Franklin Holds Off KP To Clinch Kelley-Rex Crown

Franklin senior Shane Kindred hauls in a one-handed grab against King Philip on Thanksgiving. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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 FRANKLIN, Mass. — Before the main course of turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, the Franklin football team helped themselves to an early serving of stuffing.

Franklin senior Jack Marino denied King Philip on a 4th and 1 situation just beyond midfield with two minutes left in the game to help the Panthers secure a 27-20 win over the Warriors in the 61st Thanksgiving clash between the two teams.

With the win, Franklin clinches its first-ever Hockomock League Kelley-Rex division title and first league crown since 2009. It also snaps a 10-game Thanksgiving skid and an 18-game overall streak to the Warriors, their first win over KP since the same year they won their last title.

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“It’s incredibly satisfying, and I’m obviously proud as the coach but I’m just happy for the kids and the town,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain. “The last couple of years, this game has been good and there’s been some close ones and not so close ones. Eventually, these are games we have to win to move our program forward.

“This is a step in the right direction, and hopefully, our young kids realize what they can do if they keep working. But as awesome as this is, I hope they realize this took a lot of work from a lot of young men. I’m just really happy for the kids to see that hard work pay off today.”

The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, the latter — plus a two-point conversion — had the hosts ahead 27-20 going into the final quarter of play.

The Warriors were marching into Franklin territory as the final minutes ticked off the clock. KP punted on its second drive of the second half and then fumbled in Panther territory on its previous drive.

A heavy dose of junior Rudy Gately (24 carries, 162 yards) and Crawford Cantave (14 carries, 72 yards) had the Warriors over midfield, but Will Astorino’s third down run was stopped a yard shy of the marker on a tackle from Luke Davis and Cullen Pek.

On fourth down, Marino came flying through the offensive line and met Gately in the backfield for a loss of yards and a turnover on downs.

Mack Gulla (16 carries, 109 yards) ran for back-to-back first downs and the Panthers ran the clock out to secure their first win in the series in over a decade.

“Me and [Nick Quintina], we knew it was going to be either me or him that had to make the play, we needed to make a play and make a tackle,” Marino said. “Rudy is a hard runner, I’m good friends with him but I was able to get through the gap and he was there for me to make the play.

“It’s great to get this win…the rivalry between Franklin and KP has always been there all the way back to Pop Warner. They’ve had our number for a decade or so, but it’s great to get the last one, especially for the seniors.”

“Jack is one of the savviest athletes out there,” Bain said. “Coach [Zach] Brown would say the same thing with baseball…looking back at any big win, there’s a moment when Jack Marino turned the tide.”

While it was the perfect end for Franklin, it was far from the perfect start.

King Philip’s defense forced a quick three-and-out and its offense needed little time to find the end zone. Gately broke free up the middle for 64 yards and three plays later, senior quarterback Charlie Grant (4/9, 84 yards) went play action and hit classmate Drew Danson in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.

Things went from bad to worse for the Panthers as they fumbled on their first carry of the ensuing drive and KP pounced on the loose ball, taking over in Franklin territory.

The Warriors needed just four plays again, helped along by a 33-yard pass and catch from Grant to Danny Clancy down the right sideline down to the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Grant kept it himself on the sneak and Matthew Kelley booted the point after for a 14-0 lead with 5:55 left in the first quarter.

“You’re up 14-0 and you keep trying to tell the kids it’s not going to last,” KP head coach Brian Lee said. “You want to try and jump on them as much as possible early. I think if we had maybe one more there…but it just comes back to the little things.

“The quick reaction is jeez, we made a lot of mistakes but how much of that is from the pressure [Franklin] was bringing on us? It makes you a little antsy, jump offside, lineup wrong, just little things like that…you like to think it’s us self-destructing but I think it’s the pressure they put on us. That’s what happens playing against a very good team.”

Franklin had to punt on its third drive but the Panther defense delivered a big stop, cooling some of KP’s momentum.

