FRANKLIN, Mass. – In all the key moments of Friday night’s contest against visiting Attleboro, the Franklin football team delivered.
The Panthers converted a fourth down for a touchdown inside the final minutes of the first half, landed a huge counter-punch score late in the third quarter, and its defense stood tall all game long. The result was a 17-3 decision in favor of the hosts.
While the defense was certainly the story for Franklin, the biggest play of the game came from the Panthers’ offense. Attleboro, which was held scoreless in the first half, made it a one-score game when senior Colby Briggs drilled a 41-yard field goal with just seconds left in the third.
Franklin football Attleboro football Michael Strachan Eian Bain Jared Arone Mack Gulla Kaiden Murray
But before the third quarter came to an end, Franklin delivered a game-changing response. Instead of starting the fourth hanging on to a seven-point lead, Panther senior running back Mack Gulla (21 carries, 172 yards) took the first carry of the ensuing drive to the end zone. The senior found a gap on the left side and then split a pair of defenders in the secondary, scampering for a 64-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead with just four seconds left in the third.
“That wasn’t the game but it certainly allowed us to kind of take a deep breath and have some room,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain. “It allowed us to really focus on the little things to keep the lead. A lot of people wouldn’t peg us as a team with someone with over 20 carries a game but that’s two weeks in a row that we’ve been able to get the run game going a little bit and that opens things up for passing.”
Franklin’s defense then put a pair of finishing touches on its strong performance, denying the visitors twice inside Panther territory. The Panthers were set to give the ball back to the Bombardiers with a punt but it was blocked by a diving Anthony Salviati. Attleboro’s Alex Bakowski dove onto the loose ball and the Bombardiers were back in business with nine minutes left at the Franklin 28-yard line.
But a second down strip sack from Jay Gulla forced the Bombardiers back 12-yards and an incomplete pass forced Attleboro to punt. A high punt bounced in a sea of players, bouncing off a Panther, and Attleboro’s Chris Leonardo won the battle at the bottom of the pile to give the visitors a second chance, this time first down in the red zone at the Franklin 18-yard line.
Franklin football Attleboro football Michael Strachan Eian Bain Jared Arone Mack Gulla Kaiden Murray
“We were not good in situational football last week and I thought we were definitely better tonight,” Bain said.
“We were in the right positions, I thought we were more comfortable with the calls. I thought coach Rosen did a nice job getting the gameplan tailored to our crew. Attleboro presents a lot of problems and they move Strachan around a lot and it’s hard to account for him and know where he is plus all their other talented players.”
The Panther defense was up to the task though, stuffing a runner for no gain on first down (after a false start backed Attleboro up 5 yards). An incomplete pass on second down was followed by a 7-yard run from senior Michael Strachan (14 carries, 41 yards) set up 4th and 8 from the 16. Attleboro went for it with a pass into the corner of the end zone but Franklin sophomore Luke Davis won the jump ball for the interception.
“We just can’t seem to put it all together, we haven’t been able to finish,” said Attleboro head coach Mike Strachan. “We’ve had chances, we’ve been in the right spots but we can’t seem to finish. We have something going, we shoot ourselves in the foot. We get a big run, there’s a hold…we block a punt and we don’t capitalize. It’s little things, and we’re young, and these are the growing pains. It’s a tough league to have growing pains.
“We felt like we were right there in this game. We’ve been in the last two games but we have to figure out a way to close out drives, to finish out drives. It’s a short year so it’s hard, there’s not much time to figure it out but we’re going to get right back to work and try to build off our defense and get our offense going.”
Franklin football Attleboro football Michael Strachan Eian Bain Jared Arone Mack Gulla Kaiden Murray
Attleboro’s defense got off to a strong start, forcing a three-and-out from the hosts on the opening drive of the game but Franklin’s defense was equal to the task, forcing the visitors to punt after six plays despite some good early runs from Kaiden Murray (17 carries, 47 yards).
Franklin had more success with its second drive, getting points on the board despite being held out of the end zone by the Bombardiers. Junior quarterback Jared Arone (8/12, 117 yards) hit senior Jake O’Brien on a hitch route on third to move the sticks, and then the two linked up again on the next play as Arone hit O’Brien on a quick slant over the middle and the receiver did rest, sprinting for 50 yards into Attleboro territory.
The Bombardiers buckled down inside the red zone though, holding the Panthers to just five yards on a pair of runs, sandwiched around an incomplete pass. Franklin settled for a 28-yard field goal from Parker Cheuvront with 1:54 left in the first quarter.
Attleboro grinded its way down field on the ensuing drive, moving the ball 57 yards on 14 plays (4.1 yards per play) — all on the ground. Murray and Strachan had the majority of the carries, and the Attleboro offense benefited from a pair of offside calls to move the sticks. The drive finally came to an end inside the red zone when Briggs’ 32-yard field goal was short.
Franklin went on another long drive, and this time found the end zone. A healthy dose of Mack Gulla early (27 yards on three straight carries) and a 16-yard pass-and-catch from Arone to Will Tracey helped move the Panthers into Attleboro territory. Gulla ran for five yards on third down to get inside the red zone but the Panthers had 4th and 5 from the 19-yard line. Instead of another field goal, Bain elected to go for it with under two minutes left in the half.
