Franklin Beats Methuen to Get Another Shot at Gillette

Franklin football
Franklin running back Mack Gulla rushed for a pair of touchdowns in a 24-7 win over Methuen in the D1 quarterfinal. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – During its undefeated run to the Div. 1 quarterfinal, Franklin’s high-powered offense has gotten a lot of the attention but there are exceptional athletes on both sides of the ball and in Friday night’s visit of Methuen to Pisini Stadium the defense showed off its speed and athleticism in slowing down the Rangers.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

After giving up a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, Franklin scored 24 unanswered points to pull out a 24-7 victory and for the second time in three seasons is one game away from a trip to Gillette Stadium and a Super Bowl appearance.

“We just have to play good football,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “You’re not going to win at this level if you don’t play good football. You have to be very sound in that phase of the game and we did a good job tonight minus maybe one or two miscues.

Senior linebacker Nick Quintina added, “We weren’t really communicating the first drive. Once we all started communicating, calling the routes out, where the receivers were placed at, that’s what really helped us out.”

Methuen, fresh off an opening-round win against perennial power Everett, is a tough offense to pin down with all of its pre-snap motion, the variety of its sets, and the speed that it brings to every position. The Rangers got off to a very quick start, taking the opening drive 76 yards in eight play.

On fourth and one from near midfield, Jaetel Gomez got two yards for a first down. On the next play, Drew Eason fired a strike to Will McKinnon for 48 yards down to the Franklin five. CJ Muniz did the rest, getting to the corner for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It looked like it might be a long night for the Panthers defense, but that ended up being the only score that Methuen could muster.

The lead didn’t last long either. Franklin answered right back with a 77-yard drive. Mack Gulla (19 carries, 122 yards) was the focal point for the Panthers, getting seven carries on the opening possession. After an 11-yard completion from Jared Arone to Will Deschenes into Methuen territory, Gulla broke runs of 14 and 23 yards to get inside the 10. He punched it in from five yards to tie the game.

“That’s kind of been what we’ve done all year, just pick our moments, pick our marks, and attack but also not get out of the game plan,” Bain explained. “We went right down the script, some of it worked great, some of it didn’t and we saw that, and when we had to have the moments our kids made plays.”

When it got back on the field, Franklin’s defense started to turn things around. Quintina and Jay Gulla stuffed Eason for a loss of one, a flea flicker sailed over the receiver, and then Luke Davis made a play on the ball to break up the third down pas. On the next possession, it was Luke Sidwell in coverage making a play to get off the field.

Franklin got the ball back for its third possession at its own 49 and took advantage of the short field to grab the lead for good. A 13-yard pass to Will Tracey got Franklin down to the Rangers 27. Two plays later, Arone went back to Tracey on the far sideline and the 6-foot-2 receiver was able to go up and haul the pass in while getting a foot down inbounds. The 23-yard score made it 14-7.

Methuen moved the ball on its next drive, with Eason finding Braeden Carter for 10 yards to convert on fourth and three and get into Franklin’s half of the field. Quintina and Cullen Pek stuffed a second and two run for no gain and Pek and Jonathan Martins made a stop on third down, but the Muniz got three on fourth down to move the chains.

Pek came up with another big stop, dropping Eason for a loss of four. Sidwell and Devine Johnson combined to break up a halfback pass and then Jack Marino sacked Eason back at the 38 to force fourth and long and a punt.

The Panthers got the ball to start the second half and Deschenes made sure they started in a good spot, returning the kick off 41 yards out to the 46. A pair of passes from Arone (8-of-15, 133 yards) to Tracey (four catches, 56 yards) got the ball to the Methuen 32. From there, Gulla did the rest. He burst through the line of scrimmage, raced past the linebackers into the secondary and was gone for his second score of the night.

“He’s the starting point,” Bain said of Gulla. “Everything we do kind of starts with him and how can we branch off that and we’re fortunate because we have a lot of good players and a lot of guys got involved tonight with different parts of the game plan. But, when he goes, we go a little bit better.”

Pek, Quintina, Jay Gulla, Emmett Lackey, and the rest of the Franklin front seven was flying around making plays and giving Eason no time in the pocket.

“We really just feed off the play and whoever gets open in the gap,” Quintina said. “Coach has been doing a great job getting calls in, double blitzing. When we double blitz usually it opens up a big gap and whoever is on that blitz has a free run.”

Bain added, “They’re relentless. They’re tough to handle and they have motors and they’re a lovable group of kids but they don’t stop. They would drive you nuts if you were their parents. They don’t stop and their pursuit of the quarterback and of excellence is contagious and I think it fuels our defense.”

Franklin put the game away four minutes into the fourth quarter. Facing second and 15 from the Panthers 38, Arone looked deep down the near sideline to Davis, who managed to pull in the catch and stay just inbounds right in front of the Franklin bench. The 32-yard catch got the hosts to the 30.

On fourth and eight, Arone was able to hit Shane Kindred for a 15-yard catch near the sideline to keep the drive moving. It would lead to a 22-yard kick from Garrett Portesi and a 24-7 lead.

“We’re just playing our role as underdogs all season,” said Quintina. “Every team that looks at us, we look small, but we’re just the underdogs and we love that role.”

Franklin (9-0) will put its perfect record on the line next week against No. 5 Springfield Central, which crushed Xaverian 40-15, at a time, date, and location to be determined.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

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