FRANKLIN, Mass. – An early turnover gave Franklin the ball in Mansfield territory and the Panthers gained a couple of first downs before kicking a field goal to grab the lead. Then the Hornets took control with their defense, not allowing the Panthers another first down until inside five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Using a three down linemen look, Mansfield consistently got into the backfield without needing to blitz and, with a little assist from Mother Nature, disrupted Franklin’s typically potent passing attack on Friday night at Pisini Stadium. The Hornets scored 26 straight points to take control and rolled to a 39-9 victory that keeps them unbeaten in league play and alone atop the division standings.
“We’ve got a very, very good defense,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “They’re as athletic a team as we’re going to play but fortunately we’re pretty loaded in the secondary, but it’s a combination of us playing great ‘D’ and terrible weather conditions for them.
“We can run to the ball, we can cover, we can pressure, you throw in the conditions on top of that and it’s going to be hard for anyone to move the ball against us.”
The Panthers came in knowing that they still had a chance at possibly sharing the league title and the energy on the sideline was palpable. It got even louder when Jack Nally picked off Jack Moussette’s third-down pass on the opening series of the game and gave Franklin the ball at the Mansfield 37.
A 15-yard run by Owen Palmieri got the offense going and then a pair of completions from Thomas Gasbarro (18-30, 125 yards) to Jake Davis (seven catches, 92 yards) got Franklin down to the seven-yard-line. After going nowhere on three plays, Franklin got on the board with a 24-yard Parker Cheuvront kick.
It would be Franklin’s only possession of the half with the wind at its back.
Mansfield’s running attack was better suited for the blustery conditions and the Hornets used Michael DeBolt, Vinnie Holmes, Cincere Gill, and Anthony Comer on the opening drive to get into Franklin territory. A personal foul against the Panthers got the ball as far as the 18, but the Hornets went backwards and had to settle for a 41-yard kick by DeBolt to tie the game early in the second quarter.
The teams traded punts and Mansfield made its field position advantage pay off. Starting at its own 49, Mansfield would use five plays to grab the lead for good. Nick Marciano lined up at quarterback on the drive to give a different look and, on third and 12, he took a direct snap and found a seam on the left side of the line, racing 35 yards for the go-ahead score.
Marciano would also contribute to the game’s turning point. He hustled to down a Gill punt, pinning Franklin back at its own one. The snap flew over the head of Gasbarro and out of the back of the end zone for a safety and a 12-3 Mansfield lead.
After the kick-off, the Hornets started again in great position, at the Franklin 36. Moussette had a pair of completions to Danny Rapoza and one to Joe Cappalletti to get down to the 23. DeBolt took a sweep 10 more yards and, after a spike to stop the clock, Moussette hit Gill in the front corner of the end zone for a 13-yard strike.
Redding said, “It went to a two-score game and then the throw to Cincere when we weren’t even supposed to throw to, Jack saw the one-on-one and took advantage of it. We did a lot of good things keeping them at a healthy distance to keep the lead.”
Mansfield added to its lead in the third quarter, again making good starting field position pay off. The Hornets needed only four plays to score from the Franklin 29, with Holmes (nine carries, 55 yards) finding a hole on the left side and bursting through for a 21-yard touchdown run.
The Franklin passing attack was finding it hard to get going, mostly due to the pressure put on Gasbarro by TJ Guy, Chris Graham, and the Hornets’ defensive line. Mansfield was getting into the backfield and not giving the Panthers time to look downfield, while being able to keep plenty back in coverage in case the ball did get out.
“I don’t think he ever felt comfortable,” Redding explained. “Even when we didn’t bring people, our three guys were getting enough pressure to make him throw a little early. We funneled in six guys in those three spots to stay fresh.”
Franklin coach Eian Bain said, “We had planned to try and get the ball out quick, but it was kind of a tough spot going into the wind. We tried to run the football. I think we only had the first possession and didn’t have the ball with the wind until the fourth quarter.”
A glimmer of hope came with three minutes left in the third. Gasbarro hooked up with Davis on a 41-yard completion, the receiver juggling it before hauling it in and getting to the Mansfield 35. The same combo connected again a few plays later for a 20-yard touchdown.
Momentum was fleeting. Holmes burst through the line to block the extra point and then Gill took the ensuing kick-off 84 yards right up the middle of the field for a back-breaking touchdown.
“We still had our chances,” Bain said, “but we just couldn’t get out of our end of the field tonight and I think that was what was pretty frustrating.”
Ethan Thevenot tacked on a late touchdown for the Hornets with a 65-yard run to extend the final margin.
The Hornets were coming off a big win against King Philip last week, but Redding wasn’t afraid of a letdown from his team. He said, “There was no way we could have a letdown. Our guys knew how good Franklin was, so I think it was maybe best game we could’ve had after KP because we knew they were next in line and we had to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Mansfield (4-1, 3-0) will look to solidify its position atop the Kelley-Rex division and clinch at least a share of back-to-back league crowns when it hosts Oliver Ames on Friday. Franklin (3-2, 1-2) will try to solidify its position in the Div. 1 South bracket when it travels to Attleboro next Saturday.
FRANKLIN, Mass. – The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The King Philip offense has had some success from the new wrinkles it’s added this season, but when it mattered most, the Warriors turned to their signature ground and pound running attack.
Senior Ryan Halliday rushed for 150 yards on 33 carries, including 17 in the fourth quarter, and scored a pair of touchdowns to pace the Warriors to a 26-14 win over rival Franklin, KP’s 16th straight win over the Panthers.
After getting just one touch on each of King Philip’s first two drives of the second half — both quickly ended in punts — and Franklin playing with the momentum after cutting the deficit to six at 20-14, the Warriors turned to Halliday.
The senior back was the focal point in the game-clinching drive that spanned 75 yards over 13 plays, taking over eight minutes off the clock. Halliday ran behind an offensive line featuring senior Nolan Gunning, senior Wyatt Manzi, senior center Sean Piller, junior Pat Zarba, and senior Dan Mullen.
The senior back took 10 consecutive handoffs, picking up four first downs that included a fourth down conversion on 4th and 1 on the Panthers’ 28-yard line after an offside call on the defense.
After sophomore Crawford Cantave burst up the middle for nine years, the Warriors went back to Halliday for back-to-back carries, the latter an 11-yard dart up the middle that put the visitors ahead 26-14 with just 5:23 left. The drive started with 1:34 left in the third quarter.
“We’ve switched up the offense a bit this year and we’ve been passing a lot,” Halliday said. “But in the end, we kind of just played old KP football, played some nice defense and ran the ball.
“I’m gassed but I’m sure my hoggies are gassed too, I give a lot of the credit to them.”
Franklin ran just seven offensive plays after that King Philip drive and was limited to a total of 16 offensive snaps total in the second half.
“It worked for us last year,” said KP head coach Brian Lee of going back to the ground game. “[Franklin] is so explosive on offense, they have so many playmakers that you feel like if keep giving them chances…our defense was hanging in there but we just wanted to slow it down a little bit.”
