were many great helmet designs at this year's Thanksgiving game between
Attleboro and North Attleboro, but none more special than Scott Friedlander's
helmet, shown above. It symbolized a special bond and comradely among
this year's senior class. ESPN was impressed enough to put it on their website, click HERE.
Attleboro KO's North
NORTH ATTLEBORO - "It's never, ever easy - we didn't take them lightly, we never take any opponent lightly, especially the Rocketeers," related Attleboro High senior defensive end Luke Morrison, who recorded four quarterback sacks totaling 46 lost yards for the North Attleboro High football team.
"Thanksgiving Day games always means more, it's always for bragging rights."
Scoring on drives of 69 and 37 yards, having possession of the ball for the initial eight minutes thanks to the recovery of an onside kick, the Bombardiers staked an early 13-0 advantage and turned back one challenge after another by the Rocketeers before prevailing 34-19 Thursday morning at Community Field.
In taking home "Hilda" and notching their ninth victory overall of the season and second over the Big Red in 2013, the Bombardiers received a 96-yards rushing, two-touchdown performance from L.G. Balfour Trophy Offensive Player of the Game, junior running back Damon Belin, and 137 passing yards to go along with two touchdowns from senior quarterback Tim Walsh.
"It's all about toughness," offered North senior back Jack Blase, whose second-quarter interception set up two touchdowns by senior running back Chris Hunter in that quarter, the Rocketeers rallying to tie the score at 13-all with just under two minutes remaining until intermission.
But, with only 1:48 left on the clock, Walsh and Belin guided AHS on a 60-yard, eight-play scoring sequence which resulted in the Bombardiers regaining the lead. Belin carried the ball six times in the march, gaining 47 yards and two key first downs (to the North 35 and 15 yard lines), scoring from four yards out.
"That was the key drive there at the end of the half," said AHS coach Mike Strachan. "They (North) bounced back, we bounced back - what a great way to end the season."
Bombardier senior linebacker Ryan Bowen, the L.G. Balfour Trophy Defensive Player of the Game and the Attleboro defense then stopped the Rocketeers on third-quarter offensive series which began favorably for North at their 37- and 34-yard lines.
Most importantly, after North senior quarterback James Kummer (10 completions for 124 yards) completed a 33-yard pass to senior receiver Jake Lang (five catches for 98 yards), advancing the ball to the AHS 30-yard line on the Rocketeers' second series, the Bombardier defense did not allow a yard to North on its next four plays.
"It was just not enough to get the win," said North coach Don Johnson. "Our offense played pretty well, but our defense didn't get enough stops. Attleboro ran the ball well, they really pounded us (200 yards rushing) - they have a lot of weapons over there."
Not only did the Bombardiers score that late, second-quarter touchdown to claim a 20-13 lead at halftime, Attleboro drove 75 yards on 10 plays on its very first series of the second half to assume a 14-point advantage.
"It feels great," said Attleboro senior captain and linebacker Andrew Carello of the willingness to win. "We were up two touchdowns, we established the line of scrimmage - this was like a dream come true."
The Bombardiers took their cue for victory when senior Joe Deiratani recovered the AHS kickoff following the first touchdown at the North 37-yard line. Walsh directed AHS on an 11-play drive that consumed another five minutes off of the clock, the Rocketeer offense still standing on the sidelines, not having taken a snap.
In that drive, senior left tackle Shawn Reardon and sophomore right tackle Kyle Murphy dominated the line as Attleboro ran the ball on every down, Belin carrying five times for 19 yards, including a key conversion of a fourth down and 3-yard play at the North 30 yard line for six yards. Walsh scored his second touchdown of the game on one-yard run behind senior right guard Matt McKearney.
Walsh scored the go-ahead touchdown for AHS on a have-to-see-it-to-believe-it draw play, a 34-yard run up the middle with nary a North defender near him from the line of scrimmage and into the end zone.