After a first down run from Gulla, Bain dipped into his bag of tricks and the Panthers executed a perfect flea flicker. Gulla took the handoff but tossed it back to Jared Arone (11/17, 231 yards, 3 TD) and he hit Shane Kindred (5 catches, 159 yards, 3 TD) in stride for an 85-yard touchdown with just over a minute left in the first. Sean King blocked the point after for KP but Franklin was on the board, down 14-6.

Helped by a holding call, KP’s offense went backward on its next series. A third-down pooch punt didn’t travel as far as the Warriors’ hoped and Franklin took over at the KP 45-yard line with 9:19 left in the second.

Arone broke free from a facemask hold and weaved his way to a 45-yard score, only for a block in the back to offset the penalties and nullify the play. But the Panthers’ offense carried on as Arone hit Will Deschenes to convert a fourth down and on the next play, Arone hit Kindred up the left hash for a 17-yard touchdown, making it 14-13 after Garrett Portesi’s extra point.

A false start and a tackle for loss from Marino stalled KP’s next drive, and a sack from Jay Gulla ended it as the Warriors had to punt it back.

Franklin’s offense capitalized on the momentum as Arone hit Kindred to convert an early third down, and the duo hooked up two plays later on the right side and Kindred managed to stay inbounds, racing up the right sideline and diving into the end zone. Hunter Hastings blocked another point after attempt but the Panthers had a 19-14 lead at halftime.

“I think we’ve been in that situation a couple of times, and even though you might get your confidence rattled a little bit, we’re still a pretty good football team,” Bain said of facing an early deficit. “And as long as we kept believing, I think the biggest thing was just having our kids settle down. You want them to play with emotion but they had to settle down and once we hit the big play to Shane at the end of the first quarter, and then we got a stop that we needed and we settled in.

“KP did an awesome job, they’re going to Gillette for a reason. Kind of like last week, we knew they’d score points and make big plays, we just had to take it one series at a time. You can’t hit fast forward to the fourth quarter and the game is over, we had to work for it and earn it.”

KP opened the second half in typical Warrior style: a 9-play, 70-yard march down the field to retake the lead. Gately and Cantave alternated carries, and Grant hit Gately for 25 yards out of the backfield on a third and long. Cantave capped the drive by backing his way across the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown.

The two-point pass was broken up in the corner of the end zone by Franklin’s Devine Johnson.

Franklin went three-and-out on its first drive of the second half after a pass break up on third by KP’s Kelley. But the Panthers’ defense bounced back and stuffed the Warriors, who went for it on 4th down from the Franklin 32-yard line.

“I think it was good to get back to our identity and our reality,” Bain said of the defense. “Certainly, Springfield Central can take anyone out of their comfort zone and King Philip does it in a totally different way, and that’s hard. It’s hard to keep getting hit in the mouth and then you’re down 14. You have to ask yourself, do I want to keep getting hit in the face over and over and over again. Our guys didn’t back down…it was hard, and they’ll be sore tomorrow but they kept answering the bell time and time again, getting off the mat. In the fourth quarter, they made a couple of plays that were key to winning the game.”

Gulla made a nice catch on the left sideline for 19 yards to move the sticks and then bulldozed his way for 10 yards on the ground and another first down. Four plays later, he ran up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown.

On the two-point try, Arone went to the right on the bootleg but didn’t have anyone open so he raced back to the left and into the end zone for a successful conversion and a 27-20 lead.

“I don’t want to think if we did lose, but I think they still would have had a great career but I think this was needed for them,” Bain said of his senior class. “I think a couple of classes before them, I think they feel a part of this too but this group pushed us over the hump. Everyone got screwed out of a normal experience last year but to bounce back and to have this, for this to be their last high school football memory, it couldn’t be more fitting for this group of kids.

It was the first time in nearly a decade that Thanksgiving games counted towards division titles in the Hockomock League. With the new rating system, the league elected to have Thanksgiving count as a league game with holiday rivals only playing once in the season, rather than twice as they had for the past eight years.

