The King Philip offense has had some success from the new wrinkles it’s added this season, but when it mattered most, the Warriors turned to their signature ground and pound running attack.
Senior Ryan Halliday rushed for 150 yards on 33 carries, including 17 in the fourth quarter, and scored a pair of touchdowns to pace the Warriors to a 26-14 win over rival Franklin, KP’s 16th straight win over the Panthers.
After getting just one touch on each of King Philip’s first two drives of the second half — both quickly ended in punts — and Franklin playing with the momentum after cutting the deficit to six at 20-14, the Warriors turned to Halliday.
The senior back was the focal point in the game-clinching drive that spanned 75 yards over 13 plays, taking over eight minutes off the clock. Halliday ran behind an offensive line featuring senior Nolan Gunning, senior Wyatt Manzi, senior center Sean Piller, junior Pat Zarba, and senior Dan Mullen.
The senior back took 10 consecutive handoffs, picking up four first downs that included a fourth down conversion on 4th and 1 on the Panthers’ 28-yard line after an offside call on the defense.
After sophomore Crawford Cantave burst up the middle for nine years, the Warriors went back to Halliday for back-to-back carries, the latter an 11-yard dart up the middle that put the visitors ahead 26-14 with just 5:23 left. The drive started with 1:34 left in the third quarter.
“We’ve switched up the offense a bit this year and we’ve been passing a lot,” Halliday said. “But in the end, we kind of just played old KP football, played some nice defense and ran the ball.
“I’m gassed but I’m sure my hoggies are gassed too, I give a lot of the credit to them.”
Franklin ran just seven offensive plays after that King Philip drive and was limited to a total of 16 offensive snaps total in the second half.
“It worked for us last year,” said KP head coach Brian Lee of going back to the ground game. “[Franklin] is so explosive on offense, they have so many playmakers that you feel like if keep giving them chances…our defense was hanging in there but we just wanted to slow it down a little bit.”
King Philip’s defense did its part as well, holding the Panthers to 175 yards of total offense, 0-for-5 on third down, forcing three turnovers, and limited Franklin’s high-powered offense to just three plays over 20 yards.
“It’s hard to get pressure on them, the ball is out quick and they have a lot of playmakers,” Lee said. “Overall I’m very pleased with how the defense played.”
The Panthers didn’t help themselves much in the first half, fumbling on the opening possession after a completed pass. A quick three-and-out was followed by another fumble, giving KP great starting position at the Franklin 25-yard line.
It took KP just three plays to take advantage of the good field position as senior quarterback Robbie Jarest (11-for-17, 93 yards passing; 8 carries, 75 yards rushing) hit Brian Wassersug, who broke a tackle and sprinted up the sideline for a 25-yard touchdown. Dylan Conti’s point after attempt was good to put KP up 7-0.
Franklin had a quick response as senior quarterback Thomas Gasbarro (16-for-22,193 yards) scrambled to buy some time before finding a wide-open Cole Lakatos on the sideline, and the senior took it the rest of the way, getting a big block from Jake Davis, for a 51-yard touchdown. Parker Cheuvront connected on his first of two extra points to tie it 7-7.
Jarest got it done with his legs on KP’s ensuing drive, taking a QB option for 48 yards to get the Warriors’ offense going. A pass to Alex Behling got the Warriors into the red zone, and six plays later, Halliday followed Gunning into the end zone for a 1-yard score, converting a 4th and goal situation.
“He’s come a long way, he’s really bought in,” Lee said of Jarest. “For us to be throwing the ball as much, it’s different. But we have a new offensive coordinator [Cory Bailey] and he’s really stretching me to try and do some other things and take more risks. Robert’s making those plays with his arm and his legs, and in the end, I think that makes us more balanced.”
Franklin’s defense came up big two series later, stopping the Warriors on 4th and 1 from the Panthers’ 30-yard line with under a minute to go in the half.
Franklin nearly stopped the series when they grabbed an interception, but the Panthers were flagged for roughing the passer and KP kept possession. On the ensuing play, with just eight seconds left on the clock, Jarest delivered, finding an open Andrew McKinney for an 11-yard touchdown with only two seconds left on the clock, giving KP a 20-7 lead at halftime.
“We had the recipe of how to never play American football never again,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain of the first half. “I’m at a loss for words for how to describe that first half really. You can’t beat great teams like KP when you have that many self-inflicted errors. Credit to a good opponent, sometimes they make you do that. We felt comfortable with our game plan but you can’t win putting the ball on the turf.”
Momentum swung in favor of the hosts as Franklin forced a three-and-out on King Philip’s opening drive of the second half. The Panthers’ offense capitalized, driving 77 yards on nine plays to make it a one-score game.
Highlighted by a pass and catch from Gasbarro to Jack Nally, and a fourth down completion between the same pair, Franklin marched down the field to the KP 1-yard line. Sophomore Mack Gulla punched it in from there, making it 20-14 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
Franklin only ran seven more offensive plays the rest of the game.
“They took the fourth quarter,” Bain said. “That’s what they do well, and that’s what we don’t do well. And by that point, they made us one dimensional but we continued to make mistakes. I’m disappointed because I think we can play better and execute better.”
King Philip football (1-0 Hockomock, 3-0 overall) now turns its attention to Mansfield, as the two rivals will do battle on Macktaz Field on Friday night. Franklin (0-1, 2-1) will try to get back into the win column when it travels to Oliver Ames on Saturday.