Mansfield dominated the first half Friday night in a home game against Attleboro, taking a 21-7 lead into the locker room. But the second half of both teams' Kelley-Rex Division season opener was a different story, as Attleboro mounted a strong comeback, but fell short in a 21-19 win for the Hornets.
"Getting out to the early lead was big, and then it was kind of just hanging on for dear life in the second half," Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said.
The difference in the score was due to two missed extra points by Attleboro. The first was a kick early in the third quarter and the second came on a two-point attempt midway through the fourth quarter in which Attleboro was forced to start on the 18-yard line due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on senior running back Malique Clark, whose helmet was removed following his 72-yard touchdown run. How the helmet came off was not clear to some observers.
"I really don't want to get into the penalties," Attleboro head coach Kevin Deschenes said. "I would never blame a loss on the referees."
Attleboro earned a new opportunity on the kickoff when senior Hornet Mike Cunningham fumbled (one of three second-half turnovers for Mansfield), giving the Bombardiers the ball in striking distance. But another unsportsmanlike penalty brought Attleboro back 15 yards, and the Bombardiers soon turned the ball over on downs. Mansfield kept possession for the final five minutes to secure the win.
The victory improved Mansfield's record to 3-2. It was the first loss of the season for Attleboro, which dropped to 4-1.
"A win against a 4-0 team is a great win," Redding said. "It was tight. We certainly kind of shot ourselves in the foot in the second half with the turnovers and didn't seem to have the same rhythm on offense, but our defense came up with some great stops."
The game opened with a nice Mansfield drive that included a first-down conversion on fourth and six. The drive concluded with junior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski connecting with sophomore receiver Brendan Hill in the end zone on a 12-yard pass.
Attleboro's first possession was not as pretty, with Clark turning the ball over on a fumble at the Bombardier 34. Another successful Mansfield drive followed, concluding with Wisnieski's 1-yard run into the end zone.
The Bombardiers finally got on the board on the next possession when junior quarterback Tim Walsh connected with Clark on a 62-yard touchdown pass. A successful extra point that followed made the score 14-7.
Mansfield's next possession included several good running plays by senior Kevin Mackie. He scored the Hornets' third touchdown on a 1-yard run. Mansfield was again in scoring position near the end of the half, but Attleboro junior Tom Burns intercepted the ball on the Bombardiers' 15-yard line to end the drive.
Down 21-7, Attleboro began the second half a more energized team, with the first score coming on just six plays in the opening minutes. Deschenes said the change had nothing to do with anything he said to the players during halftime.
"The kids decided they would play football in the second half," Deschenes said. "They got it together and started getting physical, and played the way they can play."
Redding applauded his team's defense for preventing the Attleboro comeback from turning into a Bombardier victory.
"We had great coverage and great pressure on the quarterback," he said. "We made him throw it away. Push came to shove with our backs against the wall, defense stepped up and held that lead, and the offense did enough that last drive to keep the ball in our hands."
Both teams are on the road next week, with Mansfield taking on Canton (2-3) and Attleboro facing Foxborough (3-2).