NORTH ATTLEBORO — Alex Jette was well aware that another loss would all but demolish North Attleboro’s chances at making its first Super Bowl appearance since 2002.
Perhaps more importantly here than at any other school, the significance of winning every game on the schedule was enough to help push Jette – an electric running back and the focal point of the Red Rocketeers’ offense – onto the field against Foxboro in late September, just one week after breaking his right fibula (and staying in the game) during a 21-14 win over Bishop Feehan.
North Attleboro was 3-0 before a 21-0 loss to Foxboro, which preceded losses to Franklin and Stoughton (both with Jette on the sidelines) to fall to 3-3.
But the Red Rocketeers needed to win every game. Or at least it seemed that way.
Entering this season, they had won more regular-season games (96) since the turn of the century than all but 11 teams in Eastern Massachusetts. They haven’t had a losing record since 1992. Community Field is an intimate setting for home games.
Across the board, North Attleboro could be considered one of the most successful football programs in the state. But they haven’t been to the playoffs since that 2002 Super Bowl.
“It’s frustrating,” said coach Don Johnson, who has been a part of the program in some capacity for more than 20 years. “But we understand the system. So for me, that frustration leads to motivation to change the system. There has to be a better way.”
Johnson believes the new Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association playoff proposal is the answer for North Attleboro, at least for right now. He, like many others, believes there are flaws in the plan — like the way it could take away excitement from the Thanksgiving games and potentially cause scheduling conflicts — but he still said North Attleboro will vote in favor of it on Oct. 26.
“The new proposal isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” he said after a 20-13 loss in Franklin on Oct. 5. “But it’s a step in the right direction and I think we have to give it a try for a couple years and then we’ll tweak it after that.”
But back in the confines of his office in North Attleboro High, athletic director and former football coach Kurt Kummer wouldn’t say which way the vote was going.
“I’m not going to share how we’re going to vote,” he said. “We’re keeping that in an inner circle. We have mixed feelings. And we like the traditional ways of things being done.
“If you’re 0-9 on Thanksgiving and win Thanksgiving, your season is made.”
The Red Rocketeers haven’t been 0-9 since at least 1976 (as far back as school records go), but that’s besides the point.
Kummer’s feeling about the loss of luster in the Thanksgiving game against Attleboro — which, under the new proposal, would be the second time the teams would square off, since all Hockomock League games must be played within the first seven weeks – is one shared by many. Kummer also fears that the team’s nonleague games against Bishop Feehan and Foxboro will be in jeopardy.
With sacrifice comes additional opportunity.
Two years ago, the Red Rocketeers fielded perhaps their best squad in a decade. Paul McCarthy set school records in passing yards (1,460) and touchdowns (21), and North Attleboro had a league-high six All-Stars.
Johnson’s team that year lost just one game, yet didn’t qualify for the playoffs. Instead, Mansfield, which beat North Attleboro, won the Hockomock and went on to win the Division 2 Super Bowl. If the new proposal were in place, North Attleboro would have gone to the playoffs as the second-place finisher in the league.
“Two years in a row we don’t make the playoffs going 9-1 and being one of the best teams in the league,” Jette said. “But that’s just how the Hockomock works. Every team is good. One loss will be detrimental to your season. You have to go in every game and look to win.”
This year’s squad has again showed flashes of brilliance, with senior quarterback Ryan Perron leading the charge in Jette’s absence.
But even if Perron leads the Red Rocketeers to a 7-3 record, North Attleboro’s season will likely end without a trip to Gillette Stadium. Meanwhile, Perron’s sister, sophomore Danielle, and her field hockey team have already lost four games. But with eight wins, Danielle’s team needs just one more victory to qualify for the postseason.
“In football, one night can just ruin their whole season,” Danielle Perron said. “I think it makes it harder for him.”
“It’s really tough because you know it can come down to one loss,” Ryan Perron said. “There’s a lot of pressure. That comes with the job. We know what we signed up for.”
But until there’s change, one bad night could continue to signal the end of future promising seasons for North Attleboro football. And the weight on the shoulders of the next quarterback will be just as heavy.