MILFORD, Mass. – Heading into halftime, Franklin was frustrated. The Panthers had made a series of mistakes from turnovers to missed blocks to dropped passes to using up timeouts early in the half and Milford had taken advantage, playing the game at its pace and grinding out a three-point lead.
After the break, Franklin turned the game around, scoring 21 straight points and forcing Milford to abandon the power running game that it prefers. Behind three touchdown passes from senior Jake Noviello, Franklin pulled out a 28-10 victory in Friday night’s Game of the Week and evened its record at 1-1.
“They’re tough and we knew that. They compete and those kids don’t quit,” Franklin coach Eian Bain said about Milford. “We gave them the ball in great field position, we allowed them to execute their game plan, and we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
He added, “Once we got out of our own way, that’s all it took. Milford is a very good, competitive, and tough team. You can’t do that kind of stuff and expect to beat them.”
Things started perfectly for the Panthers, who marched down the field on the opening possession of the game. Franklin went 78 yards in 11 plays and no-huddle offense was clicking in perfect rhythm. Noviello (15-26, 180 yards) was 5-for-8 on the drive and capped it with an eight-yard strike to Jack Nally (who caught four of the five completions on the drive) for the game’s first score.
Special teams got Milford right back into the game. Junior Shapel Feaster returned the ensuing kick-off 66 yards to start the Hawks at the Franklin 20. The Hawks made it count with junior Brendan White (11 carries, 26 yards) tying the game with a four-yard run that was aided by a big push from his teammates that carried him and several would-be tacklers across the goal line.
Ryan Driscoll coughed up the ball on the kick return and again Milford started well into Franklin territory; this time at the Panthers 16. A holding call denied Ryan Pearl a touchdown on a keeper and a Jackson Gilbert tackle on third down and goal forced Milford to settle for a 20-yard Sean Lehane field goal to take the lead.
The Hawks got the ball out of halftime and there was a lot of energy on the sidelines, but Franklin forced a punt on the first possession and then its offense got back into gear. The Panthers put together a 12-play, 75-yard drive and took the lead for good. Noviello was 4-for-6 on the drive and threw a perfect pass to hit Evan Wendell in the far corner of the end zone for a 14-10 lead.
“Once we got rolling in the second half, the kids settled down,” said Bain. “They knew they were in a fight, but we also knew what we were doing wrong. It’s not hard to fix mistakes that are self-inflicted and we were able to correct them and get back on track.”
On Milford’s next possession, Evan Wertz ripped the ball away from White and returned it inside the 20, with a penalty getting Franklin down to the six. Two plays later, Noviello hit Driscoll for the six-yard score and a crucial two-possession lead.
“We’ve got a really young quarterback and anytime, with our offense, when we get behind it’s tough,” admitted Milford coach Anthony Vizakis. “We like to ground and pound, but that can only go so far.”
With the Hawks needing to up the tempo, Vizakis turned to sophomore quarterback Colby Pires and a spread formation, but Franklin picked off a pair of passes, including a sliding interception on the far sideline by Nolan Mclaney that gave the Panthers a chance to put the game away.
“We see a bright future with Colby Pires and we’re definitely working towards that,” Vizakis explained. “Nothing against (last year’s starter) Matt Curran, he’s a good kid and we’re using him in other spots, but we see Colby being a starter here for a few years, so he’s getting some good experience.”
Facing fourth and one on the next drive, Noviello used a hard count to draw Milford offsides and, although his pass was intercepted by Feaster, Franklin got the first down. Sean Hofferty(15 carries, 39 yards) finished the drive with a two-yard dive to wrap up the scoring.
Bain said, “As soon as we could get them out of their comfort zone, that’s what you want to do is make your opponent play left-handed. Once we tipped the scales, we were able to switch the match-ups into more of our favor.”
Despite the loss, Vizakis, who is in his first year in charge of the program, saw plenty to build on going forward. He said, “We started six sophomores tonight, offense and defense, so young kids getting good experience. We’re definitely going to be teaching every day.”
When asked about the importance of picking up a win before league play kicks off next week, Bain joked, “My car would be on blocks right now if we were 0-2.”
He continued, “The kids have worked so hard for this. It hasn’t been like that around here in a while where we go in and expect to win and I feel like we’re there now. To start 0-2, it’s hard to keep preaching that mantra.”
Franklin (1-1) will try to keep the momentum going next week against unbeaten Mansfield in what the Panthers are expecting will be the first game on the new turf at Pisini Field. Milford (0-2) will open Davenport division play against Canton at World War II Veterans Memorial Field.