King Philip’s defense did its part as well, holding the Panthers to 175 yards of total offense, 0-for-5 on third down, forcing three turnovers, and limited Franklin’s high-powered offense to just three plays over 20 yards.
“It’s hard to get pressure on them, the ball is out quick and they have a lot of playmakers,” Lee said. “Overall I’m very pleased with how the defense played.”
The Panthers didn’t help themselves much in the first half, fumbling on the opening possession after a completed pass. A quick three-and-out was followed by another fumble, giving KP great starting position at the Franklin 25-yard line.
It took KP just three plays to take advantage of the good field position as senior quarterback Robbie Jarest (11-for-17, 93 yards passing; 8 carries, 75 yards rushing) hit Brian Wassersug, who broke a tackle and sprinted up the sideline for a 25-yard touchdown. Dylan Conti’s point after attempt was good to put KP up 7-0.
Franklin had a quick response as senior quarterback Thomas Gasbarro (16-for-22,193 yards) scrambled to buy some time before finding a wide-open Cole Lakatos on the sideline, and the senior took it the rest of the way, getting a big block from Jake Davis, for a 51-yard touchdown. Parker Cheuvront connected on his first of two extra points to tie it 7-7.
Jarest got it done with his legs on KP’s ensuing drive, taking a QB option for 48 yards to get the Warriors’ offense going. A pass to Alex Behling got the Warriors into the red zone, and six plays later, Halliday followed Gunning into the end zone for a 1-yard score, converting a 4th and goal situation.
“He’s come a long way, he’s really bought in,” Lee said of Jarest. “For us to be throwing the ball as much, it’s different. But we have a new offensive coordinator [Cory Bailey] and he’s really stretching me to try and do some other things and take more risks. Robert’s making those plays with his arm and his legs, and in the end, I think that makes us more balanced.”
Franklin’s defense came up big two series later, stopping the Warriors on 4th and 1 from the Panthers’ 30-yard line with under a minute to go in the half.
But the momentum didn’t last long as KP’s Shawn Conniff applied pressure, forcing a fumble and sophomore Nick Viscusi came out of the pile with the ball.
Franklin nearly stopped the series when they grabbed an interception, but the Panthers were flagged for roughing the passer and KP kept possession. On the ensuing play, with just eight seconds left on the clock, Jarest delivered, finding an open Andrew McKinney for an 11-yard touchdown with only two seconds left on the clock, giving KP a 20-7 lead at halftime.
“We had the recipe of how to never play American football never again,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain of the first half. “I’m at a loss for words for how to describe that first half really. You can’t beat great teams like KP when you have that many self-inflicted errors. Credit to a good opponent, sometimes they make you do that. We felt comfortable with our game plan but you can’t win putting the ball on the turf.”
Momentum swung in favor of the hosts as Franklin forced a three-and-out on King Philip’s opening drive of the second half. The Panthers’ offense capitalized, driving 77 yards on nine plays to make it a one-score game.
Highlighted by a pass and catch from Gasbarro to Jack Nally, and a fourth down completion between the same pair, Franklin marched down the field to the KP 1-yard line. Sophomore Mack Gulla punched it in from there, making it 20-14 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
Franklin only ran seven more offensive plays the rest of the game.
“They took the fourth quarter,” Bain said. “That’s what they do well, and that’s what we don’t do well. And by that point, they made us one dimensional but we continued to make mistakes. I’m disappointed because I think we can play better and execute better.”
King Philip football (1-0 Hockomock, 3-0 overall) now turns its attention to Mansfield, as the two rivals will do battle on Macktaz Field on Friday night. Franklin (0-1, 2-1) will try to get back into the win column when it travels to Oliver Ames on Saturday.
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Graduation hit both teams’ offense hard. One team lost its all-star, dual-threat quarterback, and the other lost the bulk of its starting receivers, but on Thursday night at Pisini Field both Franklin and Milford showed that they have plenty of firepower remaining.
The two teams combined for 61 points, including 40 in the second half alone, and more than 600 yards through the air. In the end, the Panthers had just enough to hold off the Hawks and pull out a 34-27 victory in the season opener for both programs.
Franklin quarterback Thomas Gasbarro completed 70 percent of his passes (21-of-30) and threw for 293 yard and three touchdowns, while Milford senior Colby Pires completed 57 percent of his throws (12-of-21) for 325 yards and three scores of his own.
It didn’t take the hosts long to get into sync. On its first possession, starting at the Milford 46, Gasbarro hit Jack Nally for an eight-yard completion and then on the second play from scrimmage hit Jake Davis in stride down the far sideline. The senior receiver dove from several yards out and just snuck inside the pylon for a 7-0 lead.
“They’ve got a great connection,” Franklin coach Eian Bain said of Gasbarro and Davis. “Jake is such a terrific athlete and I think that shows in lacrosse and football. Tommy is just a grinder. I don’t think I’ve seen a tougher performance out of a QB. Milford was real creative with their pressures and their scheme defensively. Tommy stood in and he was getting hit on some of those throws.”
Milford’s defense came through with a big stand on Franklin’s next possession. Luke Rosa sacked Gasbarro on fourth and one from the Hawks 29. Milford got the ball and took only five plays to go downfield and tie it. Pires connected with Carter Scudo (four catches for 151 yards) on a 39-yard completion to get to the Franklin 15 and Rosa (16 carries, 87 yards) punched it from there.
On its first drive of the second quarter, Franklin regained the advantage. Gasbarro spread the ball around on the possession, hitting Ben Greco, Owen Palmieri, and Davis. It was Nally that got into the end zone, as Gasbarro threaded the needle on a pass to the front stick, getting the ball just over the corner to make it 14-7.
The Franklin defense held onto the lead with a pair of red zone stops. First, the Panthers were able to cut Pires a yard short on fourth and 11 from the 21 and then, following a punt that gave Milford the ball back in great field position, the Hawks got as close as the six only for Austin Jordan to end the half with a sack of Pires.
Franklin nearly extended its lead on the first drive of the third quarter, but Maxwell Martin made a great play to rip the ball out of the hands of Matt Lazarek for an interception in the end zone. Milford moved the ball out to midfield but there was controversy as the ball came loose on a jet sweep and Franklin recovered. The Hawks claimed it was a pass, not a hand-off, but the officials ruled it a fumble and the Panthers took over.
It became a bigger decision eight plays later when the Panthers punched it in for a two-score lead. Again, it was Gasbarro to Davis (eight catches, 166 yards), matching the receiver’s jersey number with a 23-yard strike. Although the extra point was no good after a low snap, the Panthers led 20-7.
That margin lasted about two minutes. On third and eight from his own 16, Pires found Scudo, who broke free of a tackle and got 28 yards. Then Pires slipped a pass to Dan Farrell over the middle and he found a seam for a 56-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Fourteen seconds later, the stunned home crowd was right back on its feet.
