Then came the fourth quarter fireworks.
After neither team found the end zone in any of the first three quarters, there were three touchdowns in the final period including two in the final five minutes. Franklin took the lead with just over three minutes to go but King Philip answered with a game-winning drive, scoring with just over a minute to go to secure a 14-10 win.
“I don’t know [how we won it], there were so many ups and downs in that one,” said King Philip head coach Brian Lee. “It was the type of game that we’ve had success in the past, the type of game we’ve competed in but this group, we’re very young and we don’t have many seniors out there, and throughout this year we were having trouble in the close games. But they kept coming back, it was just awesome to see.
“It wasn’t a beautiful game but I’m proud of the kids. We got seven games, I’m not sure I like this season but I like tonight. I saw a little bit of Warrior of football for the first time.”
Neither team scored in the first half and the only points of the third quarter came off the foot of Franklin senior Parker Cheuvront as the Panthers carried a 3-0 led into the final 12 minutes of action. King Philip took the lead with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and was in position to close it out with just over five minutes to go.
But a penalty and an incomplete pass on third down forced KP to punt, and a low snap forced a scramble. Franklin was able to track the punter down, eventually forcing the ball free and senior Damon Carmignani, who had the initial pressure on the punter, came away with the ball and the Panthers were suddenly in business with the ball at the KP 34-yard line with just over five minutes to play.
Five plays later, including one of five hookups between quarterback Jared Arone (11/19, 102 yards) and receiver Jake O’Brien (five catches, 58 yards), the Panthers went to the ground and Mack Gulla (17 carries, 69 yards) burst up the middle, going airborne before falling on the goal line for a touchdown. Cheuvront’s point after gave the hosts a 10-7 lead with 3:17 to play.
As quickly as the momentum swung in favor of the visitors, it came right back for the hosts. Sophomore Rudy Gately (31 carries, 157 yards), who had the majority of carries with senior back Crawford Cantave out injured, moved the sticks with a 10-yard gain.
Facing 3rd and 7, junior quarterback Charlie Grant found senior Michael Zagordny as he fell out of bounds but it was ruled he got a foot down for a complete catch. The Panthers were also whistled for a personal foul for a late hit, moving the 38 yards (23 on the catch, 15 on the penalty) all the way down to the Franklin 19-yard line with 1:33 to play.
Franklin’s Jay Gulla and Xander Honor stopped Gately for a loss on first down so the Warriors went to the air on second down. Grant floated one to the corner of the end zone and junior Danny Clancy used his size to go up and get it despite good positioning from the defensive back, getting his feet inbounds for a 10-yard touchdown and a 14-10 lead with 1:08 to go.
“Those guys have been doing that a long time together, we just really haven’t been able to maximize it this year,” Lee said. “I’ve been jabbing at Clancy, asking when he was going to make the big plays we saw him make on JV on varsity. The kid had position on him and he was still able to pull it down, it was unreal.
“I thought Charlie played well for us and showed a lot of poise and leadership for us when we needed it.”
The Panthers didn’t get a chance at a final drive after fumbling on the ensuing kickoff with KP’s Nick Viscusi coming away with the loose ball.
“As a coach, you want to see competition and you want to see your guys compete to the end and I think we did that,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain. “We certainly didn’t help ourselves tonight with penalties, miscues, putting the ball on the ground even if we got it back. End of the day, I thought we were our own worst enemy. King Philip is a good program, they played a really good game don’t get me wrong. This year felt like four years ago when we were in a lot of close games, learning how to win.
“You never want to let that adversity go to waste, hopefully, we learned a little bit about what it takes to close games in the Hockomock League. They are young too so hopefully both our programs are rising together and next year, when we see them on Thanksgiving, hopefully we’ll be right back here battling it out with them.”
There was a total of six drives in the first half, each team getting the ball three times. Franklin got the ball from the opening kickoff and moved the chains once but had to punt, which happened again on its next drive. The Panthers’ final drive of the opening half resulted in a turnover on downs. Franklin nearly had a touchdown on a pass from Arone into the end zone but Viscuti made a great play to knock the ball free and prevent six.
Things didn’t go much better for the Warriors on the offensive side of the ball. KP’s first drive went 15 plays and covered 74 yards but stalled in the red zone. The Warriors tried a fake field goal but Franklin was ready and junior Joseph Tirrell forced a fumble and classmate Jonathan Martins grabbed the loose ball. KP’s second and third drive combined for just seven yards on eight plays, taking the game to halftime.
The Warriors started to move the ball on its first possession of the second half but it came to a halt on a fumble, recovered by Franklin’s Jacob Briggs. The turnover resulted in points for the Panthers, who moved 31 yards on 8 plays. Cheuvront split the uprights from 32-yards out for a 3-0 advantage.
King Philip responded with a 9-play, 66-yard drive to take its first lead of the game less than two minutes into the fourth. Lining up with two fullbacks — senior Mike Malatesta and sophomore William Astorino — and with a tight end on either side of the line — Nathan Kearney and Harry Brown — the Warriors continued to pound the ball on the ground.
Gately had a trio of runs for 22 yards on this drive, following the blocking of Hunter Hastings and Dan Nineve on the left side, Kevin Pierro up the middle, and Amro Ismail and Chris Sesay on the right side, Gately racked up 157 total rushing yards on 31 carries.
KP mixed things up on the next play as Grant dropped a perfect pass into Clancy’s hands down the right sideline for a 38-yard gain. Four plays later, Malatesta went up the middle on fourth down for a 2-yard touchdown, and Matthew Kelley’s point after made it 7-3, setting up the wild finish.
“[Gulla] is a dude so I was very pleased with the overall effort and the battle,” Lee said of the KP defensive effort, which held Franklin to 1-of-7 on third and 1-of-3 on fourth down and under 200 total yards of offense. “I was nervous, Crawford is our safety and has been playing really well on defense and now we’re going against a pretty good passing attack without him. But I was happy with the effort from the guys.”
King Philip finishes the year at 4-3 while Franklin closes out the Fall II season at 3-4.