FOXBOROUGH — Never surrender. That’s the motto Mansfield has lived by all season.
And on Saturday, the Hornets made sure they did not stray from it.
Mansfield overcame five first-half turnovers and scored 21 straight points to defeat St. John’s of Shrewsbury, 28-14, in the Division 2 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
“That was crazy,” said Hornets wide receiver Michael Hershman. “That was probably the sloppiest half we’ve played this year. Going into halftime, no one got down. Our motto is ‘never surrender.’ We came out flying in the second half. We executed very well.”
The top-ranked Hornets trailed just 14-7 at halftime, despite the turnovers. The fact Mansfield was still within a score made the halftime message easy for coach Mike Redding.
“Let’s start holding onto the ball,” said Redding, whose team finished 13-0 and captured its second title in four years. “Just play smarter. To turn it over five times and be down 7, we still had a good shot at winning it. This group’s got a lot of character, no one was rattled at halftime. We came to play in the second half on defense.”
The Hornets’ defense, which allowed just 116 yards in the second half, was swarming after the break. Senior Michael Barresi picked off St. John’s quarterback Drew Smiley (8 of 23, 63 yards) at the Pioneers’ 30 and returned it to the 11.
On the next play, Alex Ruddy (two touchdowns) cut the lead to 14-13. The extra-point attempt failed.
The Mansfield defense made another stop, then the offense took over and traveled 59 yards in 10 plays to forge a 21-14 lead. Hershman (8 carries, 66 yards, TD; 6 catches, 77 yards) took the handoff 8 yards for a touchdown and Miguel Villar-Perez (18 carries, 120 yards, TD) converted the 2-point rush.
“Obviously not having [wide receiver] Brendan Hill [injured on Thanksgiving] — such a great player who does so much for our offense — we knew that we were going to have to pick up the slack for him,” said Hershman. “Whatever the play call is, I’m going to try to do my best and execute. It worked out.”
On the ensuing drive, St. John’s drove to the Mansfield 21 and faced a fourth and 2. The Pioneers went for it but Smiley’s completion to Thomas Kelley was stuffed by Barresi.
Mansfield took over on downs with 27 seconds left in the third. When the drive ended, 2:38 remained in the game and the Hornets led, 28-14.
Mansfield went 79 yards in 14 plays — 13 runs — taking almost eight minutes off the clock. Villar-Perez, who suffered a shoulder injury on Thanksgiving, toughed it out and took a pitch 3 yards for Mansfield’s final touchdown.
“That was big. We were starting to play a little keep away,” said Redding. “To win a championship, you’ve got to play defense in the second half and you’ve got to be able to run the ball as well. We’re known for our passing, but today it was about defense and running the football.”
Mansfield scored on the opening drive of the game as Ruddy ran it in from 1 yard. St. John’s took advantage of the Hornets’ first turnover, tying the score at 7 as Smiley scored on a 1-yard sneak.
The Pioneers took a 14-7 lead after another Mansfield fumble. Shane Combs jetted up the middle for a 19-yard score.