On the ensuing kick, senior Cole Lakatos, a transfer from Maryland, stepped up to grab the bouncing ball at the 27, found a hole on the left side, and raced 73 yards for his first Franklin touchdown. “Lakatos is brand new, but he’s a football dude and football dudes can play,” said Bain.
While a special teams score could’ve been a beak breaker, the Hawks refused to go away quietly. A 10-play, 78-yard drive got them back within one score. Rosa set up the eventual score with a 22-yard burst down to the Franklin 15. Three plays and one penalty later, on third and 21, Pires threw one up for Scudo on the near sideline and the junior managed to come down with it just in bounds to make it 27-20.
“He’s electric,” Milford coach Anthony Vizakis said of Scudo. “He’s got the speed, he’s got the hands, and we’re really excited to see what he’s going to do.”
When asked if he was surprised at how quickly Pires has gelled with a new set of receivers, Vizakis replied, “They’ve been working all summer. He’s got those guys in the morning working and they’re doing extra stuff after practice, so it didn’t really surprise me. I think we’re only going to get better from here.”
The game settled down for a couple minutes as the teams managed to go just about eight minutes without getting into the end zone. Franklin appeared to put the game away with a 11-play, 71-yard drive that chewed up several minutes off the clock. Sophomore Mack Gulla opened his account for the Panthers when he burst through the line for a four-yard score.
Gasbarro showed off his ability to make plays on the run, keeping a couple of plays alive, taking hits, and managing to find open receivers to keep the drive alive.
“We try to work the scramble drill when we can, but a lot of that is just natural,” said Bain. “He did one that he found Jake Davis near the end there and I’m thinking we’re getting the sack and maybe we’re calling something safe on the next call and punting the ball.”
It seemed like the game was finally out of reach, but appearances can be deceiving. Milford came right back down the field, going 80 yards in only two plays, to make it a one-score game again and give themselves a shot at an onside kick. Pires connected with Scudo for 58 yards to get things started and then with Matt Varteresian for 22 and the score.
“Our kids don’t quit,” said Vizakis. “They play right to the end. We’re training them to play 48 minutes of football now and they played every single play. I’m really proud of the way that they played.”
Franklin managed to collect the onside kick with two minutes left, run out the clock, and finally take a breath.
The Panthers (1-0) will travel to Andover next Saturday, while Milford (0-1) will host Attleboro.
Attleboro got off to a strong start to the 2018 season, jumping out to a 4-1 record with its only loss coming against eventual D2 South champ King Philip, and allowing only five points per game. But a last-minute loss in a shootout against Mansfield and a fourth quarter comeback by Franklin the following week sparked a six-game losing streak to close out the season. The Bombardiers come into 2019 looking to turn that around and use its experience to make a run at the Kelley-Rex title.
Offensively, the Bombardiers will be led by senior quarterback Jason Weir. At a bruising 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Weir is a punishing runner and has a big arm to make plays downfield in the passing game. Junior Justin Daniels will be the starting tailback with senior Isaac Guidel and a big offensive line trying to open holes for the running game, led by senior Qualeem Charles (6-foot-5 and 325 pounds), who has a host of colleges recruiting him. Senior Ethan Cameron will provide a weapon on the outside, while junior Michael Strachan offers another threat over the middle from his tight end position.
Charles will dominate the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball as well, but the strength of the Attleboro defense will be its experienced linebacker corps. Strachan, a three-year starter who is getting looks from some Div. I colleges, will be joined by Guidel and senior Nolan Jaeger. Weir will play strong safety, after two seasons at defensive end, and will be counted on to step in to help stop the run. Cameron will be at free safety and giving the cornerbacks help over the middle. Attleboro has a large contingent of sophomores who could step in to contribute right away, including Alvin Harrison, Chris Leonardo, Adam Pearlstein, and Freddy Wheaton.
Attleboro coach Mike Strachan said, “We are looking forward to the season getting underway and with the leadership of our four captains we are looking to be explosive on offense and very physical defensively. The Hockomock League is one of the best leagues in the state with some great teams. We will have to play our very best each week if we are going to compete at a high level.”
Franklin nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the 2018 season when the Panthers forced perennial power Xaverian to double overtime in the Div. 1 South semifinal. It was a big step forward for the program and head coach Eian Bain hopes it will be a building block for even more success in 2019.
Offensively, the graduation of quarterback Nick Gordon will be a big loss for the Panthers but senior Thomas Gasbarro saw a lot of time under center last year and he will step in and take the starting job. Gasbarro will have plenty of weapons to choose from, as the Panthers have plenty of speedy, athletic players in the skill positions. Senior Jack Nally is a threat out of the backfield or split out wide and his classmate Jake Davis is a solid receiver over the middle or downfield. Senior Matt Lazarek is a potential target from the tight end position and Owen Palmieri is another dangerous ball carrier. Junior Parker Cheuvront emerged last season as one of the top kickers in the Hock and is another weapon that the Panthers can count on if a drive does stall.
The defense is an experienced group. Senior Evan Wertz has been one of the league’s tackle leaders for the past two seasons and he is the team’s top playmaker from his linebacker position. Nally, Davis, Palmieri, and senior Ben Greco give Franklin a tough secondary to throw against and all are capable of coming up with the big turnover to get the ball back in the hands of the offense. Luke Cunningham and Dom Natale will give the Panthers strength at the line of scrimmage.
“The challenge for this group is to continue to improve and build the program,” said Bain. “They need to add their own chapter and their own stamp on the program. We have the right people in the room. We need to play with the swagger and confidence of a contender, but be humble in our preparation. If we stay true to the process, we have great potential.”
Despite not winning the league title last year, the target on King Philip’s back continues to grow.
The Warriors might have missed out on the Kelley-Rex crown, but they won their third straight sectional title and made their this straight appearance in the state final, this time falling to North Andover (6-0). While this year’s senior class knows other than Super Bowl appearances, head coach Brian Lee says this group is focused on taking it one game, starting with the opener against North Attleboro. KP has a strong core of players back on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Robbie Jarest and running back Ryan Halliday. Both players had really strong junior seasons and should be the leaders of the group this year. The offensive line includes returners Nolan Gunning (left tackle), Sean Piller (center), and Pat Zarba (right guard) while Wyatt Manzi, Jack Collentro, and Griffin MacKay are in the mix to fill the remaining spots. Having an experienced line bodes well for the KP run game that will heavily feature Ryan Halliday plus fullback Shawn Conniff and halfbacks Sam Callanan and Crawford Cantave.
The Warriors’ defense has been one of the best units in the state in recent years, and while the expectations remain high for the group, there will be a lot of new faces. KP graduated its entire secondary so the Warriors are turning to senior Brian Wasserug and Cantave, a sophomore, to take on starting spots. Halliday and Callanan, both captains, will handle outside linebacker duties with Mike Malatesta in the mix for the middle spot. Gunning and Manzi will also see action on the defensive line alongside Conniff. Dillon Conti takes over kicking duties for the departed Cole Baker.