What made matters even more impressive for the Bombardiers was their defensive stance, especially Morrison. He dropped a Rocketeer for a 2-yard loss on North's very first offensive play of the game, then sacked Kummer on consecutive second and third down plays late in the first quarter for losses of two and 17 yards, in addition to having nine and 18-yard drops in the fourth quarter.
"The best team doesn't always win, usually it's the toughest team that does," added Blase as North refused to buckle under the Bombardier pressure.
Kummer and the Big Red then drove 63 and 25 yards on its very next two series to knot the score. North marched on 14 plays, consuming over five minutes of the clock to get on the scoreboard with Hunter scoring from five yards out behind senior captain and tackle Evan Sweeney. In that drive, Hunter and Blase both converted third and 5-yard plays, while a Bombardier pass interference penalty put North inside the 10-yard line.
Blase picked off a Bombardier pass at the AHS 40 yard line, advancing the ball to the 25 to set up North's second score, a Hunter 2-yard run. Once again, North was successful on a key third down (and 7-yard) play, Kummer and Lang combining on a 12-yard gain to the AHS 10-yard line.
The Rocketeers stalled a fake punt by Attleboro early in the fourth quarter, gaining possession of the ball at the Big Red 45-yard line, facing a two-TD deficit with 10 minutes left. It didn't take North long to score, merely five plays - Kummer dashing up the middle for 16 yards, then combining with Lang on a slant in pass from the left, a 31-yard scoring strike, his ninth TD toss of the season.
But once again the Bombardiers bounced right, Walsh and Belin orchestrating a 62-yard, 10-play scoring drive. Belin converted a third down and 7-yard play with a seven-yard run behind McKearney to the North 48, while Walsh converted a third down and 9-yard play with a 27-yard pass to Morrison along the right side, advancing the ball to the North 19. Belin then scored his second TD on an eight-yard run to the left with Bowen making the big block.
"We've been a fast-paced offense, but they did a good game on our pass (plays)," said Strachan. "Our running game came into play, our offensive line was phenomenal," praised the AHS coach. "You can never count a team out on Thanksgiving Day - we have a lot of respect for that North tradition (Strachan quarterbacked North to a victory over AHS at Beaupre Field during his senior year). That's why this game (the 93rd holiday game in the rivalry with North leading 57-28-8) is so special. This is what makes Thanksgiving Day so special."
Looking from the field to the sidelines ahead, I saw the cluster of people forming and growing. "Uh-oh," I thought, "This can't be good."
I've never been a fan of gauntlets, because usually they're not a pleasant experience. But that wasn't the case Saturday at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood.
There, after a hard-fought 35-28 win by the host Hawks over the upstart Attleboro High School football team, a long line of Xaverian parents and fans gathered at the gate to the parking lot to applaud the efforts of the Bombardiers as they exited the field and headed to the buses for the long ride home to the Jewelry City.
It was a grand gesture, heartfelt and honest. These individuals knew that the unheralded team from the long-suffering school had played its collective heart out.
They had watched in shocked silence as the white-clad Bombardiers raced to a 21-7 lead over the Catholic Conference champs just one series into the second half. They had sighed in collective disappointment when a courageous AHS goal-line stand denied Xaverian the tying touchdown after the Bombardiers had handed them the opportunity on a silver platter.
And even though their beloved Hawks had put three quick touchdowns on the board in the fourth quarter, they still felt those pangs of fear when quarterback Tim Walsh heroically marched his team down the field in five plays to make it a one-touchdown game with 3:46 left to play.
One more mistake - a fumble, whether from a big hit or a slippery snap - might put the ball back into Walsh's capable hands one more time. One more chance for Luke Morrison, Tom Burns, Damon Belin or Brenden Massey to make a big play and send the game into overtime.
It could have happened, but it didn't.
Still, what a run it was.
