 NEEDHAM (1-0) at No. 20 MANSFIELD (1-0)
The Skinny: Both teams rolled in the season openers last week, but this one could go down to the final seconds. The Rockets had a tremendous performance last week from Mike Panepinto (8 carries, 181 yards) running behind a line anchored by tackle Mitch Hildreth. Meanwhile, Mansfield claimed a 49-15 romp over Westfield. Alex Ruddy led the Hornets on defense, racking up 10 tackles (8 solo) in last week’s win and will be a key to slowing down the Rockets’ rushing attack.

Barboza: The scoreboard at Mansfield might malfunction trying to keep up with the scoring in this one. Needham, 35-34.

Hall: We could honestly see 800 yards of offense in this one. Mansfield, 38-34.

No. 9 BROCKTON (1-0) at No. 22 READING (1-0)
The Skinny: The question is what the Boxers will do with the momentum they gained while shutting out BC High last week. Will they ride the wave and roll over the Rockets? Or does this game have let down written all over it? The matchup to watch will be watching Rocket-armed Reading quarterback Drew Belcher operating against the Brockton secondary led by Micah Morel. Boxers QB Auggie Roberts had a huge week against BC High, running to the tune of 139 yards and two touchdowns, so the Rockets will need to slow down the triple-option threat if they’re to defend their home turf.

Barboza: Made this pick in the preseason when we projected out Brockton’s record through the first month of the season. Boxers are moving to 2-0. Brockton, 25-21.

Hall: Since Reading head coach John Fiore is a big pro wrestling fan (just like Scott and I), my gut tells me the Rockets will deliver a Stone Cold Stunner under the bright lights. Reading, 21-20.

NO. 17 NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH (1-0) at NO. 13 BC HIGH (0-1)
The Skinny: BC High will assuredly enter this one ticked off as a bull after failing to get on the board against Brockton in Week 1. But what the Eagles will look like on offense is a whole other deal. Brendan Craven joined BC High's growing MASH unit against Brockton and should be out a month. On the other hand, North enters with a modicum of momentum after dispatching Rhode Island's No. 1 squad, La Salle Academy. Alex Jette went off for 346 all-purpose yards while scoring three touchdowns as our Player of the Week for Week 1.

Barboza: I think the X-factor is the Red Rocketeers' offensive line, which is athletics as ever, but also one of the biggest lines Don Johnson's ever seen in his tenure. North, 14-13.

Hall: I'm getting antsy here. If BC High can't pull this one out, I'm 0-2 with the Eagles and I might have to default on my mortgage. I'm still in debt to Galvo for my anti-Brockton picks. BC High, 13-6.

CENTRAL CATHOLIC (1-0) at NO. 3 ST. JOHN'S PREP (1-0)
The Skinny: The question of this matchup might be how many passes are attempted. These teams love them some ground game and, why not? With running backs like Central's Santino Brancato and Prep's Alex Moore and Jonathan Thomas, there's not a lot of incentive for airing out the ball. This one is going to be settled with three yards and a cloud of dust.

Barboza: Even though these teams could end up in a ball-control kind of game, I think there will be a couple of big running plays to be had for either side. Prep, 31-20.

Hall: As they have done in recent years, the Raiders will find a way to make this game interesting. But if they don't, then you know Prep is for real. Prep, 24-10.

No. 16 North strives to be one better

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
1:15
AM ET
NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. -- It’s hard to look back on a one-loss season and not feel pride, even if that one loss made all the difference.

When North Attleborough football walked off the field after a 14-7 win over border rival Attleboro on Thanksgiving Day, the team members soon learned their season had come to an end. They went into the final day of the season needing some help from Franklin pulling off a potential upset over King Philip. After dropping an earlier decision to KP, North needed a game in hand to represent the league in the Eastern Mass Division 2 playoffs.

Even as the Red Rocketeers are in the midst of two-a-days, the memory of last season is fresh. But they’ve also turned a negative into positive motivation. After all, the Hockomock League Kelley-Rex division co-champions still accomplished something major.

But it was yet another season that ended on Turkey Day, the same fashion it has since Big Red last claimed a Super Bowl title in 2002.

“Everybody counted us out last season, and no one expected us to do anything, so to come out 9-1, “ Hockomock League all-star senior lineman Eric Beckwith said, “we’re proud of our season, but we just wish we would’ve went further.”