“These kids know how much work, how much effort it takes to get where we want to be,” Lee said. “But it’s all about going game by game, starting this week with a team [North Attleboro] that we have a ton of respect for.”
Looking at the long list of returning players, it is no surprise that expectations around Alumni Field are sky high this fall. Mansfield enters the season with experience at just about every position and with the bitter taste of last year’s South final loss to rival King Philip still stinging. Despite a rash of injuries that forced running back Aidan Sacco to play as an emergency quarterback for most of the season, Mansfield still won a league title and this year’s team may be even more talented, which has ramped up the hype and put the target squarely on the Hornets’ backs.
The line of scrimmage will be a strength for the Hornets on the offensive side of the ball, as they return four of five starters from last year’s unit that allowed the team to rush for more than 2,600 yards. Senior Jason Comeau and reigning HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year TJ Guy will be two key cogs in the line, while senior Noah Jellenik and junior Jake McCoy are also back. Senior Andrew Cowles will step into the fifth spot. They will seek to protect senior quarterback Jack Moussette, who had a cameo under center last year before an injury forced him to miss the bulk of the season. The skill positions will be loaded with athletes. Cincere Gill had a breakout sophomore season at running back and senior Nick Marciano is back after an injury cut short his junior season. Senior Michael DeBolt was one of the top kickers in the league but also gives Mansfield another weapon on the edges, while senior Vinnie Holmes adds a bruising presence coming out of the backfield.
Holmes is the headliner on the defensive side of the ball. Along with fellow linebackers Marciano, DeBolt, and senior Joe Plath, Holmes will be expected to make big plays all over the field. The defensive line will be strong with three returning players: senior Chris Graham, McCoy, and Guy. Junior Nico Holmes will step in as the fourth man on the line. Much like on offense, speed will be a strength and the secondary is loaded with playmakers, including Gill, junior Matt Boen, and senior Makhi Baskin.
“We have a bunch of experience all over the field, but we really have to develop depth with the second team to handle a tough schedule and challenges every week,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “This is one of the fastest group of skill guys we’ve ever had and we could be explosive on offense. We lack a little size up front on defense, but we should be able to overcome that by flying around with pursuit to the ball with our speed.”
There was no question that 2018 was a tough season for the Tigers. Oliver Ames lost by a point in the season opener to Concord-Carlisle and didn’t earn its only win until the penultimate game against Durfee. The Tigers will hope to turn things around quickly with an infusion of young talent under new head coach Ed DeWitt.
On offense, the players will be learning a new system, but there is experience in the backfield to try and implement different schemes. Senior running back Nathan Cabral figures to see plenty of the ball again this year after his breakout junior season in which he ran for more than 1,100 yards. He will be joined by senior quarterback Cam Perron and senior running back Sam Stevens to give the Tigers a strong core. Seniors Harrison Webster and Adam Cann (who is coming off an injury) will give Perron weapons to utilize on the outside.
There will be a lot of new faces on the defensive side, as DeWitt can call on three or four returning starters and will need a number of players to provide contributions on both sides of the ball. The linebacking corps was particularly hit by graduations, although senior Tyler Campbell can provide some experience and leadership in that position and Cabral brings athleticism to the role. Max Anderson and Anthony DeCosta will be important at the line of scrimmage, while Stevens will step into the secondary along with senior corner Nick Gillis and junior corner Jadon Ricci.
“The competition in camp has been great,” DeWitt said. “The players have committed to the program and bought into the day to day work that we need to do. We are focusing on making sure we treat every day as an opportunity to improve and string together some positive momentum.”
The Tigers started last season with three straight wins and then finished with three wins in their final four games to end 2018 with a winning record. Taunton enters this fall with a relatively inexperienced roster, but one that is looking to continue the momentum in the program and try to push forward so it can challenge the top teams in the Kelley-Rex division.
One of the biggest changes for the Tigers will be under center. Noah Leonard was the starter for three seasons, but junior Danny MacDougall will take over this year. MacDougall will also see time at receiver to try and take advantage of his athleticism. He will be joined in the backfield by classmates Bretton Heggs and Josh Lopes, who both got time at running back as sophomores. Juniors Kedrick Santos and Devante McPhail will be the primary weapons at receiver. Up front, the Tigers have decent size. Senior Mike Murray will be at center, senior Hussein Kassab at one tackle, junior Marquis Dalomba at the other tackle, and junior Jordan Manning at guard.
Similar to the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers lack experience on defense and are still learning the schemes, but physical scrimmages have helped prepare them for the season. Senior Woudanly Danger is a force at the line of scrimmage and will require attention from opponents and senior Jackson Wellman has been one of the team’s top tacklers from linebacker. Junior defensive end Deandre McPhail adds to the strength of the line. Senior Curt Marshall and MacDougall will be the safeties and senior Cam Carroca will be at corner.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and trying to get better and to be competitive in the league,” said Taunton coach Brad Sidwell. “We’re definitely inexperienced, but physically we have guys who can do it and we need to coach them up so they’ll be ready to go once the season gets started.”
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Throughout the regular season, the headlines have focused on Franklin’s high-power offense and all of the different skill guys it uses.
In the first round of the Division 1 South tournament, the Panthers’ defense took center stage.
#4 Franklin’s defense prevented #5 Brockton from getting in the end zone, adjusted to limit the Boxers’ run game, came away with three interceptions and anchored the Panthers to a 26-3 win.
After Brockton’s offense combined for 97 yards and three points on its first two drives of the game, the Panthers’ defense limited the Boxers to just 66 yards the rest of the way. Of Brockton’s final seven drives, three ended with interceptions, one with a safety, and two turnover on downs.
“Our defense has been pretty good all year in all of our wins,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain. “It’s been pretty solid all year and in the second half, they won us that game. They put the nail in the coffin and sealed it for us.
“I love coaching and all that but the kids do all the work. From day one, they bought in. We’ve taken our bumps and we’ve grinded along the way but these guys earned everything they’ve gotten so far. I think we have great athletes but these guys have everything in their power to develop as people and as football players. That’s really shown this year.”
Brockton’s offense had its lone success of the first two drives of the game. After a good return, the Boxers offense quickly marched 47 yards — all on the ground — into the Franklin red zone on the first drive of the game. But the visitors couldn’t convert as Franklin’s Nolan McLaney and Austin Jordan combined for a tackle for loss on second down, and Brockton fumbled on third, meaning they had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Carlens Jean.
It took Franklin just over two minutes to respond, finding the end zone in just six plays on its first drive of the game. Junior quarterback Nick Gordon (11/16, 178 yards, two touchdowns) converted a third down by finding junior Jake Davis up the seam for a 36-yard gain – the only stopping him from going the distance was his own momentum.
After two plays without a gain, Franklin converted another third down, this time Gordon finding a streaking Jack Nally up the middle for a 32-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead with 2:08 left in the first quarter.
