MANSFIELD, Mass. -- When it looked like Wellesley's defense found a way to limit Mansfield's high-power offense, the Hornets displayed yet another weapon.
Quarterback Kyle Wisnieski ran for a team-high 80 yards helping to spark Mansfield to a 31-14 win over Wellesley in an MIAA Division 2 South Quarterfinal game.
Wisnieski is known for his accurate passing to weapons like Brendan Hill, Michael Hershman, and Kyle Hurley and the Hornets have even established a strong run game this season behind Miguel Villar-Perez and Chris Buchanon, but it was Wisnieski's legs that did the trick Friday night.
After punting on their first offensive series, the Raiders' defense held Mansfield to a 35-yard field goal from senior Alex Thompson. On just their second play of the next drive after recovering a surprise onside kick attempt, Wellesley quarterback John Fadule took it 54 yards for a touchdown to give Wellesley a 7-3 lead, but that would be their only one of the night.
"We tried to steal the onside kick and it backfired," said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. "We gave them a short field and they made us pay. After that I thought we settled down on defense. We gave them some hitches and slants but nothing big. Defense just played great."
Mansfield responded in a fashion they have used all season, mixing in runs and counters with big gain passes. Starting at their own 14-yard line, Villar-Perez and Buchanon combined for 16 yards on three rushes before Wisnieski hit Hurley over the middle for 18 yards and then Hill on the sideline for 33 more. Villar-Perez then went 19 yards almost untouched to give Mansfield the lead back at 10-7.
A quick three-and-out from Wellesley gave Mansfield the ball back at their own 31. Wisnieski dropped back to pass twice in a run but on both occasions, the Raiders had strong coverage and Wisnieski took off running, picking up 21 yards and then 15 yards. With the defense forced to respect Wisnieski's mobility, he connects with a wide-open Hurley on the left side for a 19-yard touchdown to put Mansfield up 17-7.
"They were dropping a lot of guys in coverage so it kind of opened it up," said Wisnieski. "The pass rushers got past me and there was a lot of room to run so I just took advantage of that."
Redding credited both Wellesley for their coverage scheme as well as Wisnieski for being able to make a play.
"They did a good job of covering and had a good scheme in the secondary and kind of clogged things up on Mike Hershman, Brendan Hill, and Kyle Hurley but they did give us some running lanes," he said. "Kyle [Wisnieski] is well respected for throwing the ball to those guys but he's a very good athlete. If he wasn't a quarterback, he'd be a heck of a receiver and defensive back. He makes a lot of bad calls into good ones by getting out and running for some yardage."
The Hornet defense again came up strong, forcing another three-and-out from the Raider offense and their punt was partially blocked by Hill, setting the Hornets up at their own 37. Wisnieski elected to stay in the pocket this time, hitting Villar-Perez over the middle on back to back passes to gain 30 yards. A pass interference call put the Hornets at the Raiders 5-yard line and two plays later, Buchanon punched it in from less than a yard out.
Mansfield almost tacked on another score but Wisnieski was picked off in the end zone, only his third interception thrown all season, and Mansfield took a 24-7 lead into halftime.
Mansfield went three-and-out to start the second half and Wellesley ate up a lot of clock on their first drive but it was ended when Aurian Dawkins came away with his second pick of Fadule. The Hornets then used eight rushing plays and one pass completion to get to the Wellesley 3-yard line as the third quarter ended.
On the first play of the final quarter, Buchanon took the toss to the right before cutting back in and scoring his second touchdown of the game to make it 31-7 with 10:55 left. Wellesley's final touchdown came with just 28 seconds left in the game with back ups from both sides in. Sophomore Myles Cole rushed to the left for a 19-yard touchdown for the Raiders.
"On offense we're pretty explosive at times," Redding said. "We didn't have to punt a whole lot which is good in the playoffs. Kyle was a little dinged up and we really didn't want him running much. He ended up running more than he has in the last month. Brendan made some big, big catches for us."
The top-seeded Hornets will now continue in the playoffs and will host No. 4 Needham, who defeated Duxbury 42-28 on Friday night.
"I like were we are," said Redding. "We're playing good defense and we're balanced on offense but the next round gets even tougher whether its Duxbury or Needham, the level just gets tougher and tougher. You have to bring your A game every Friday if you want to move on."