NORTH EASTON, Mass. -- Oliver Ames' offense showed some bursts in the first three quarters of the game, but couldn't put it all together.
That changed completely in the final frame as the Tigers erupted for three touchdowns in the final nine minutes of play to beat No. 19 Plymouth North, 21-7.
While OA's offense worked out the kinks, their defense was able to shut down anything Plymouth North's offense threw at them. The Eagles, who were without star running back Christian Carr because of a knee injury, also looked to be trying to figure things out offensively.
"I think we're different than we were last year," Oliver Ames head coach Jim Artz said of his defense. "I don't think we have some of the size we had but I think our team speed is very good. I think we can fly to the ball and we don't overflow sometimes, and I think they hurt us with that with some very nice cut back runs."
After a scoreless first half, the first breakthrough came through less than a minute into the second half. On Oliver Ames' second play of the half, a muffed handoff resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Plymouth North's Justin Cabral at the OA 23-yard line. Plymouth North's Myles Uva (12 carries, 59 yards) took the first play 17 yards on a run to the right and then took the next carry six yards and into the end zone to put the Eagles up 7-0.
OA and Plymouth North each traded punts before the Tigers took over at their own 25-yard line. Faced with third and six at the Eagles' 22-yard line, OA quarterback John McMillan hit junior receiver Franklin Holgate on a short pass but Holgate chugged his way through the defense and dove over the 15-yard line for a gain of eight and a first down. On the next play, senior Michael Ferrara rushed it straight up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown to tie the game, 7-7.
Plymouth North was forced into a three in out on the next possession, mainly because of a shoestring tackle from Oliver Ames linebacker Joey Tepper. On third and seven from their own 29-yard line, Plymouth North quarterback Cullin Cosgrove dropped very deep, drawing in the defensive line, before dumping it off to Uva on a screen pass. It looked like Uva had plenty of space but Tepper quickly closed down and tripped him up before the first down marker.
"He's good," Artz said of Tepper. "He's very, very good. I thought the play defensively for us in the game was that screen he sniffs out. He tracked the kid down, tripped the kid up and makes an unbelievable play. Then I think he ran a 4.3 off the field."
That play forced Plymouth North to punt and eight plays later, Holgate was at it again. McMillan hit Holgate for another quick pass and this time Holgate broke through the first tackle and then sprinted up the sideline for a 43-yard touchdown. Steven Scurti's extra point was good to make it 14-7 Oliver Ames with 2:43 left.
As the Eagles tried to conduct a game-tying drive, the Tigers brought the pressure. Cosgrove was flushed from the pocket and OA seniors Dan Sullivan and Patrick McNeely closed in and forced a fumble. Sophomore Shawn Cardoza recovered the fumble at the Eagles' 40-yard line and OA took over with 1:24 let.
After one rushing play went for two yards and Plymouth North called timeout, the Tigers went play action and McMillan found a wide open Sam Kelly along the left sidelines for a 38-yard touchdown, giving OA a 21-7 lead.
"They found some seams and made some plays," Plymouth North head coach Kevin Cobban said. "They made two more plays than we did. There was a big penalty early on when we could have gone up 7-0, that could have changed things a little bit. For the first game of the year, I thought it was a pretty good football game. We know what we have to work on and we'll get better. We have nothing to hang our heads about, they're a good team and we're a good team."
McMillan, who started his first varsity game, looked a lot more comfortable in the second half for the Tigers. He went 4-8 for 32 yards in the first half but went 10-11 for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
"I think it's a comfort level," Artz said of throwing more later in the game. "With a new quarterback, I kind of have to get that feel. They're very good up front, it's not like they gave us a ton of time either. That was a very strong, very good physical football team. We had to pick our moments and not get too greedy and make a costly mistake. Defensively if we make them drive the whole field, we're very tough."
As for Carr, Cobban said that he's getting an MRI this week.