- Scott Barboza, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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MANSFIELD, Mass. -- For a time in the first half of Friday night’s game against Oliver Ames, Mansfield was threatened by a pesky opponent from the Hockomock League’s small division.
However, this time around — unlike the No. 11 Hornets’ early season loss to Stoughton — Mansfield got it together in the second half to turn a potential nail-biter into a laugher with a 34-14 win. A combination of four turnovers and a thumping Hornets rushing attack fell the Tigers.
“They were a couple of turnovers away from this being a barn-burner down the stretch,” Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said.
The teams went into the half tied, 14-14, but the Hornets (6-1) built on the momentum from Dylan Finnerty’s 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown off a Zach Schafer strip-sack in the third quarter. It was the start of 20 unanswered second-half points posted by Mansfield with running back Greg Donahue (12 carries, 102 yards) and quarterback George Busharis each tallying rushing touchdowns.
Finnerty put Mansfield on the board five minutes into the first with a 15-yard touchdown run.
It was the beginning of yet another typical rushing performance for the Hornets, who have averaged over 250 yards per game on the ground this season.
“They’re the best line in the state,” Finnerty said of Mansfield’s offensive line. “They’re work hard, they practice hard, they lift hard all summer. They work with Coach [Tim] Selmon watching film and studying up on the D-line every week. They come out every week playing well.”
OA (4-2) tied the score on Jared Schneider’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Duane Johnson and later took a 14-7 lead on Mike McMillan’s 32-yard touchdown reception.
After a Tiger fumble, Mansfield knotted the score, 14-14, on Donahue’s 58-yard touchdown reception on screen pass.
The second half was an entirely different beast.
“We played so well early,” OA head coach Jim Artz said, “and we did all those things right.
“Then,” Artz snapped his fingers, “it’s gone. It’s very disappointing.”
Schafer has a knack for big plays and always seems to be around the ball. Following the game, Redding praised Schafer as being part of the “glue” to the Hornets defense along with fellow linebacker Nick Leonard.
“[Schafer] led us in tackles last year and he’s leading us in tackles this year,” Redding said. “He’s smart, very physical. He plays hard and he’s always around the ball. We try to get him in the position to make those plays. He’s an intense kid and he gets the defense going. We need that in the defensive huddle to rally the troops.
NO MORE MORAL VICTORIES
Artz was asked if his team gained anything from playing the Hornets close for a half and the Tigers’ coach flatly commented that he feels there are no moral victories to be had Friday night.
“Where this program is, we don’t see it like that,” Artz said. “There are only wins and losses.”
That statement, by its nature, is indicative of the standard Artz holds his players to and Friday’s performance was certainly lacking in many areas.
Still, the biggest challenge OA has yet to face will be an essential winner-take-all matchup for the Hockomock Davenport crown with Stoughton. Redding, for one, can vouch for the strength of the Hockomock’s small school powers.
“They’re much improved,” Redding said of OA. “No matter what, there’s going to be a strong second team representing the league. That’s going to be a great game.”
Oliver Ames (4-2) 7 7 0 0 -- 14
Mansfield (6-1) 7 7 13 7 -- 34
Mansfield - Dylan Finnerty 15-yard run (Mike Hershman kick)
OA - Duane Johnson 11-yard pass from Jared Schneider (Ryan McGrath kick)
OA - Mike McMillan 32-yard pass from Schneider (McGrath kick)
Mansfield - Greg Donahue 58-yard pass from George Busharis (Hershman kick)
Mansfield - Finnerty 42-yard fumble return (Hershman kick)
Mansfield - Donahue 1-yard run (kick failed)
Mansfield - Busharis 1-yard run (Hershman kick)