Bulldogs blank rival Knights in memorable Thanksgiving win

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Alec Ragusa, Christian Walker and Tommy DeLello celebrate with the Thanksgiving victory trophy. (Mike Barucci photo)

Alec Ragusa, Christian Walker and Tommy DeLello celebrate with the Thanksgiving victory trophy. (Mike Barucci photo)

The Thanksgiving pendulum swung the entire way for the CHS football team compared to a year ago and it was all positive news for the Bulldogs and their fans.

Out to avenge a 48-0 thumping at Stoughton High in 2016, Canton played a near perfect game defensively and the Bulldog offense used a variety of running backs to keep the Knights guessing en route to a 27-0 Thanksgiving Day victory at WWII Veterans Memorial Field in front of a standing-room crowd in cold but sunny conditions.

It was such a memorable game that shortly after the final whistle blew, an excited CHS head coach Dave Bohane instructed his players to gather near the scoreboard so they could take a team picture with the final score in the background.

Later in the day, Bohane posted the photo on Twitter along with a message to his players: “Great job today boys! Proudest coach in the state! Thank you!”

The big win by Canton was its first on Thanksgiving since 2012, when the Bulldogs shocked a 9-2 Black Knights team in overtime 28-26. It also marked Canton’s first home win in the series since 2003 and their first shutout victory over Stoughton since 1989. (The Knights had not been shut out in any game since the 2010 season.) The historic rivalry between the two schools is now in its 92nd year with Stoughton currently holding a slim lead at 47-41-4.

As for this season, the Bulldogs (5-6) ended the year on a three-game winning streak and head into the offseason brimming with confidence and full of hope for the future with several talented sophomores and juniors slated to return next fall. The Knights, meanwhile, ended the season on a sour note with three straight losses to finish at 6-5 overall. However, they did have several big wins earlier in the year and still qualified for the playoffs despite playing every game away from home due to ongoing construction at SHS.

One of Stoughton’s earlier wins came against Canton at Stonehill College by a 12-0 final score. But in the rematch last Thursday, it was the Bulldogs who controlled both the tempo and the scoreboard, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and extending the lead to 20-0 at the half.

The young Bulldogs squad, prone to making costly mistakes throughout the course of the season, also played a more disciplined brand of football in the finale as they were called for only five penalties in 48 minutes of action.

The best player on the field for either team was CHS senior captain Alec Ragusa, who delivered a dominant two-way performance at running back and linebacker. In addition to rushing for over 100 yards and a touchdown, Ragusa also scored on a 45-yard fumble recovery and finished with a team-high eight tackles and a sack.

“We knew we had to play tough and execute,” Ragusa said after the game. “If we played hard, limited our mistakes and executed, we would be fine. I credit my teammates, my blockers, and the defense.”

Ragusa added that the early mornings spent in the weight room and the hard work put in during practices paid off. “This is what we were working for, all of us,” he said.

The Bulldogs finished the game with 254 rushing yards, led by Ragusa with 111 and sophomore Gersom Rivera with 63. But the “X factor” that Stoughton did not see coming was the running of sophomore quarterback Johnny Hagan, who ran for 40 yards and two scores and kept a pair of drives alive with a 10-yard pass to junior receiver Ryan Lentol and a 12-yard first-down run.

Defensively, the Bulldogs played their best game of the season, limiting the high-powered Stoughton offense to 36 yards in the first half and not allowing a single play over 30 yards for the game. The Knights’ longest gain of the day was a 27-yard run by Justin Ly late in the first quarter, but Canton’s Brendan Albert forced a fumble on the next play and Ragusa ran it back for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs up by two scores.

Albert, a junior linebacker and one of two All-Hockomock first team selections along with Ragusa, was outstanding in the win as he collected five tackles and added a big sack late in the first half. Senior Jude Albert, an all-league honorable mention, and sophomore Owen Lehane also played well with six tackles each. Senior captain Tony Harris defended well in the secondary and foiled a Stoughton drive with an interception that he nearly ran back for a touchdown.

After the game, Bohane praised his assistant coaches for drawing up a great game plan and the players for executing it.

“I know we did not like the result last year, but we stuck together as coaches with our game plan,” said Bohane. “Coach [Greg] Burke has outstanding defenses and offenses. So to shut out Stoughton and keep them to 36 yards in the first half is quite an achievement. The defense was phenomenal. The kids are tough and played great.”

Bohane said his team made its share of mistakes this season, but they learned from those mistakes and “continued to improve each and every game.”

“We had some tough losses, but the seniors always told the younger players to feel good about themselves,” he said. “We say ‘Gang Green’ on defense and pursue the football. Overall, we base everything on being tough. I thought our kids were very tough today.”

Bohane said he had heard some talk that the Thanksgiving Day rivalry between Canton and Stoughton was fading and had lost some of its luster. “I couldn’t disagree more,” he said. “This rivalry has respect on both sides and we love to play each other. These kids talk about the game all year long.”

A disappointed Coach Burke said after the game that he had no answers or reasons for his team’s loss. Noting that he would have to review the game tape, Burke said it was the first time this year that Stoughton faced such a big deficit and he congratulated Canton on a well-earned victory.

“Hat’s off to them,” he said. “Give credit to Canton. They played well.”

Game notes

Canton’s honorary captain for the game was Rob DeLello, a former Bulldog quarterback and defensive back who led an undefeated CHS team to the Super Bowl in 1987 and later played for Colby College. His son is senior lineman Tommy DeLello … Senior Max Gallagher was chosen to wear No. 27 in memory of the late Ricky Shannon and made two rushing first downs near the end of the game for 17 yards. Gallagher was chosen by players and coaches for his hustle, extra effort, and determination.

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