The Sharon High football team completed two incredible passing plays in the final 30 seconds to nip visiting Taunton, 21-20, on Saturday, and improve to 4-0 on the season.
“It was a great all-around team win,” said senior Eric Lesser. “At times, our offense struggled, and our defense picked us up. Then, at the end, when our defense struggled, our offense picked us up.”
"Big win for the program,” said Head Coach Dave Morse of the team’s first Hockomock League game of the season and one of the most thrilling finishes in Sharon High football history.
“Anytime you go into the Hock, you want to win. More importantly, a big win for these kids, because they’re the ones right now, in the trenches, doing the work,” Morse added.
After a day-and-a-half of rain and the pounding of a soccer game the previous day, the Sharon High gridiron was a muddy surface.
Although no rain fell during the game, the skies were gray. The temperature, upper-50s, was the coolest in which Sharon has suited up in 2012. About one-third of the players donned long sleeves.
The game was scoreless until late in the first quarter. The Eagles’ defense twice stripped Tiger ballcarriers for fumbles during the opening frame, and Sharon turned the ball over on downs once.
The Eagles had possession on the Taunton 27 with just over a minute to play. Junior quarterback Sean O’Neill hit senior running back Sean Asnes on a corner route to the right corner of the endzone for a score.
Taunton punted on their next possession, but Sharon could do nothing with the ensuing drive, going three-and-out.
Morse says that although the Eagles’ effort was strong from the get-go, the squad made mistakes early in the game characteristic of those seen in the prior game, a 34-22 victory over North Quincy.
“We had some motion penalties, a couple of false starts, and that killed us early on,” said Morse. “I thought we left some points out on the field, and that can’t happen.
“That’s my fault. I need to clean that up. If we make mistakes when we go into our [Davenport] Division games, we’re not going to win. That’s a fact,” Morse said.
The next Taunton drive ended with a 4th-and-8 play from Sharon’s 33. A Tiger pass deflected off of Eagles safety Jared Fogel and into the waiting arms of a receiver, who walked into the endzone to cut the Sharon lead to 7-6.
O’Neill and the Sharon running backs then mishandled a running play, with the ball falling to the grass and being recovered by Taunton.
On another Tiger fourth-down play, this from the Sharon 30 with five yards to the sticks, a Taunton running back took a screen pass, broke several tackles, and scored a touchdown. A two-point conversion made the score 14-7, Taunton, going into halftime.
“It gave them all the momentum,” said Morse. “They made plays in the first half. We’ve got to do a better job of minimizing big plays, which they scored on.”
“Definitely, we were shooting ourselves in the foot early on,” said senior linebacker Toby Modebelu. “We all knew deep inside that we did the same thing last week, and it was a hard comeback. And we knew it was going to be even more difficult against a team like Taunton.”
Morse says that the Tigers coaches prepared their squad, which entered the game 1-2, well. “They had some good players over there that made some plays.
“And that’s what you like to see on a Saturday afternoon in the fall – a good, defensive game. Our guys hung in there. We were on the field a long time, but we made plays,” said Morse.
After a punt each way to start the half, Sharon went on a nine-play march late in the third quarter. Asnes ran for three first downs, including a 13-yard scamper on 3rd-and-8.
On the first snap of the fourth quarter, from the Tigers’ one-yard-line, O’Neill bulled through on a quarterback sneak for the touchdown, tying the score at 14.
“That was a good play by O’Neill,” said Morse. “Our linemen wanted that play. I believed in what they were doing. They got a good little push, and O’Neill just got enough to get into the endzone.”
The Eagles then held the Taunton offense down. Fogel, Lesser, and senior Drew Kowalski stuffed a Tiger 3rd-and-3 run to force a punt.
“On defense, we really pulled it together,” said Modebelu. “We have a lot of two-way starters, and we knew they were tired. So we one-way starters knew we had to step it up even more.”
“It was two tough teams playing inside the tackles – my kind of football,” said Morse. “It was a good game on the ground.”
Looking to take the lead with a few minutes remaining in the game, O’Neill could not connect with Kaufman on two long passes, and the Eagles lined up for a punt.
The Eagles’ long snap was low. Kaufman, also the punter, picked the ball up on a hop, saw the rush, eschewed kicking the ball, and tried to escape, but was tugged down at the Taunton 29 with 2:35 left in regulation.
The Tigers mowed through the Sharon defense, twice moving the chains on 3rd-and-short. The Taunton running back plowed to a touchdown from nine yards out, giving the visitors a seeming lock on the game.
However, the Tigers botched the point-after attempt, so the score remained 20-14.
“Before the final drive, we said, ‘We have 30 seconds. We’ve got to make it happen,’” said Morse. “We had enough timeouts. I knew that with good field position, we could make it happen.”
“I knew that we had it in us to win the game,” said Epps. “We knew that when we went out there with 30 seconds left that we could win this game. The game isn’t over until the clock runs out. We knew that we could get it.”