The Boxers nearly struck back with an immediate response of their own. Brockton junior running back Ahmik Watterson broke free for a 50-yard scamper to get inside the Franklin 10-yard line. Another run from Watterson put the ball at the 1-yard line. Franklin’s defense came up with a key stop and Brockton was whistled for a dead fall foul, pushing them back to the 15-yard line.
Two plays later, Jean’s 25-yard field goal attempt was just wide left and Franklin’s offense took over.
“They had a pretty cool set early where they where they were unbalanced one way with a power-I going the opposite,” Bain said of Brockton’s early running success. “You have to adjust the front while also maintain some integrity on the back and be gap sound. Once we settled down we felt OK.”
The Panthers marched up field, going 74 yards to get into scoring territory at the Brockton 6-yard line. The drive was highlighted by a 27-yard catch from Sean Leonard and a terrific leaping 30-yard catch from Ryan Driscoll on third down. But Brockton’s defense was up to the task, not letting Franklin get any closer.
The Panthers settled for a 23-yard field goal from Parker Chevrant and a 10-7 advantage with 6:55 to play in the second quarter.
Although Brockton’s defense just had a big stop to get some momentum, Franklin’s defense stole it right back. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Brockton quarterback Michael Norman was intercepted by Driscoll near midfield and he returned it all the way into the red zone at the 18-yard line.
Four plays later, on fourth and 2 from the 10-yard line, Bain elected to go for it and Gordon linked up with Leonard, who just got his feet down, in the end zone for a 17-3 advantage with 4:29 left in the first half.
“Any game you can really boil it down to about a half dozen moments and for us, that stretch was certainly one of them,” Bain said. “We’ve put a lot of stock in our kids and we really trust them. We went up to the line with a dummy call, we weren’t going to run a play but Leonard is a three-year guy, Gordon has stepped in the clutch all year so we let them do their thing.”
Brockton started its drive inside its own 20-yard line and junior linebacker Evan Wertz made a big tackle on third down to force the Boxers to punt. But the snap sailed high on the punter, and by the time he was able to pick it up he stepped out of bounds in the back of the end zone while under pressure from McLaney, resulting in a safety and a 19-3 lead for the Panthers.
Franklin had a chance to add onto that lead before half, getting to the Brockton 30-yard line on the ensuing drive but a fumble ended the drive.
Brockton moved 30 yards to get into Franklin territory in the final minute of the first half but Owen Palmieri came away with an interception to send the teams into the locker rooms for half.
“For us, our strength is our back end, our strength is our athletes,” Bain said. “I think we have very good linemen but we’re always going to be outsized, that just the way it is here. But we’re fast and athletic, so we if we can get a team to play to our strengths, we’re in a better spot. We wanted to make them throw it some and get out of their comfort zone.”
The second half featured a battle of ground games trying to solve two strong defensive fronts. Brockton had 20 plays in the second half with a total of 29 yards.
Franklin’s offense didn’t fare much better as it tried to get its ground game going and keep the ball away from the Boxers. The Panthers offense had 30 plays for a total of 57 yards.
“We like we had some opportunities to run, that was what they were giving us,” Bain said of keeping the ball on the ground for the majority of plays in the second half. “We didn’t want to give them a short field or anything. They have the athletes to get back in the game in one strike. I don’t want to say we were conservative, we truly believe they were the right play calls but hopefully we can have some more success on the ground next week.
The big play of the second half came when Franklin’s defense once again thwarted the Boxers trying to throw the ball. Midway through the fourth quarter, a sack from senior Adam McMorrow forced the Boxers into a 3rd and 15 scenario inside their own 20 yard line.
Norman tried to link up with a receiver down field but McLaney stepped in front for the interception. The senior returned it 26 yards to the 1-yard line, setting the Panther offense up.
After being stuffed on the first two tries on QB sneaks, Gordon took the next snap in shotgun and pushed his way up the middle for a 26-3 lead with 5:39 to play.
Franklin football (6-2) advances to the D1 South Semifinal and will take on top-seeded Xaverian (6-1) on Friday night at 7:00 in Westwood. The Hawks beat BC High 17-0 in the opening round.
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.
WRENTHAM, Mass. – Coming off a difficult, emotional, last minute loss to Mansfield in last week’s title showdown, there was concern that King Philip may have a letdown against Thanksgiving Day rival Franklin. Both teams came into week five with one league loss and a setback on Friday night at Macktaz Field would effectively end that team’s chances of a league title this season.
The Warriors set aside any worries about the impact of last week’s loss by jumping out to an early lead and then put the Panthers away in the second half with 21 unanswered points.
KP beat Franklin 35-14 behind three touchdown passes from junior quarterback Robbie Jarest to earn its 13th straight victory in this series dating back to Thanksgiving 2009 and to stay just one game back of Mansfield in the division standings.
“I was definitely a little nervous about that,” KP coach Brian Lee said. “Our guys were talking about our maturity level and our compete level and [the Mansfield loss] was disappointing…but you’ve got to keep looking forward. You’ve got to think about playoffs and keep your eyes on a new direction.”
For Panthers coach Eian Bain, this was a missed opportunity for his team to earn that elusive marquee win against one of the league’s perennial powers.
“Our guys work hard,” Bain said. “But, it’s three years of working hard and not quitting and, eventually, we need to take the next step as a program and when that happens it’s going to be up to our team. King Philip isn’t getting off the pyramid and Mansfield’s not stepping off to give it to us, we need to go get it.”
The Warriors wasted no time in setting aside the disappointment of last week, driving 65 yards on eight plays on the opening possession of the game to take the lead.
Helped by a personal foul call against the Panthers and 26 yards on the ground from Ryan Halliday (25 carries, 134 yards), KP got the ball inside the red zone. Jarest (6-13, 94 yards) finished the drive by hitting Timmy Nault, who ran an angled route across the middle of the Panthers’ secondary, for an 18-yard score.
The KP defense was typically aggressive and allowed only one first down on Franklin’s first two possessions. Jack Webster’s sack pushed the Panthers back inside their own 10 and KP took advantage of solid starting field position to double the lead.
Halliday went up the middle for 21 yards on a draw that put the ball at the Franklin 28. Two plays later, on third and 10, Jarest again found the open receiver, connecting with Deric Casado for a 28-yard strike and a 14-0 lead.
“Every week he gets a little better,” said Lee about Jarest. “He gets a little crazy at times, but you saw it tonight, we’re feeling a little more comfortable with him, having more trust in him, and that’s only going to make our offense better. Our receivers are coming along too.”
Franklin got a much-needed response on its next drive. After an 11-yard run by Owen Palmieri, a 15-yard pass interference call moved the ball down to the KP 32-yard-line. A pair of Webster tackles at the line of scrimmage and an incomplete pass left Franklin facing fourth and nine, but Nick Gordon was able to hit Sean Leonard for 28 yards down to the three. Three plays later Gordon punched it in from a yard out.