And so Big Red returns with a great sense of urgency.

“We realize now how much one game can mean,” senior captain Harrison Carmichael said. That’s going to make us all that much hungrier to win every single game. We don’t want to have one that we look back on that we’re not proud of.”

North also returns with much the same identity, a team built on pride with a stingy defense that applies constant pressure on its opponent. However, the Red Rocketeers have something in its returning offensive line that it hasn’t often had – size.

With stalwarts Beckwith, Carmichael and Sean Peters anchoring the line, they’ll be both experienced and physically imposing.

“Usually we’re depending on our scat backs to make things happen,” North head coach Don Johnson said. “I still think we have the speed to get to the outside, but I think we have another dimension where if we’re in a situation that we need a first down, we can just pound it out.”

When talking to a group of senior leaders in between double sessions, it was striking how much energy they had. Johnson is excited for the Class of 2013, a group that is exception off the field as they are talented.

“You just have to bring energy to every practice,” inside linebacker Reid Holden said. “You have to set the tone. You bring the energy, ready to hit somebody, that carries you through and gets everybody going.”

That intensity isn’t about to wane any time soon.

North enters the season with two great challenges, playing Rhode Island powerhouse La Salle Academy in its opener before traveling to Dorchester for a date with the reigning Division 1 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl champions of BC High.

And, of course, there’s that always-daunting Hockomock League schedule.

“You have to view every game in the league the same,” senior captain Alex Jette said, “that the team who makes the fewest mistakes is probably going to be the team that wins.”

NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH AT A GLANCE
2011 record: 9-1 (Hockomock Kelley-Rex co-champions)
Head Coach: Don Johnson (4th year, 27-4)
Players to watch: Alex Jette, Sr. RB/DB, 6-0, 170; Eric Beckwith, Sr. OT/DT, 6-2 ,275; Sean Peters, Sr. OT/DT, 6-4, 225; Harrison Carmichael, Sr .G/DE, 6-2, 195; Dwayne Hunter Jr., Sr. RB/LB, 5-6, 170; Reid Holden, Sr. ILB, 5-9, 170.
Strengths: Size and physicality on line; depth at running back; experience in secondary
Weaknesses: Inexperience at quarterback; defensive depth.

Outlook: The Red Rocketeers have a position battle going on in camp worth watching with senior Ryan Perron and junior James Kummer looking to fill Spyro Varetimos’ spot under center. North is settled in the backfield, however, with the multi-talented Jette leading the rushing attack. “He’s a great all-around athlete, so our offensive coordinator can dream up a lot of things,” Johnson said. “He can run the ball, he can catch it and throw it. The only thing we haven’t figured out is how he could throw the ball to himself.” On defense, the Red Rocketeers lack depth, but can always get after the quarterback. They galvanize around inside linebacker Holden, who stepped in that role midway through last season.

Recap: No. 19 North Attleborough 14, Attleboro 7

November, 24, 2011
11/24/11
10:25
PM ET


NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – Hockomock League rivals Attleboro and North Attleborough were equals through much of their Thanksgiving Day clash. The Blue Bombardier and Red Rocketeer lines roughed each other up, sloshing through a muddied turf at North.

Tied 7-7 in the fourth quarter, No. 19 North controlled play with a sustained drive that set the Red Rocketeers up with a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line.

However, after a pass attempt and two rushes fell short of the end zone, North’s season came down to a fourth-and-goal at the 1.

Then, North quarterback Spyro Varetimos entered the huddle with a purpose.

“He said, ‘We’re running this in for the championship,’” senior captain Paul Norris said. “Everybody just kind of lifted up at that point.”

Varetimos crossed the goal line with 5:24 remaining and Big Red held on for a 14-7 win over their town border rivals. With the victory, North (9-1, 3-1 Kelley-Rex) earned a share of the Hockomock large division title. And, although the Red Rocketeers’ season ended then and there, due to a tiebreaker won by King Philip, there was an air of accomplishment held by the teammates, not disappointment.

‘We’re co-champions of the league, that’s all we could’ve asked for,” Norris said.

Varetimos had a hand in all of North’s points, connecting with Alex Jette on a 33-yard touchdown pass to open scoring in the second quarter.

North’s lone defensive gaffe of the game came at the end of the third, when Blue Bombardiers running back Malique Clark broke off an 85-yard run to close the quarter.

