Rocketeers Start Quick But KP Settles Into Big Win

King Philip Football
Ryan Halliday (34) celebrates his first of two fourth quarter touchdowns, as KP pulled away late and earned a season-opening win against North. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WRENTHAM, Mass. – Everything started perfectly for North Attleboro on Friday night at Macktaz Field. A play-action deep strike on the first play of the game and an opening drive that marched 80 yards, used up more than half of the first quarter, and ended with a touchdown for sophomore quarterback Tyler DeMattio, who was making his first varsity start under center.

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It was a statement of intent from the defending Davenport division co-champions. Of course, a team doesn’t get to three straight Super Bowls by being derailed from one touchdown. King Philip allowed four first downs on that opening drive. It allowed only two more first downs for the remainder of the game, and both of those were on penalties.

The Warriors turned the game on its head with two touchdowns either side of halftime and then put it away with two scores within 30 seconds of each other in the fourth quarter, pulling out a 25-7 victory.

“It looked like, ‘oh boy,’ on that first drive, but we’ve got some great coaches,” said KP coach Brian Lee. “We were able to settle down and he (defensive coordinator Matt Wassell) was able to recover and make some adjustment and stop them.”

DeMattio (2-of-9, 36 yards; 18 carries, 60 yards) made quite the impression on his first varsity snap as QB, faking a hand-off and dropping a dime into the arms of Ethan Friberg for a 33-yard gain. He then showed off his ability to make plays with his legs, running a zone read offense and moving North up the field. He finished off the 10-play, 80-yard drive with a nine-yard keeper to grab a 7-0 lead.

Since Lee took over the KP program, it has become known for its straightforward approach to offense. A lot of power I-formation and running backs that expect to get the ball 30-plus times a game. But on Friday, the Warriors showed far more variation with the ball, allowing senior quarterback Robert Jarest to move around in the pocket (8-of-15, 151 yards) and to call his own number on the ground (seven carries, 64 yards).

“Give them credit, they’ve got some new wrinkles in their offense over there,” said North coach Don Johnson. “There wasn’t the I-formation, smash-mouth football.”

Lee explained, “They’re bigger and more physical than us. I’d love to be the biggest, baddest kid on the block all the time, but just running it in there was not going to work for us.”

While senior Ryan Halliday (24 carries, 122 yards) still got his fair share of touches, the Warriors were able to get the ball away from the strong North Attleboro defensive line and attack North’s less experienced secondary on the edges.

It was a strategy that worked well in the opening half, as KP consistently took advantage of good starting field position and moved the ball deep into North territory. The Warriors just couldn’t finish a drive, three times having a possession stall in the red zone.

The first ended on a Jarest fumble inside the North 10. The next possession also ended at the 10, after Colby Feid denied a touchdown with a solid pass breakup and then Montrel Jackson pressured Jarest into throwing the ball away on fourth down. The third drive ended when Halliday came up inches short on a fourth and two carry.

With the clock winding down to just a minute left in the half, KP finally struck. John Kummer sacked Jarest back at the KP 46, but on the next play there was a breakdown in coverage on the far sideline allowing Alex Behling to run free and Jarest was on the mark for a 54-yard score. The extra point was no good, so North kept a lead, but the Warriors went into the break with the momentum.

“It was huge,” Jarest said. “He was wide open and when we went in the crowd was just pumped. That’s our base is the fans and then Coach Lee got us into it. Everyone was way more calm and everyone was like, okay we can go win this thing.”

The Warriors got the ball coming out of halftime and looked a different team, dominating the line of scrimmage. Jarest had a 33-yard keeper to get KP into North territory, but after Russell Dunlap tackled Halliday for a loss the Warriors faced fourth and long. Another breakdown in the secondary allowed KP to avoid another stalled drive, as Behling again was left wide open for a 20-yard score and a 12-7 lead.

“We’re trying new things,” Jarest said about the offense. “I don’t know if that’s how it’s going to be all season, but it looked good tonight and hopefully we can stay consistent.”

KP’s defense was manhandling North and not allowing DeMattio to find any seams to run into and the Rocketeers were unable to get anything going. Being pinned back in their own half was also causing issues because it limited how adventurous North could be with the ball.

“I thought they took over the line of scrimmage in the second half and throughout the game we had some unforced errors on defense,” said Johnson. “We gave them a couple of easy ones and I think that was the result of some young guys being out there for the first time. It’s just going to take us a little time.”

After a good Brian Wassersug punt return put KP in business at the North 39, KP broke the game wide open. Jarest hit Wassersug, who was too quick for the middle linebacker, down the middle for a 36-yard gain. Three carries later and Halliday punched in his first score of the night.

On North’s next play from scrimmage, DeMattio was hit as he threw and the pass was picked off by Sam Callanan. A delay of game penalty backed KP up five yards, but then Halliday found a crease on the left side and burst through for a 27-yard TD to put the game out of reach.

“It kind of smacked of that Mansfield game from a couple years ago,” Lee reflected. “We couldn’t get anything going, but we got a freebie (before halftime), bought us life, came back out and settled down.

King Philip (1-0) will continue its non-league schedule next week at Foxboro. North Attleboro (0-1) will have a week off before a short trip to rival Bishop Feehan.

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