KP got the ball back with 5:38 left in the half at its own 19. The Warriors proceeded to use up all but seven seconds of the quarter and got as far as the Franklin 21, but were forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal attempt from Cole Baker. The kick was on line but fell just a yard short and the score remained 14-7 at the break.
The Panthers went into halftime with the momentum, but KP turned that around quickly in the third quarter. The Warriors forced a three-and-out, scored a touchdown, forced a fumble and added another score to break the contest wide open in a little more than six minutes of game time.
“I felt like they had all the mojo,” said Lee. “They held us down there and I felt like, okay we’re in a game here. Now you’ve got to withstand that burst and they did that. They had a good response, so I was pleased.”
Jack Norgren returned the Franklin punt to the Panthers’ 47. From there, Halliday carried the ball five times for 22 yards. On first down from the 25, Jarest tossed his third score of the night, finding David Morganelli on a go-route down the left sideline to extend the lead back to two scores.
The Warriors pinned Franklin back at its own 13 on the ensuing kick-off and then two plays later Max Armour and Halliday forced a fumble when Gordon tried a keeper up the middle. Morganelli recovered the loose ball at the 12. On the next play Halliday, with a giant push from his offensive line, carried a pile of players into the end zone to make it 28-7.
Casado’s solid coverage on Leonard forced a turnover on downs inside the KP 30 on Franklin’s next possession and the Warriors turned it into another score. Sam Callanan (five carries, 46 yards) gave Halliday a rest and took the bulk of the plays on the drive. He found a seam on a toss to the left and was able to scamper home with a 12-yard rush that made it 35-7 with eight minutes remaining.
Gordon (5-13, 138 yards) did get the Panthers a consolation score just a minute later on an 84-yard pass to Ryan Driscoll, who showed off his speed in out-running the KP secondary from one sideline to the opposite corner. But, Nault intercepted a Gordon pass on the next possession to cap off an impressive second half display from the Warriors.
“It was Mansfield all over again,” Bain reflected. “There were moments where we could’ve made a play or two and maybe we don’t win but it’s a different game. We’ve got to turn it around because we’ve got two more left and if we want a shot at hosting a playoff game, then we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
King Philip (3-2, 2-1) will travel to Muscato Stadium to take on Oliver Ames next week, while Franklin (3-2, 1-2) will try to bounce back at Aleixo Tiger Stadium against Taunton.
MANSFIELD, Mass. – Mansfield started Friday night’s league-opener at Alumni Field with back-up quarterback Jack Mousette under center. He lasted two series before an injury, following a 38-yard run, sent him to the sidelines for the rest of the night. With starter Damani Scott unavailable and Mousette on the bench with his arm wrapped in ice, the Hornets turned to senior Aidan Sacco to be the emergency QB.
Sacco only threw five times in the game, but he completed three of those passes for 42 yards and the Mansfield defense clamped down, forcing three turnovers in the second half and shutting Franklin out until the final two minutes of a 24-6 victory.
“It’s a gutsy win,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “Jack comes in and did a nice job running the ball but the danger doing that is your QB is going to run and get hit and he just landed funny. Aidan Sacco came in…he’s never played quarterback in his life and he leads us to a win against a good football team, so we’ll take it.”
Franklin started the season 2-0 for the first time since 2012 and was looking for its first win against Mansfield since its unbeaten 2009 season. The Panthers moved the ball well, but failed to finish drives, twice reaching the red zone but both times coming away with no points.
“It was one of those night where try as we may, we did everything wrong that we could’ve from bad special teams snap, we dropped two touchdowns, every time they put the ball on the ground they got it back” Franklin coach Eian Bain said. “I even think we executed, we just didn’t finish the big plays.”
The Panthers drove all the way to the Mansfield 15-yard-line on their opening possession. Junior Thomas Gasbarro completed two of his three passes, both to Sean Leonard (six catches, 82 yards), but a draw play at the 19 lost six yards and eventually his keeper on fourth and 15 only gained nine to end the drive.
Mansfield made quick work of an 85-yard drive, needing only four plays, to take the lead, but in the process lost its starting quarterback. After Nick Marciano broke free on the right side for a 28-yard gain out to the 43, Mousette raced for 38 yards down to the Franklin 19 but was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury. Two plays later, Sacco went up the middle for a 14-yard score.
Sacco also fielded punts and his 29-yard return gave the Hornets the ball back at the Franklin 41. Junior Vinnie Holmes (11 carries, 65 yards) gained 27 yards on two carries to get the ball all the way to the Panthers 12, but a fumble on the next hand-off forced Sacco to retreat 18 yards. Two plays later, Michael DeBolt, who was also 3-for-3 on extra points, booted a 35-yard kick for a 10-0 lead.
Franklin’s offense went right back to work on its next possession. Senior Nick Gordon (10-23, 174 yards) was the new quarterback and he found Leonard twice in a row for 43 yards down to the Mansfield 17. On third and seven from the 14, Gordon scrambled and his pass to Ryan Driscoll in the back of the end zone was inches over the receiver’s head. The Panthers settled for a field goal attempt but Parker Chevrant’s kick was wide right from 30 yards.
Gasbarro intercepted a Sacco pass to end the next Hornets drive, but he slipped on the return and couldn’t gain extra yards after the turnover. Franklin was forced to punt from its own 32, but a high snap rushed the play and it was sliced out of bounds just six yards downfield.
Mansfield made the great starting field position count to add a score before the break. After an incomplete pass, Sacco hit Holmes in the flat for a 28-yard gain. Sacco was unable to handle the next shotgun snap but Holmes was able to scoop the loose ball and gain eight yards. On the next play, he bulldozed for two more and a three-score lead.
Redding said of the late touchdown to end the first half, “That was big. You outplay them but it’s only 10 and you give them the ball to start the half and they score and it’s a whole different game. Then we thought, if we can win the third quarter, which it ended up 0-0, as long as we didn’t let them get back to two scores.”
The third quarter was marred by turnovers by both teams. Gordon was intercepted by Cincere Gill and then sacked by Chris Copponi and Daenin Walker to end a possession. Austin Jordan recovered a Mansfield fumble to get it back for the Panthers but only three plays later the Panthers put the ball on the ground and Jack Barry recovered.
“We do a pretty good regrouping, but I think we pressed a little on the first drive coming out,” said Bain. “Then we moved the ball again and we moved the ball again, but we all took turns tonight, coaches included, making the little mistakes. When you play the best, you can’t play anything but your best and we weren’t at our best tonight.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Walker forced another fumble that was recovered by Copponi at midfield. Gill (eight carries, 95 yards) gained four yards on first down and then burst through the right side of the line and raced 46 yards for the touchdown that sealed the win.
The Panthers didn’t give up and responded in just four plays. Gordon hit Driscoll on a go route down the near sideline that made sure there wouldn’t be a shutout. The two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete.
Mansfield came away with a win, but the Hornets will now head into a showdown with two-time defending league champion King Philip with a third-string quarterback at the helm. According to Redding, the Hornets will be relying even more on their defense to come through.