Modebelu says that the defenders on the sideline at the end had the offensive players’ backs. “When it got down to it, you have to get amped for your team. We had to make sure that our offense knew we were behind them 150%,” he said.
Kowalski returned the kickoff to the Sharon 32. Then, O’Neill and Fogel combined on a play that will be etched in Sharon football lore.
The Eagles lined up in the shotgun, with four receivers, and a running back to O’Neill’s right. The right-handed quarterback dropped back, surveyed the field, and rolled out away from the heat.
“I was supposed to stay in the pocket. I didn’t see anyone open,” said O’Neill. “I saw a little window to run out to the left, and I just threw it up. I knew Fogel was going to be in that general area.”
O’Neill, falling away, briefly squared his shoulders and uncorked a toss 32 yards in the air. Fogel, racing from past the opposite hash mark, leaped over two defenders and snared the pigskin.
“I saw Sean scrambling across the field, so I went towards that side with him,” said Fogel. “When I saw him release the ball and it was coming toward me, I knew that it was my ball.
“I was hoping that it would make it over the defenders, so I jumped up, it made it over, and I came down with it. It was a heck of a throw by O'Neill,” added Fogel, who was dragged down at the Taunton 23.
“Fogel made an exceptional individual effort on that play,” said Morse. “We had good protection. Sean bought himself a little bit of time, and I give Jared credit for going up and pulling that ball down.
“Jared Fogel made a big-time play. Into coverage, the quarterback put it up, and it was a good job by Jared. Excellent play. One of the better catches I’ve seen,” Morse added.
Modebelu says that the sideline erupted after the play. “Everybody was saying, ‘Fogel is a monster. He just [Randy] Moss’d two people [defenders]. It was great watching Fogel make that play,” he said.
However, the Eagles were still down by six points. After an incomplete pass, it came down to one final play with 6.3 seconds left.
O’Neill says that keeping his cool was vital. “If you want to be starting quarterback for a varsity team, you have to have composure. I wouldn’t be out there if I didn’t have composure. You practice every day these plays and you just have to execute when it comes to the game,” he said.
O’Neill lined up under center, dropped back, and saw Kaufman running a post pattern from right to left. He threaded the needle perfectly into a miniscule window. Kaufman raced past two defenders to the ball and snared it to tie the score.
“They had two safeties, so I knew the middle of the field was going to be open,” said O’Neill. “I put it in a place where only he could catch it, and he ran under the ball.”
“Kauf did a good job,” said Morse. “We came out in the same formation as before. I thought it would work. It didn’t come out exactly like I drew it up, but they did enough to buy us time and Kaufman did a good job.”
Morse was impressed with O’Neill’s late-game performance. “Sean was clutch down the stretch. He practices hard all week. He knows his job and reads, does well with his assignments. And we have blocking up front. Once you have blocking up front, you can do stuff.”
With no time remaining in regulation, Lesser set up for the point-after attempt. Having missed two kicks against North Quincy, Lesser says that he worked this week with Coach Jeff Sonis and made an adjustment with his plant leg.
Lesser’s first two extra points on Saturday were true. He says that he tried to ignore the magnitude of the kick. “Don’t even think about it, take a deep breath,” he said he told himself.
“I just wanted the game to be over,” Lesser said. “I knew we were tied. It came down to me.”
Lesser split the uprights, giving Sharon a 21-20 victory over Taunton, and was mobbed by his teammates immediately after his first-ever game-winning boot.
“Great snap, great hold, great blocks,” Lesser said. “I just had to do my job. Fortunately, I did, and we came up with the win.”
“We felt the urgency of the game,” said O’Neill. “We have clutch players and we showed in this game that we play to the end of the game.
“We have two fourth-quarter comebacks already this year. Obviously, we‘d like to start out better, put them down early, but we’re a big-game team,” O’Neill added.
The victory marked the first conquest over a Kelly-Rex division squad since the Hockomock League split into two divisions in 2010.
“It felt amazing pulling out a nail-biter like that,” said Fogel, “And it’s pretty crazy that Sharon beat its first Big Hock team in school history.”
Director of Football Operations Terry Barnum says that for the first time in many seasons, the Eagles will be included in the Boston Globe’s bus cartoon for undefeated teams, with the first 2012 edition being released this week.
“Do you know how many years it’s been that I’ve been watching for Sharon to be on the bus? Monday, Boston Globe, Sharon, 4-0, on the bus!” Barnum said.
The Eagles will play their first Davenport Division game next Friday night, when they travel to Canton.
“It feels awesome,” said Epps on Saturday. “It feels great. We are a 4-0 team. Next week is Canton. Got to be 5-0.”
“It feels amazing - absolutely amazing,” said Modebelu. “Just to think about it [being 4-0] gives me chills through my body. We’ve just got to ride this momentum and make it 5-0.”
Morse says that although Saturday’s win feels good, he is already looking to the future. “It’s behind us now, doesn’t mean anything. We have to go forward.
“We’ve got to prepare well, practice well, and we’ll see what happens next Friday,” Morse added.
Fogel said, “Now we can keep the streak going and look for win number 5.”