TAUNTON, Mass. – Heading into Friday night’s contest against Taunton, Franklin head coach Eian Bain wanted to get as many of his skill players involved as possible to keep the Tigers’ defense guessing.
Senior quarterback Nick Gordon delivered with a near flawless performance, going 11-for-14 for 243 yards, connecting with six different receivers, and tossing four touchdowns to lead the Panthers to a dominant 42-7 win over Taunton.
Franklin was essentially perfect in the first half with Gordon completing all of his passes (7-for-7) and the team recording 254 yards of offense, scoring on all four of its drives for a 28-0 lead at the break.
“We got off to a very fast start and I thought we executed the game plan really well,” Bain said. “We try to think about players not plays so we wanted to get certain kids to touch the ball. We had a lot of different kids touch the ball tonight and that wasn’t by accident.
“Taunton does a nice job of changing up their looks, they don’t use the same coverages and fronts a lot. It’s a fun cat and mouse game to play but it’s tough. But we were ready, made some audibles, and when the run game hits, everything is easier and we had some nice runs.”
It was all Panthers from the get-go. After forcing Taunton to punt on its opening drive, Franklin needed just four plays to find the end zone. Owen Palmieri (10 carries, 50 yards) took the first play for 20 yards and the third for four more, sandwiched around a pass from Gordon to Jack Nally (75 all-purpose yards). On the fourth play, Gordon hit Ryan Driscoll (two catches, 88 yards) on a short bubble screen, and the senior got the block he needed to race for a 32-yard touchdown.
Parker Chevrant (6-for-6 extra points) drilled the point after for a 7-0 lead with 6:58 to play in the first quarter.
After another defensive stop that resulted in -5 yards for Taunton, Franklin needed just three plays this time around. On a broken play, Gordon scrambled to the left sideline and waited until the last second before linking up with Driscoll. After a nice block, Driscoll was able to cut inside and raced across the field for a 56-yard score and a 14-0 advantage with 2:59 left in the first quarter.
“We came out flat, we didn’t answer the bell at all to start the game,” said Taunton head coach Brad Sidwell. “They are a good, athletic team and I know we’d have a tough matchup with them at spots defensively. I thought we might have been able to do a little more offensively but we didn’t. We had one good drive to start the second half running the ball, but we have to do that for all four quarters.
“We thought we’d be able to do some things but they did a nice job of getting the ball to their playmakers, they’re a skilled team.”
Taunton moved the ball some on its next drive but a tackle for loss from junior Austin Jordan put the Tigers in a hole and they were forced to punt. Franklin responded with its most methodical drive of the game, rattling off 10 plays to cover 50 yards. The longest play on the drive was from Gordon to Nally for 16 yards, and Palmieri finished with a 1-yard plunge to make it 21-0 with 5:31 left in the second quarter.
Franklin’s defense stuffed Taunton on a 3rd and 1 attempt to force another punt and get the ball back. And the offense wasted little time to move the ball yet again.
Nally and Gordon ripped off back-to-back runs that combined for 25 yards and then Gordon found Jake Davis in stride down the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown and a 28-0 advantage heading into halftime.
“Keeping the offense on the field in a rhythm is a big part of it,” Bain said of his defense forcing quick three-and-outs. “Last week against KP, they had a lot of third and short opportunities. Tonight we were able to get ahead and get them into second and longs. When you can force a team to be one dimensional, it shrinks the playbook. Our staff is really good at creating different pressures. Noah is really dangerous, he can throw and run so you have to have smart pressure and I thought we did that this week.”
Taunton looked like a new team coming out in the second half, forcing its first three-and-out of the game to get the ball early in the third quarter. The Tigers offense rewarded the defense with its best drive of the game.
With a boost from senior fullback Damian Manning, who had two carries for 16 yards and one catch for five yards — two of those plays resulting in first downs, Taunton got on the board. On the eighth play of the drive, quarterback Noah Leonard used a QB sneak – with a push from Manning – to score from 1-yard out and cap an 80-yard drive to make it 28-7.
The momentum carried over to the Taunton defense, which again came up with a stop, including a big pass breakup from Curt Marshall. The Tigers got the ball back with 2:59 left in the third with a chance to make it a two-score game, but Franklin’s defense had other plans.
On third and 6, Franklin put pressure on Leonard and forced a quick throw on a screen attempt, and Taunton had to punt.
“It could have been closer there, but the defense did a nice job,” Bain said.
“We don’t scoreboard watch, we don’t care about what happened the previous drive or the previous play, we have to focus on the current play. We can’t worry that they scored the drive before, we have to make the stop on this series. That was huge for us.”
Franklin’s offense got back into gear, marching 71 yards on six plays, the big play a pass and catch from Gordon to Sean Leonard over the middle for 24 yards. Nally came across in motion and took a simple touch pass forward while on the run and went around the left edge for a 15-yard score and a 35-7 lead with 9:55 to play. It was Gordon’s fourth touchdown pass of the day.
“He’s like Ricky Bobby, he just wants to go fast,” Bain said of Gordon. “When I slow the game down in my play calling, I take away what he does well. He has that ability to go on the fly. The touchdown pass to Driscoll, the second one, that was a bad call and he made it a good one with his athleticism and vision. He does a lot of smart things too. He knows the situations and makes good decisions.”
Sean Hofferty added a 4-yard rushing touchdown in the final minutes.
Franklin football (4-2 overall, 2-2 Hockomock) returns home next Friday to take on Attleboro in what could be a potential playoff preview. Taunton (3-3, 1-3) will try to bounce back when it hits the road to take on King Philip.