“We had to get this one,” Redding admitted. “We lose this with a quarterback going down, now we’re fighting a losing battle. Now, Aidan’s got some confidence playing in a game. Our guys will be ready for next Friday. They’ve had our number the last few years and we’ll be ready to play.”
Mansfield (2-1, 1-0) will host King Philip at Alumni Field on Friday night, while Franklin (2-1, 0-1) will try to bounce back right away when Oliver Ames visits Pisini Field.
MILFORD, Mass. – On its opening three possessions of the game, Franklin managed about 30 yards of offense and turned the ball over twice. But the Panthers got one more chance to break the scoreless deadlock before halftime and made it count, scoring on the final play of the second quarter.
The momentum carried over into the second half, as Franklin would score on both of its possessions in the third quarter to break Friday night’s rivalry game with Milford wide open and pull away for a 21-0 victory that sends the Panthers into league play with a 2-0 record.
“It’s a big win for us,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “This is a tough place to play. To get out of here 2-0, and more importantly 1-0 this week and focused on this task, we’re going to enjoy it for 24 hours.”
The game did not get off to a start that either team would have hoped for, with turnovers on the opening two plays. Shapel Feaster fumbled on the first play from scrimmage for the Hawks, but he made up for it on defense by forcing a Jack Nally fumble at the one-yard-line on Franklin’s first play.
Both defenses were in control for most of the opening half.
A Brendan White sack of Franklin starting quarterback Thomas Gasbarro ended one drive and Ryan Pearl picked off a pass by Nick Gordon, Franklin’s second quarterback, to end another. Milford was trying to mix things up, spreading out the Panthers on one play and bunching up on a power set on another, but the Panthers defense stood tall.
With under two minutes remaining in the half, Franklin took possession at its own 42. Gordon (6-11, 147 yards) hit Nally down the sideline for 21 yards and then found Ryan Driscoll (four catches, 115 yards) for nine yards to the Milford 28.
After an incomplete pass, Franklin had eight seconds left in the quarter. Gordon dropped back and again looked down the far sideline where Driscoll had gotten open in between two defensive backs for the game’s opening score.
Milford coach Anthony Vizakis admitted that it was a deflating moment for his team. He said, “It was because they knew we were close to going in with a 0-0 ballgame and that’s a totally different mentality. It’s a totally different feeling. I thought we came out [for the second half] with a little energy but it just wasn’t enough for tonight.”
The Panthers took control with the opening possession of the second half, marching 75 yards on seven plays to make it a two-score game. Gordon again hit Driscoll on a go-route down the sideline for 38 yards into Milford territory and then found Will Davis for another 11 yards. Three plays, including two Gordon keepers, later, Gordon was able to scramble and keep a play alive before finding a seam for a seven-yard score.
The Milford offense had to try and speed up, focusing on the spread formation and the passing game to try and cut into the lead, but that also played right into the strength of the Franklin defense – its secondary.
“With a two touchdown lead, you sort of take war off the table,” said Bain about Milford’s run-first set. “Our strength of the defense is our speed…whereas the war is what they do best and they can dictate to an opponent. To get them out of that was a big step in the second half.”
Milford’s junior quarterback Colby Pires completed three of his four passes in the first half, but with the Panthers dropping back into coverage then he was only able to complete two of 14 passes in the second half. Driscoll and Nally both broke up passes in coverage and Nolan McLaney was able to bat a pass down at the line of scrimmage.
“We had the clock against us and sometimes when you’re down two scores you try to speed things up a little bit,” Vizakis explained. “It was frustrating because we just couldn’t hit anything over the top.”
Franklin’s success defending the pass was largely done without getting much pressure on Pires. Adam McMorrow had the only sack of the game for the Panthers and it came on Milford’s possession.
Franklin made it three straight possessions with a touchdown and sealed the win before the end of the third quarter. The Panthers went 57 yards on 11 plays, including a 40-yard pass from Gordon to Driscoll. On third and goal from the six, Gordon took a keeper to the left side and snuck inside the pylon with a leap over the goal line.
Bain said, “We do spend some time talking about scramble drill and Nick’s able to that. It was a great night for the boys.”
“They run the spread very well,” Vizakis said. “Their quarterback runs the ball very well and we’ve just got to stay in our assignments, stay disciplined.”
Franklin (2-0) will open Kelley-Rex division play next Friday night at Alumni Field against Mansfield. Milford (0-2) will look for its first win when it starts Davenport division play with a visit from Canton.
Injuries hampered Attleboro right from the start of the 2017 season, but the 2018 Bombardiers are healthy and hoping for a big turnaround this fall to compete with the top teams in the Kelley-Rex division and make a return to the postseason.
The graduation of quarterback Cam Furtado is a significant loss on offense, but the Bombardiers will hand the ball to junior Jason Weir, who has a big arm and a lot of potential at the QB position. Size and strength won’t be a problem for Weir, who played defensive end as a sophomore. Seniors Justin Cote and Alex Rodriguez will be the primary backs for Attleboro this year and give the Bombardiers dynamic weapons out of the backfield. The offensive line is bolstered by 6-foot-6, 290-pound junior Qualeem Charles and 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior Nick Evans. At 6-foot-3, junior Nolan Jaeger will be a weapon at receiver along with senior Josh Therrien and sophomore tight end Michael Strachan.
Evans battled injuries at the start of last season, but he is one of the top defensive linemen in the league and is drawing Div. I college offers. Attleboro will be a tough team to run against this season with Evans on the end and Charles (who is also getting DI looks) and 6-foot-3, 365-pound senior Eddie Porreca on the inside. Strachan and junior Isaac Gudiel will be starting at inside linebacker, while senior Desmond Woodson will be starting on the outside. Therrien is capable of making plays downfield at his free safety position and will be the leader of the secondary.
“I am looking forward to the 2018 season,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “We have a strong senior class and we have strong leadership on our football team. Our team worked out hard in the off-season and I am looking forward to that hard work paying off this season.”
Third-year head coach Eian Bain is optimistic about the 2018 season, and the long list of players returning with plenty of experience is a big reason why. The Panthers have over a dozen players back that started or saw significant time on offense and the same goes for the defense, include a very seasoned secondary.
Franklin must replace three-year starter Jake Noviello at quarterback but Bain is confident that a healthy competition between senior Nick Gordon and junior Thomas Gasbarro will result in a strong option starting under center for the opening week. While Franklin has to replace its quarterback, they return a ton of skill players on offense including senior tight end Sean Leonard, who hauled in a league-best eight touchdown passes last season. Ryan Driscoll (five touchdowns), Jack Nally, Will Davis, and Jake Davis will fill out the receiving corps while Sean Hofferty and Owen Palmieri man the backfield. Seniors Riley Downing and Liam Arsenault are experienced and will anchor the offensive line.