The Red Rocketeers’ built their game-winning drive off the ensuing kickoff, chewing up more than four and a half minutes of the fourth.

Varetimos (12 of 20, 80 yards, TD; 9 carries, 31 yards, TD) broke the plane of the goal after his previous lunge from the 1-yard line was stopped.

“On that final drive, in the huddle, you could just feel the tension,” Varetimos said. “We needed to get in the end zone.”

PLANS DISRUPTED
North typically favors a north-south running game, but face serious resistance from Attleboro’s front four led by Zach Schwieger. The senior defensive end (3 tackles for loss) was a disruptive force along with linebacker Brandon Mooney.

Schwieger was named Defensive Player of the Game for his efforts along with causing a load of headaches for North’s coaching staff.

“We want to run the ball up the middle when we can, but they were bigger and stronger than us up the middle,” Red Rocketeers head coach Don Johnson said. “When we were trying to run outside, we got overpowered a little bit on the edge … We knew we had to mix the pass in there a little bit.”

A CHANGE OF PLANS


Given the way the Blue Bombardiers line controlled the line of scrimmage for portions of the game, North increasingly aired it out, leaning on Varetimos to gain yards via the play-action.

Varetimos’ 31-yarder to Jette was a result of an adjustment made by North against Attleboro’s over-pursuing linebackers.

“Their linebackers kept biting on the quick outs, like that, all game,” said Varetimos, who was named the game’s Offensive MVP.

North’s fourth-quarter drive was a valediction for an offensive group that sputtered early in the season.

That maturation as a group was spearheaded by the No. 15 (no, not that No. 15 in Denver, although there were some similarities) under center.

“We knew going in what kind of kid he was,” Johnson said of Varetimos. “He’s a tough kid, we knew he could run the ball a little bit. I think he’s grown tremendously from the beginning of the year and that’s a big reason for our success.”

Senior lineman and captain Anthony Plante had another way of looking at it, the way the unit finished their season on Thursday.

“We just had a little bit more desire to finish it,” Plante said of North’s drive to victory. “That’s what it comes down to.”

STRONG SENTIMENT


Despite learning the bad news that King Philip had triumphed over Franklin, handing the Warriors the division’s playoff spot, Johnson had strong parting words for his group.

“The fact that we’re not in the playoffs does not diminish that one bit,” Johnson said. “I feel confident that there will be other playoff teams in the state that couldn’t win a Hockomock League championship.

“I’m proud of our guys.”

Attleboro (7-4, 1-3) – 0 0 7 0 -- 7
North Attleborough (9-1, 3-1) – 0 7 0 7 -- 14

2nd quarter
North - Alex Jette 33-yard pass from Spyro Varetimos (Varetimos kick)

3rd quarter
Attleboro - Malique Clark 85-yard run (Tim Walsh kick)

4th quarter
North - Varetimos 1-yard run (Varetimos kick)

Chalk Talk: North's Don Johnson

November, 2, 2011
11/02/11
8:13
PM ET
NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. -- During Don Johnson's tenure at North, the Red Rocketeers have been a perennial Hockomock League power known for their stout defenses.

On Wednesday, Johnson opened up his defensive playbook for Brendan Hall and broke down the variations of the Red Rocketeers' blitz schemes in our latest edition of Chalk Talk:

Recap: No. 18 King Philip 19, No. 25 North 7

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
8:17
PM ET
WRENTHAM, Mass. -- Backed up against its own goal line following a botched punt return and facing a fourth-and goal situation, King Philip linebacker Nick Lussier burst through the center of the line and grabbed onto North Attleboro quarterback Spyro Varetimos for all he was worth.

He managed to hold the QB long enough to allow the wall of defenders to build up behind him, resulting in a huge stop that turned what could have been a potential disaster into the spark that changed the course of the game.

Lussier and fellow linebacker Brett McEvoy each finished with eight tackles to lead the 'D' while Charles Ruffin rushed for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 carries as the Warriors picked up a much-needed 19-7 victory over Hockomock League Kelley-Rex Division foe North Attleboro Saturday afternoon at Macktaz Field.

"That was huge," KP head coach Brian Lee of said the goal-line stand. "Everything kind of went wrong for us in the first half and we were still able to be up 7 so I was very happy. Special teams kind of put us in a hole and I'm the special teams coach so I have nobody to blame but myself. The defense really just bailed us out there."

