NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH — Hilda was hoisted by North Attleborough once again.
In the highly anticipated Century Game that marked 100 years since the first matchup between neighbors and rivals Attleboro and North Attleborough, the Red Rocketeers emerged Saturday morning with a 28-7 victory at Community Field, capping a 6-0 season.
After losing to the Bombardiers in 2019, North Attleborough recaptured the 71-year-old trophy named after Hilda Gay, who hosted the first pregame breakfast between the teams in 1952.
“It’s great,” North Attleborough coach Don Johnson said. “We’re coming off a losing season last year, which is uncharacteristic. They didn’t feel good about it. Just the frustration and the unknown with the pandemic, and working and working and wondering if it would ever pay off? This is the payoff.”
The seniors on both teams were able to play their Thanksgiving Day rival one last time, just on a 70-degree day in April instead of the traditional frigid morning in November. It was the 104th meeting overall between the teams, who will play their 100th Thanksgiving Day game this fall.
“It’s great we got this game in,” said North Attleborough senior Jacob Silva, who scored two touchdowns. “It’s good to keep the tradition. It’s the best feeling. It means everything to me.”
“We were a little nervous, but we came out with everything we got in our last game,” added fellow North Attleborough senior Matt Penta, who was named offensive MVP after rushing for 115 yards and two scores. “We gave it everything we had. It feels good.”
Two plays turned the tides for Hockomock League Davenport champion North Attleborough, which trailed, 7-0, in the early going. First came Jared Vacher’s blocked punt, which gave the Rocketeers the ball on Attleboro’s 11-yard line early in the second quarter. Two plays later, Penta ran it in from 8 yards out.
“It was a real momentum break and it turned our guys around and our attitude,” Silva said of the punt block. “We were ready to go after that.”
Penta was splitting time at quarterback with fellow senior Dylan Eberle because starter Tyler DeMattio was injured in last week’s win over Foxborough. With a cast placed on his hand Thursday night, DeMattio shifted over to running back, finishing with 51 yards on 15 carries.
“They hopped in and did a great job,” Silva said. “They’re both great players. They’re both great quarterbacks. They’d probably start on any other team in the Hockomock.”
Less than three minutes after Penta’s game-tying touchdown, Eberle found Silva on a 47-yard touchdown pass, which turned out to be the game’s longest play and gave the Rocketeers a 14-7 lead they never relinquished.
Silva added a 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and Penta sealed the victory when he broke a 39-yard scoring jaunt with 1:16 to play.
Attleboro (1-5), which snapped a four-game losing streak last week against Canton, capitalized on a short field after an 8-yard punt when senior Alex Bakowski ripped off a 16-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.
That drive featured the Bombardiers’ only first down until the game’s final five minutes as North Attleborough’s defense stiffened, holding Attleboro to just four first downs total, two of which came in the final minute. The Rocketeers, who collected 10 first downs, finished with a 257-90 edge in total yards.
“I think defense really changed the tide,” Johnson said. “It was the play of the defense that got the momentum for us.”
North Attleborough, which has won seven of the last nine matchups, is 65-31-8 in 104 meetings between the teams. The Rocketeers carry a 61-30-8 record on Thanksgiving into their matchup this November.
Attleboro senior Michael Strachan Jr. was named the game’s defensive MVP.