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King Philip still has one game left as the Warriors are headed to Gillette Stadium to play Catholic Memorial in the Division 2 State Championship game. But the Warriors weren’t focused on next week just yet. KP played all of its starters.

“We were focused on this game…you have to respect their seniors, that’s a great team and they want to know they beat us with our guys,” Lee said. “They deserve that shot, that opportunity after the season they’ve had. And we wanted our guys to have a shot at the league title. Yeah, we’re going to the Super Bowl but who knows what’s going to happen? We’re playing against an absolute animal of a team. But with a chance at the Hock title, we wanted to try and go get it.”

Franklin finishes the season at 10-1 and a perfect 5-0 in Kelley-Rex division play. King Philip enters its showdown with CM next week at 9-2.

Franklin Beats Methuen to Get Another Shot at Gillette

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Franklin running back Mack Gulla rushed for a pair of touchdowns in a 24-7 win over Methuen in the D1 quarterfinal. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – During its undefeated run to the Div. 1 quarterfinal, Franklin’s high-powered offense has gotten a lot of the attention but there are exceptional athletes on both sides of the ball and in Friday night’s visit of Methuen to Pisini Stadium the defense showed off its speed and athleticism in slowing down the Rangers.

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After giving up a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, Franklin scored 24 unanswered points to pull out a 24-7 victory and for the second time in three seasons is one game away from a trip to Gillette Stadium and a Super Bowl appearance.

“We just have to play good football,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “You’re not going to win at this level if you don’t play good football. You have to be very sound in that phase of the game and we did a good job tonight minus maybe one or two miscues.

Senior linebacker Nick Quintina added, “We weren’t really communicating the first drive. Once we all started communicating, calling the routes out, where the receivers were placed at, that’s what really helped us out.”

Methuen, fresh off an opening-round win against perennial power Everett, is a tough offense to pin down with all of its pre-snap motion, the variety of its sets, and the speed that it brings to every position. The Rangers got off to a very quick start, taking the opening drive 76 yards in eight play.

On fourth and one from near midfield, Jaetel Gomez got two yards for a first down. On the next play, Drew Eason fired a strike to Will McKinnon for 48 yards down to the Franklin five. CJ Muniz did the rest, getting to the corner for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It looked like it might be a long night for the Panthers defense, but that ended up being the only score that Methuen could muster.

The lead didn’t last long either. Franklin answered right back with a 77-yard drive. Mack Gulla (19 carries, 122 yards) was the focal point for the Panthers, getting seven carries on the opening possession. After an 11-yard completion from Jared Arone to Will Deschenes into Methuen territory, Gulla broke runs of 14 and 23 yards to get inside the 10. He punched it in from five yards to tie the game.

“That’s kind of been what we’ve done all year, just pick our moments, pick our marks, and attack but also not get out of the game plan,” Bain explained. “We went right down the script, some of it worked great, some of it didn’t and we saw that, and when we had to have the moments our kids made plays.”

When it got back on the field, Franklin’s defense started to turn things around. Quintina and Jay Gulla stuffed Eason for a loss of one, a flea flicker sailed over the receiver, and then Luke Davis made a play on the ball to break up the third down pas. On the next possession, it was Luke Sidwell in coverage making a play to get off the field.

Franklin got the ball back for its third possession at its own 49 and took advantage of the short field to grab the lead for good. A 13-yard pass to Will Tracey got Franklin down to the Rangers 27. Two plays later, Arone went back to Tracey on the far sideline and the 6-foot-2 receiver was able to go up and haul the pass in while getting a foot down inbounds. The 23-yard score made it 14-7.

Methuen moved the ball on its next drive, with Eason finding Braeden Carter for 10 yards to convert on fourth and three and get into Franklin’s half of the field. Quintina and Cullen Pek stuffed a second and two run for no gain and Pek and Jonathan Martins made a stop on third down, but the Muniz got three on fourth down to move the chains.

Pek came up with another big stop, dropping Eason for a loss of four. Sidwell and Devine Johnson combined to break up a halfback pass and then Jack Marino sacked Eason back at the 38 to force fourth and long and a punt.