As someone who has covered sports locally since the 1960s - and is still occasionally wrongfully accused of "hating" Attleboro High - I can't begin to express how impressive the Renaissance of the Bombardiers has been. Obviously, other people have noticed. I don't think scores of Xaverian fans would have lined the walk to the parking lot and applauded the opposing team if winning had been second nature to the visitors.
They knew how special it was - and as representatives of a school that's much more accustomed to success on the gridiron, the Xaverian folks seemed to be welcoming Attleboro to their close-knit fraternity and encouraging it to keep up the good work and stick around for a while.
Whether that will happen, nobody truly knows. Much has to happen for Attleboro to stay at this lofty level of play.
It will start a week from Thursday, likely at North Attleboro's Community Field. That's where the Bombardiers will be given a chance to prove if they have what it takes to rebound from the disappointment of defeat in the Division 1 state semifinal and beat a rival that has had the upper hand in the series for longer than any of the current athletes have been alive.
Yes, I know that Attleboro won the regular-season meeting against North Attleboro. A shutout, no less. It's not Thanksgiving. And since Attleboro and North Attleboro are two of the few remaining communities where the holiday still has the importance it had in the middle of the last century, it will mean a lot to the Attleboro High football program to get the "Hilda" trophy back into its building.
Beyond that, we'll see how much of a true culture change Mike Strachan has started with this very impressive first year of his coaching tenure.
It's been a promising start. Not only have the Bombardiers played good football in a tough league and continued that play into the playoffs, they've also been much more poised - almost professional - on the sidelines.
One of the reasons why I still enjoy running up and down the sidelines of high school games is that I can get a feel for the teams competing in the uniforms of our towns - their commitment, their behavior, their concentration and acceptance of the discipline and leadership of their coaches. And I can say without fear of contradiction that Attleboro improved across the board this year - coaches, players and fans alike.
That's not to denigrate anyone who preceded Strachan and his staff. All were well-meaning and worked hard to turn negatives into positives. Truth is, much of the foundation of this year's success was put down in Kevin Deschenes' tenure as head coach, and he deserves recognition and respect for what he tried to accomplish.
But Attleboro was ready for a change, and that extended far beyond the coaching staff. The role played by city government in the splendid refurbishing of Tozier-Cassidy Field was evidence that Attleboro realized it needed to make a commitment to its athletes that wasn't just a lot of hot air.
Attleboro, for all of its faults, is a good place to live. Better than most, in fact. And it was about time that the city started believing that and took steps to turn itself into the place it wants to be. Tozier-Cassidy Field was one of the first steps.
Seriously, did you ever think Attleboro High would have a state-of-the-art artificial turf field before North Attleboro? And you know they're thinking about that up in Big Red Country.
It would have been nice if Attleboro High had won Saturday's game. I just worried beforehand how the Bombardiers would respond to being in a really, REALLY big game - not to say any of the previous games weren't "big," but this was the first time in decades that an Attleboro team had played on a stage of this importance, and there's something to having a winning tradition behind the effort.
Ask the Rocketeers about that. Or better still, ask Mansfield. My alma mater used to lose to everyone back in the day. Now, that green "M" on the silver helmets makes opposing teams weak-kneed.
It will take time for Attleboro to engender the same respect - and it will be doubly tough, playing in the same division of the Hockomock League with schools that have more deeply-entrenched traditions.
But if I saw anything this fall, it was that Attleboro High is willing to try. Its athletes were dedicated and committed. Its fans, too, have made the commitment. They came out of their hiding places this year and supported this team magnificently, turning out by the thousands for Saturday's game in traffic-choked Westwood, and you can bet they'll be ringing the sidelines at Community on the holiday with renewed enthusiasm and high hopes for victory over their red-clad rivals.
It's all anyone from Attleboro could have ever wanted - a chance to be good, a chance to win, a chance to earn respect and command it going forward.
And now they have it all. It's a great start.
But as is the case in athletic endeavor, the start is truly good only if you finish the job.
Blue Pride Gridiron Club
P.O. Box 1876
Attleboro, MA 02703