Junior Evan Wertz will be a key piece in the middle of the Panthers’ defense after having a breakout campaign last year with nearly 100 tackles from his linebacker spot. Senior Spencer Briggs and sophomore Alex Honor will also see time at linebacker while Downing is joined by Jack Jarosz, Dom Natale, and Keenan Bassma on the defensive line. The Panthers boast a seasoned secondary with Nolan McLaney and Driscoll both back, along with Palmieri, Jake Davis, and both Gasbarro and Gordon.
“We have experience on both sides of the ball,” Bain said. “It is a cohesive group that has been working hard together for our first two years and they are eager to the turn the corner with our program.”
The target on King Philip’s back is bigger than ever as the Warriors pulled off a second straight undefeated season and another state championship.
So how will head coach Brian Lee get this year’s team to focus on 2018 and not the past two seasons?
“The work and preparation have been the same but now it’s up to this season class to leave their legacy,” Lee said. “The previous two classes had their moments, now it’s up to these seniors to make their own moment. This team will go as far as these seniors lead them.”
The seniors will have plenty of opportunities to make their mark because King Philip doesn’t have a returning starter on offense. The Warriors need to replace quarterback Brendan Lydon, who didn’t lose a game as a starter. Junior Robbie Jarest looks poised to take over under center this season. While it isn’t a lot of experience, Jarest took over in the second half of the state final after Lydon got hurt and helped the Warriors finish off Lincoln-Sudbury. The toughest shoes to fill will be those of Shane Frommer, who will go down as one of the best players in KP history.
Junior Ryan Halliday will be the feature back while Aidan Bender and Sam Callanan will be in the mix as well. Jack Webster and Jack Collentro will be keys to the offense from the fullback position. Senior Terrell Jacobs Bastons has some experience on both sides of the ball and will likely start at guard while classmate Josh Fice will fill in the other guard spot. Junior Nolan Gunning is likely to get a starting spot as well, either at center or tackle.
Defense has been a staple for the Warriors throughout their successful run over the last couple of years, and that’s what KP will count on again this season. The strength will come from the linebackers with Webster back in an outside spot and Max Armour returning in the middle. Jacobs Bastons will be a big presence in the middle of the defensive line while the secondary will have familiar faces back in Aidan Bender, Timmy Nault, and safety Luke D’Amico.
And as we saw in the state final, having a reliable kicker is priceless. Cole Baker, who booted the winning field goal in the final, is back for his third year. Not only will he be a big help on offense, his kickoffs will be a weapon for the defense.
Mansfield has finished second in the Kelley-Rex in each of the past three seasons and the Hornets will be counting on experience under center and depth at the skill positions to end King Philip’s two-year reign atop the division and return to the top of the league standings for the first time since 2013.
Senior Damani Scott will be the starter at quarterback for the second straight season and he will be backed up by the capable Jack Mousette, giving the Hornets plenty of experience and reliability from their signal caller. Scott will also have a ton of weapons to call on this year with a skill position group that head coach Mike Redding calls one of the best that Mansfield has had in a while. Khristian Conner and Aidan Sacco will be weapons in the passing game while junior Vinnie Holmes is back in the backfield. Juniors Makhi Baskin, Michael DeBolt (who was also an outstanding kicker last year), and Nick Marciano will provide depth in the slot/running back positions. Senior Daenin Walker and junior Jason Comeau will add experience to the offensive line.
Defensively, Holmes will return to the linebacking corps after setting a program record for tackles in a season as a sophomore. Seniors Chris Copponi and Philip Dinov also return and can play as linebackers or as defensive ends depending on matchups. The secondary will be strong for the Hornets this year with Conner and Sacco at the corners and Marciano and Baskin at the safety positions. The only new additions on the defense are Anthony Capece at noseguard and junior Joe Plath at linebacker.
Redding said, “We have an experienced, athletic, aggressive defense that should be tough to score on and we’re young on offense, but have a ton of depth and talent at skill positions. Just need to gain some experience up front with our new guys on OL and DL.”
The 2018 version of the Oliver Ames Tigers have already had to make an audible after star running back Anthony Berksza suffered a season-ending injury over summer. Berksza had a breakout year last season, rushing for over 1,100 yards and finished with 16 total touchdowns, 15 of those rushing.
With Berksza out, Oliver Ames will rely heavily on the rest of its returning starters to carry the load. Junior Cam Perron returns under center after taking over the starting job during the regular season last year. While Perron looks to find some of his options, he has an offensive line protecting him that has some experience but will be looking to form cohesiveness throughout the year. Dean Pacini, Shane Murphy, Billy Tat, Luke Thibeault, and Garrett Wood all return with experience playing on the line. One challenge will be finding someone to step up and be a leader of that group after the graduation of two-time all star Jack Mills.
Nathan Cabral takes over as the feature tailback and OA head coach Mike Holland is confident the junior can get the job done. Holland says Cabral runs hard and is a tough player. Perron will also have the likes of Shane Kilkelly, Jake Erlich, and Evan Craig to work with as targets.
The heart of the defense will be at the linebacker position. Both Pacini, Murphy, and Darnele Ryan return after starting there last year and Holland will count on both senior captains to lead the way for the Tigers. Sam Stevens is back in the secondary at the safety position but OA will need some new faces to emerge alongside him.
“We’re looking forward to the start of the season,” Holland said. “We have a great group across the board. We have some experienced players back and some talented players competing for jobs.”
Taunton started last season with a 3-0 record, one of the program’s best starts in years, but then lost five straight games, including a playoff game against BC High, the top seed in Div. 1 South. The Tigers turned it on again from that point, winning the final three games of the season, including an impressive win against Brockton, to finish with a winning record under second-year head coach Brad Sidwell.
Experience will be a key for the Tigers this season, as Taunton tries to build on that playoff appearance and the momentum from a strong closing stretch. Senior Noah Leonard will be the starting quarterback for the third straight year and is now fluent in Sidwell’s offensive system. Leonard will have familiar targets in senior wideouts Brayden Merrill, Tryton Zavala, and Wesner Charles, while junior Cam Carroca looks to step in as a feature running back and junior Javon Franklin is a new target in the passing game. On the line, Taunton returns plenty of size in 6-foot-3, 337-pound tackle Christian Tourinho and his fellow senior Cam Correiro. Senior Ryan Williams will be the center, while junior Mason Frank, listed at 6-foot-2 and 274 pounds, will be back to battle at the line of scrimmage.
Size and athleticism will be strengths for Taunton on the defensive side of the ball as well. Tourinho, Correiro, and Frank can bottle up opposing running games and will be joined on the line by seniors Corey Pintabone and John Rockwood. Williams will lead the linebacking corps along with classmates Max Moitoso and Kyle Cuoto. Senior Prince Brown will be back at corner and senior Sebastien Celestin looks to step into the safety position.
“Taunton football is progressing forward,” said Sidwell. “Like all teams, we’d like to gain some confidence early in the season and carry it on. The Kelley-Rex division is challenging with great programs, coaching staffs, and communities. We are happy to be a part of it and want to represent Taunton High well by competing at the high standard set by the other league members.”