The Panthers got the ball to start the second half and Deschenes made sure they started in a good spot, returning the kick off 41 yards out to the 46. A pair of passes from Arone (8-of-15, 133 yards) to Tracey (four catches, 56 yards) got the ball to the Methuen 32. From there, Gulla did the rest. He burst through the line of scrimmage, raced past the linebackers into the secondary and was gone for his second score of the night.

“He’s the starting point,” Bain said of Gulla. “Everything we do kind of starts with him and how can we branch off that and we’re fortunate because we have a lot of good players and a lot of guys got involved tonight with different parts of the game plan. But, when he goes, we go a little bit better.”

Pek, Quintina, Jay Gulla, Emmett Lackey, and the rest of the Franklin front seven was flying around making plays and giving Eason no time in the pocket.

“We really just feed off the play and whoever gets open in the gap,” Quintina said. “Coach has been doing a great job getting calls in, double blitzing. When we double blitz usually it opens up a big gap and whoever is on that blitz has a free run.”

Bain added, “They’re relentless. They’re tough to handle and they have motors and they’re a lovable group of kids but they don’t stop. They would drive you nuts if you were their parents. They don’t stop and their pursuit of the quarterback and of excellence is contagious and I think it fuels our defense.”

Franklin put the game away four minutes into the fourth quarter. Facing second and 15 from the Panthers 38, Arone looked deep down the near sideline to Davis, who managed to pull in the catch and stay just inbounds right in front of the Franklin bench. The 32-yard catch got the hosts to the 30.

On fourth and eight, Arone was able to hit Shane Kindred for a 15-yard catch near the sideline to keep the drive moving. It would lead to a 22-yard kick from Garrett Portesi and a 24-7 lead.

“We’re just playing our role as underdogs all season,” said Quintina. “Every team that looks at us, we look small, but we’re just the underdogs and we love that role.”

Franklin (9-0) will put its perfect record on the line next week against No. 5 Springfield Central, which crushed Xaverian 40-15, at a time, date, and location to be determined.

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Franklin Continues Perfect Start By Beating Mansfield

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Jonathan Martins celebrates after catching a fourth quarter touchdown pass to seal Franklin’s first win against Mansfield since 2009. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FRANKLIN, Mass. – It was only seven months ago that Franklin traveled to Alumni Field to open the Fall II season. The Panthers were a young team learning the ropes against a senior-laden, highly-experienced Mansfield squad filled with Super Bowl-winning talent.

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When the two teams met on Friday night at Pisini Stadium, the roles were reversed. Now it was the Panthers that had the experience and they took advantage at every opportunity. Jared Arone (9-for-13, 206 yards) tossed four touchdown passes and the Panthers beat Mansfield 28-10. in front of a packed house.

It was Franklin’s first win against the Hornets since going undefeated in the 2009 regular season. It also ended Mansfield’s 19-game win streak, which had been the longest active streak in the state.

“We had a normal summer, a normal weight program, a normal training camp where we could meet and walk through and do all the things that you’re supposed to do and we let our kids just be kids this year finally,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain about the growth of his team over the past few months. “I think they’ve grown a lot as people, as men, as students, as players.”










Despite being 3-0, Mansfield has struggled early in games and had to come from behind in each of the past two weeks. The pattern repeated itself on Friday, as the Hornets hurt themselves with penalties, regularly finding themselves in long-yardage situations, missed a field goal, and were unable to finish drives.

Mansfield coach Mike Redding admitted that was too much to overcome against a team as good as Franklin. He said, “So sloppy and I think tonight was the first time that we played young almost the whole night. Tonight it was like we could never be consistent. We just kind of took a step back in terms of execution on both sides of the ball.”

After forcing a three-and-out, thanks to pass breakups by Jase Lyons and Devine Johnson, Franklin took over for its second possession at its own 32. Two plays and a first down later, Arone went deep right down the middle of the field, hitting Shane Kindred (five catches, 106 yards) in stride for a 54-yard touchdown. Garrett Portesi’s extra point made it 7-0.

