MILFORD, Mass. – On its opening three possessions of the game, Franklin managed about 30 yards of offense and turned the ball over twice. But the Panthers got one more chance to break the scoreless deadlock before halftime and made it count, scoring on the final play of the second quarter.
The momentum carried over into the second half, as Franklin would score on both of its possessions in the third quarter to break Friday night’s rivalry game with Milford wide open and pull away for a 21-0 victory that sends the Panthers into league play with a 2-0 record.
“It’s a big win for us,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “This is a tough place to play. To get out of here 2-0, and more importantly 1-0 this week and focused on this task, we’re going to enjoy it for 24 hours.”
The game did not get off to a start that either team would have hoped for, with turnovers on the opening two plays. Shapel Feaster fumbled on the first play from scrimmage for the Hawks, but he made up for it on defense by forcing a Jack Nally fumble at the one-yard-line on Franklin’s first play.
Both defenses were in control for most of the opening half.
A Brendan White sack of Franklin starting quarterback Thomas Gasbarro ended one drive and Ryan Pearl picked off a pass by Nick Gordon, Franklin’s second quarterback, to end another. Milford was trying to mix things up, spreading out the Panthers on one play and bunching up on a power set on another, but the Panthers defense stood tall.
With under two minutes remaining in the half, Franklin took possession at its own 42. Gordon (6-11, 147 yards) hit Nally down the sideline for 21 yards and then found Ryan Driscoll (four catches, 115 yards) for nine yards to the Milford 28.
After an incomplete pass, Franklin had eight seconds left in the quarter. Gordon dropped back and again looked down the far sideline where Driscoll had gotten open in between two defensive backs for the game’s opening score.
Milford coach Anthony Vizakis admitted that it was a deflating moment for his team. He said, “It was because they knew we were close to going in with a 0-0 ballgame and that’s a totally different mentality. It’s a totally different feeling. I thought we came out [for the second half] with a little energy but it just wasn’t enough for tonight.”
The Panthers took control with the opening possession of the second half, marching 75 yards on seven plays to make it a two-score game. Gordon again hit Driscoll on a go-route down the sideline for 38 yards into Milford territory and then found Will Davis for another 11 yards. Three plays, including two Gordon keepers, later, Gordon was able to scramble and keep a play alive before finding a seam for a seven-yard score.
The Milford offense had to try and speed up, focusing on the spread formation and the passing game to try and cut into the lead, but that also played right into the strength of the Franklin defense – its secondary.
“With a two touchdown lead, you sort of take war off the table,” said Bain about Milford’s run-first set. “Our strength of the defense is our speed…whereas the war is what they do best and they can dictate to an opponent. To get them out of that was a big step in the second half.”
Milford’s junior quarterback Colby Pires completed three of his four passes in the first half, but with the Panthers dropping back into coverage then he was only able to complete two of 14 passes in the second half. Driscoll and Nally both broke up passes in coverage and Nolan McLaney was able to bat a pass down at the line of scrimmage.
“We had the clock against us and sometimes when you’re down two scores you try to speed things up a little bit,” Vizakis explained. “It was frustrating because we just couldn’t hit anything over the top.”
Franklin’s success defending the pass was largely done without getting much pressure on Pires. Adam McMorrow had the only sack of the game for the Panthers and it came on Milford’s possession.
Franklin made it three straight possessions with a touchdown and sealed the win before the end of the third quarter. The Panthers went 57 yards on 11 plays, including a 40-yard pass from Gordon to Driscoll. On third and goal from the six, Gordon took a keeper to the left side and snuck inside the pylon with a leap over the goal line.
Parker Chevrant made it three for three on extra points for a 21-0 lead.
Bain said, “We do spend some time talking about scramble drill and Nick’s able to that. It was a great night for the boys.”
“They run the spread very well,” Vizakis said. “Their quarterback runs the ball very well and we’ve just got to stay in our assignments, stay disciplined.”
Franklin (2-0) will open Kelley-Rex division play next Friday night at Alumni Field against Mansfield. Milford (0-2) will look for its first win when it starts Davenport division play with a visit from Canton.