The No. 18 Warriors, who improved to 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the league, thought they had the No. 25 Red Rocketeers (5-1, 1-1) stopped cold just beyond midfield. KP forced NA to punt, but the ball tailed toward the sideline and bounced several times, making it difficult to field. Reid Holden recovered for the Rocketeers at the KP 7, and they pushed it close to the goal line with a pair of runs and a short pass before Lussier came up with the big stop.

"We were all saying on the defense that we don't pick the situations when we go out there," explained Lussier. "We banded together, the whole unit. We don't have one standout player, we're a unit together. And we believed in each other and we just said, 'You know what? We didn't ask for this but we've got to make the best of it' and we did. We stopped them."

That set the tone for the Warrior defense, who held North to just 20 rushing yards, and 133 yards of total offense. KP allowed nine first downs in the game, five of which came on the Rocketeers final drive against a prevent defense while trailing, 19-0.

"We weren't able to run the ball and control the clock on offense. That's what we were able to do in all our other games," NA head coach Don Johnson said. "I think after we look at the film we're probably going to walk away and say KP's defense was pretty good. I'm sure we made our share of mistakes out there but I think they made us make those mistakes."

RUFFIN PLAYING HURT
KP's star running back Charles Ruffin can't seem to catch a break when it comes to his right ankle. He originally injured it two weeks ago in a 27-26 loss to Mansfield and sat out last week's 28-13 win over Oliver Ames.

The talented senior rushed for 84 yards and a 2-yard TD in the first half, but had to leave the game for a brief spell after getting the ankle twisted on a draw play right before the break.

"Its just gonna be a labor here," said Lee on Ruffin's injury. "He's really dinged up and doing what he's supposed to do. We needed him today and he came back and played. And he knows he maybe shouldn't be playing but he's sucking it up and knows he wants to be a part of this. It killed him to not be playing last week so he wanted to get in there."

Ruffin sat out the Warriors first series of the second half, but returned in style with a 13-yard TD on a sweep around the right side and was able to grit his teeth enough to stay in the backfield and help KP eat up valuable clock time.

"Our coaches, what they have us do, they have us remember a definition called 'Accountability.' You have to have the quality state of mind to be an accountant for your team," Ruffin explained. "That's what I'm trying to through adversity for my team. I know it hurts but I gotta suck it up and have that mental toughness to go back in the game."

TIMELY PASSING HELPS
It's easy to get lost in the large shadow cast by the talented Ruffin, but the maturation and development of KP sophomore quarterback John Dillon is going to give opponents something to think about when they try to load up the box to attack the run.

Listed at 6-feet, 156 pounds, Dillon is displaying a knack for coming through with a big play when the Warriors need one. His final numbers are nothing a quick glance at the box score will get you excited about (4-for-6, 87 yards) but it was about when the completions came and what they led to that made a big difference.

In the second quarter of a scoreless game, after four straight Ruffin carries moved KP from its own 40 to the NA 32, Dillon fooled everyone by firing a quick pass over the middle to Sam McDonald, who was wide open behind the Rocketeer linebackers. The play went for 30 yards, and Ruffin went in from the two for the game's first score.

On a third-and-10 in the third quarter, Dillon executed a perfect play-action fake and connected again with McDonald for 30 yards to set his team up at the NA 30. The Warriors ultimately missed a 34-yard field goal attempt, but Dillon once again came up with a big play to keep a potential scoring drive alive.

Then in the fourth on second-and-8 at the Rocketeers 40, Dillon drilled a 22-yard pass to wideout Mike Viola. Two plays later, Ryan Dunn bulled through the middle for a 14-yard touchdown run that gave the Warriors a 19-0 lead with 8:02 remaining.

"He's a young kid back there but whenever we call on him to make plays, he's been able to do it in a tough league," Lee said in praise of Dillon. "He's playing smart and doing what we ask. Not trying to win everything but just trying to make a play when he can. He's very bright and he's played in two big games now and he's really done a great job in both of them for us."

KING PHILIP 19, NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH 7
NA (5-1) 0 0 0 7 - 7
KP (5-1) 0 7 6 6 - 19


KP - Charles Ruffin 2 run (Ryan Dunn kick)
KP - Ruffin 13 run (kick blocked)
KP - Dunn 14 run (rush failed)
NA - Wesley Nichols 1 run (Spyro Varetimos kick)

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