After rushing just four times in the first half of its Division 5 South final Friday, second-seeded Holliston switched gears on offense in the third quarter and earned itself a sectional title.
Tristan Benson was the primary beneficiary, rushing for 135 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns to spark a come-from-behind win, 27-14, over top-seeded Canton (9-1).
Holliston will take on North champion Swampscott (7-2) in the state semifinal next week.
“We regrouped at half and once coach got a feel for their defense he knew how we wanted to run it,” said Benson. “He said, ‘We’re just going to pound it down,’ and I trusted in the scheme.”
Canton’s defense allowed 20 points just once previously this season, and had been particularly strong against the run.
Despite the Bulldogs’ side advantage up front, the offensive line for Holliston (9-1) found a way to create space and gaps using their athleticism.
“[Canton] hadn’t let up anything this year,” said Holliston coach Todd Kiley. “We’re undersized up front, but we have some tough kids up front. I’ll take heart and speed over size any day.”
Canton (9-1) provided some late excitement with a late Kyle Fitzgerald touchdown to cut the deficit to one possession, but Holliston recovered the ensuing onside kick and set up at the Canton 35 following a penalty.
Three Benson carries later, the junior found paydirt again to ice the contest.
“We have a motto, and it’s ‘Big Red Machine,’ ” said Benson. “We don’t care what we’re up against.
“It’s super surreal, all our work is finally paying off.”
Catholic Memorial 42, Franklin 8 — From the very first snap of the game in West Roxbury, the top-seeded Knights (10-0) showed a commitment to the run. Some 343 yards on the ground later, it earned them a Super Bowl showdown with either Central Catholic or St. John’s Prep, who play for the North title on Saturday.
“We had trust in our offensive line,” CM captain Owen McGowan said after beating the second-seeded Panthers (7-3). “We knew going into the game we had the edge up front. Those guys worked so hard all week and it showed tonight.”
Jamall Griffin capped of a 15-play, 75-yard opening drive featuring nothing but runs with a 3-yard touchdown for CM, which captured its second straight South title. Running behind a line featuring Quincy Palmer, Rory Conneely, Daniel Sheehan, Zachary Goodwin, and Mark Garside, Griffin had another rushing score later, while Shiloh White also had a pair of rushing touchdowns. Barrett Pratt and Darrius LeClair had one score each for CM.
Duxbury 20, Hingham 10 — A pivotal return by Ryan Prudente set up an 8-yard touchdown run from Will Prouty with 20 seconds left in the first half, paving the way for the second-seeded Dragons (8-2) at top-seeded Hingham High.
Bowman Rhinesmith corralled the punt and tossed it over to Prudente, who raced 52 yards deep into Hingham territory. Prouty took care of the rest, helping the Dragons reclaim the lead, 13-10, after the Harbormen had scored just 36 seconds earlier.
“That kickoff return was just monstrous,” Duxbury coach Dave Maimaron said.
Prouty scored all three TDs for Duxbury, which blanked Hingham (8-2) in the second half. Sam Heppenstall intercepted a pass, Prouty shut down Duke-bound Cole Finney, and Garrett Shackett was everywhere all night for the Dragons.
Duxbury awaits the winner of Tewksbury and Winchester in Saturday’s Division 3 North final.
“We didn’t come here to win the South final,” Maimaron said. “That’s not the goal of this team. The goal is to win the last game of the year.”
Plymouth South 27, Milton 22 — Nick Siegelman put top-seeded Milton on its heels and snapped its 16-game home winning streak at Brooks Field, rushing 33 times for 125 yards and 3 touchdowns (on runs of 3, 9, and 11 yards), the latter two erasing a 16-14 deficit in the fourth quarter.
“It was a grind,’’ said the senior. “They keyed on me the whole game, but you knew coming into the game it was going to be ‘Stop [No.] 5, stop [No.] 5.’ But we opened up big holes in key moments and got the job done.’’
Siegelmen’s sensational effort helped the second-seeded Panthers (9-1) survive a furious comeback bid by the Wildcats (9-1), who capitalized on a Plymouth South botched punt snap at its own 9 to score a touchdown with 18 seconds left on Chase Vaughan’s 9-yard run.
After Milton’s two-point conversion failed, the Wildcats appeared to come up with an onside kick recovery. But the officials, in a controversial decision, separated everyone from a midfield scrum and awarded the ball to Plymouth South.
The Panthers next face the winner of Saturday’s Central final between top-seeded Fitchburg and No. 2 Tantasqua.
“It was insane,’’ Siegelman said. “I was on my toes the whole game, but it couldn’t have been a better finish.”
Ashland 20, Old Rochester 19 — The third-seeded Clockers (10-0) continued their perfect run, stuffing ORR quarterback Ryon Thomas on a 2-point conversion with 51 seconds left to hang on for the sectional title.
The Clockers had a 20-7 lead with 6:28 remaining, but ORR (8-2) charged back, cutting the deficit to 20-13 with 4:19 left. Jayven Pina Francis intercepted Ashland quarterback Dom Cavanagh with 3:45 remaining, then Thomas snuck in behind his line on a fourth-and-goal to make it a 1-point game.
But the rally ended there.
“I had a lot of confidence in our kids [on the two point conversion],” said Ashland head coach Andrew MacKay. “They suck it up out there at the toughest moments.”
Ashland will play the Millbury/Tyngsborough winner in the state semifinals next weekend.
Abington 41, Nantucket 7 — The second seeds put together a complete effort, with senior Kosta Retzos (4 carries, 62 yards) rushing for two touchdowns, and seniors Will Klein (10 carries, 71 yards) and Gabe Spry (8 carries, 45 yards) adding scores on the ground for the Green Wave (8-2).
They’ll meet North champion Greater Lawrence next weekend.
“My kids were ready to play today,” said longtime Abington coach Jim Kelliher after his team captured its first sectional title since 2014. “I could feel it yesterday, but you still get nervous because [Nantucket] has some good personnel. But we did it — we put it together and it worked out for us.”
Abington senior Seamus Schmidt and sophomore Drew Donovan each caught touchdown passes from senior quarterback Colby Augusta (3 of 8, 111 yards).
Along with the offense, the Green Wave’s defense limited the Whalers (6-4) to 43 yards of total offense, all of which came in the second half. Junior wideout Malique Bodden caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Darian Duarte in the fourth quarter for Nantucket’s only score.
Abington took a 21-0 lead into halftime, holding Nantucket’s offense to minus-41 yards during the first two quarters.
“We didn’t execute at all,” said Nantucket coach Joe Perry. “That’s a great football team, but we’ve got to score points.”
West Bridgewater 35, South Shore Tech 12 — Senior quarterback Matt Lavoie matched his touchdown total from last year’s sectional championship game with two rushing scores and a 61-yard touchdown pass as the top-seeded Wildcats (10-0) rolled to their second consecutive crown.
The contest served as a quasi-makeup game for the schools as the third-seeded Vikings (6-4) forfeited against WB in Week 3 over a dispute concerning the 12-minute quarters.
“Experience definitely shows,” said West Bridgewater head coach Justin Kogler. “Any time you have a really good quarterback, your offense runs through him.”
Senior Devin Georgantas — another starter from last year’s squad — also came up big for the Wildcats with two first-half rushing scores of 3 and 19 yards.
West Bridgewater will take on North champion KIPP Academy next weekend.
Michael Vega of Globe staff reported from Milton. Jake Levin reported from West Roxbury. Trevor Hass reported from Hingham. Joe Rice reported from Ashland. Brad Joyal reported from Abington. Steven Sousa reported from West Bridgewater.