“You want to always play with a lead,” said Bain. “It gives you a little flexibility, allows you now to panic, and we hit those big plays early. It also put some pressure on them to get out of their comfort zone.”

Another Mansfield three-and-out gave Franklin a chance to double its lead, but Trevor Foley intercepted Arone at the Hornets 39. Mansfield’s offense finally started to get things going.

Conner Zukowski (13-of-27, 141 yards) hit CJ Bell for 27 yards down the sideline to get into the red zone. A sack by Nick Quintina (one of five Franklin sacks in the game) pushed the Hornets back eight yards and Luke Davis made a nice play on the ball to deny a touchdown pass to Foley. The Hornets were forced to try a 32-yard field goal by James Gilleran, but it slid wide right.

Franklin fed off the defensive stand, putting together a 14-play, 84-yard scoring drive. Three times Arone found Kindred for first downs and Mack Gulla (32 carries, 164 yards) had nine rushes on the drive. On third and goal from the eight, Arone was able to buy time in the pocket, eventually rolling out to his right and spying Grayson Hunter open in the back corner of the end zone.

The visitors needed a spark to try and get something going before halftime. On third and seven, Foley made a nice sliding grab to get a first down. A pass interference call helped get Mansfield to the 24 and then Zukowski hit Bell for 21 more to get inside the five. Drew Sacco would get Mansfield on the board, taking a big hit at the goal line but squeezing across to make it 14-7.




Mansfield got the ball coming out of the break with a chance to tie the game, but once again the Hornets struggled to finish off a drive. Sacco broke an 18-yard run around the left side and a screen pass to Rocco Scarpellini went for 23 down to the Franklin 11. That’s where things stalled. Sacco dove on errant toss for a loss of a couple and on third down Jonathan Martins pressured Zukowski into an incompletion. Gilleran nailed a 30-yarder and the lead was down to four.

A mistake on the ensuing kick pinned Franklin back at its own four. It looked like a turning point in the game where, in the past, Mansfield would suddenly turn things around and find a way to win. Instead, the Panthers went 96 yards and extended the lead.

The drive started with an offsides penalty and then eight straight carries by Gulla. The Panthers were controlling the line of scrimmage, winning the battle in the trenches and marching downfield. After converting on third down into Mansfield territory, Franklin went for the home run. Arone threw a strike to Will Tracey on the far sideline and he hauled in the 41-yard score.

Redding said, “Gulla was as advertised. He’s a solid kid, but I think he was faster than we expected. We handled him okay but they did enough to set up the pass game and, when they did throw, they got some huge pass plays out of it. They had a good little combination going.”

A Gulla fumble would give Mansfield one last chance to try and get back into the game with 8:24 to play, but the Franklin defense continued to cover well and to pressure Zukowski. A sack by Jack Marino and another pass breakup by Davis helped the Panthers get the ball back at the Hornets 39.

“We’ve got a lot of really good athletes playing on defense,” said Bain. “They run well and they’re aggressive and they’re smart and we’re able to get in and out of a lot of looks and packages and keep the offense off-balance.”

Three plays later, on fourth and four, Franklin caught Mansfield in a blitz. Martins was free down the seam and Arone picked out his wide open tight end for a back-breaking 34-yard score.

“This a huge moment, Mansfield is a great program, but wins are not our goals,” Bain said when asked about staying focused on the schedule ahead. “It’s an elite result but we can’t forget that reaching our goals every day got us this result, so tomorrow and then Sunday and Monday we’ve got to keep achieving greatness every day.”

For Redding and the Hornets, they face undefeated Milford next, knowing that a second loss would effectively end their chances at claiming another league title. He explained, “I don’t know if anyone can run the table. So, next week is do or die. If we bring our ‘A’ game then we have a shot to win. If we stay sloppy, then we’re going to struggle. But I like our kids’ character and I think we’ll be back next Friday.”

Franklin (4-0) will try to keep its perfect season going next week with a visit from Taunton. Mansfield (3-1) will host Milford at Alumni Field.

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