Arone dropped back and fired a pass over the middle, connecting with classmate Shane Kindred right at the goal line for a touchdown and a 10-0 advantage at halftime.
Besides the scoring drive for the Bombardiers at the end of the third quarter, Attleboro had three punts, the missed field goal, an interception, and a two-play drive at the end of the first half, totaling just under 150 yards of total offense.
Franklin football Attleboro football Michael Strachan Eian Bain Jared Arone Mack Gulla Kaiden Murray
“I thought the defense came to play,” Bain said. “We have a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball but on defense, not only do we have new faces, but we’re young too. With a scrimmage and two games under our belt, I think it’s starting to show that we’re starting to earn our stripes.
“I know everybody is in the same boat with their offseason program but this year it really hurt us as we tried to get the young guys up to speed quicker, get them sharper mentally, get them some actual reps. But as we’ve gotten some experience under our belts and as we’ve stayed the course of what we’re trying to do, I think it’s starting to show.”
Franklin football (2-1) is back in action on Saturday when it hosts Milford for a 12:00 start. Attleboro (0-3) will try to get its first win when it hosts Taunton on Friday at 6:00.
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin has made a name for itself this season with a high-powered offense that is capable of a big play at any time, but in Friday’s Div. 1 South quarterfinal at Pisini Stadium the Panthers showed that there is another side to their game as well.
The Franklin defense only allowed Attleboro to cross midfield once all night, allowing the Panthers to grind out a 14-0 victory on a pair of second half touchdowns and book a second straight appearance in the sectional semifinal.
“What I told the kids at halftime is this is going to be a character test,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “We’re going to define out character right here and you have to win these types of games this time of year.”
He added, “We needed to call a better game and get our guys in better positions, but I think once we went into the half we felt more comfortable with what they were in so we felt better about the calls we were making and had a better idea of how to attack them.”
The Panthers got the ball to start the second half and they put in their best drive of the game to score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. Franklin marched 66 yards on 13 plays, showing off a balance between the ground game with Owen Palmieri (14 carries, 65 yards) and its typically potent passing game.
It was a methodical drive. Until the Panthers got inside the red zone, no play went for more than 11 yards and they converted four third downs. Thomas Gasbarro (20-of-31, 187 yards) hit four different receivers on the possession, including Palmieri, who finished with more than 100 yards of total offense, Jake Davis (eight catches, 82 yards), and Jack Nally.
It was Nally (five catches, 48 yards) who made the big play, grabbing a pass on the near sideline and shaking the grasp of an Attleboro tackler to get into the end zone from 16 yards out.
“I think we were really good on third down in the second half and in the first half a couple times we got bogged down on the other end of the field,” Bain explained. “Part of that was trying to get us in better third down situations so it wasn’t third and eight all game and maybe more third and fours and fives.”
Attleboro quarterback Jason Weir was injured while playing defensive back on that drive, possibly after nearly sacking Gasbarro on the play preceding the touchdown, and sophomore Blake Garzaro stepped in to replace him.
“I can’t be prouder,” he said. “We had five sophomores out there and went toe-to-toe for three quarters and a little more tonight. I thought we played physical, we didn’t quit, and they’ve got athletes everywhere but I thought we contained them. It’s something to build off for our young kids for sure.”
Franklin moved the ball well on its second possession of the half as well, but Gasbarro was sacked at the Attleboro 24 to end the third quarter and Qualeem Charles put pressure on the quarterback to force an incompletion on third down. Kicker Parker Cheuvront, who had missed from 27 yards in the first quarter, had his kick blocked and it remained a one-score game.
Again it was the Panthers defense that came through to get the ball right back. Austin Jordan sacked Garzaro for a 10-yard loss and on third down they were able top wrap Murray up on a 14-yard gain that came up four yards short of the marker.
“We knew if we have points, the way our defense has been playing we could do a lot of great things,” Bain said. “We just needed to get over the hump and get on the board. It also put more pressure on them because they were happy to grind the tempo down. “
Starting at midfield, Franklin put together a drive to seal the victory. Palmieri and Gasbarro each rushed for five yards for a first down and then Nally followed with back-to-back six yard sweeps for another. A seven-yard draw to Nally with 10 yards tacked on because of a personal foul got the Panthers to the Attleboro 11.
Charles came through with a big stop on Palmieri for a four-yard loss. Two penalties and a loss of yards on a Gasbarro scramble pushed Franklin back to the 17 for fourth and 16. Gasbarro tried to get to the marker with his legs and appeared to have the first down only for a holding call to bring the play back to the 23.
Again Franklin went for it and this time found the end zone. Gasbarro picked out Davis at the two-yard-line and the senior receiver twisted and stretched his way to pay dirt.
Davis then wrapped up the win with two minutes remaining when he made an acrobatic, juggling interception.
“We didn’t know what they were going to come out in because they could’ve gone a lot of different ways today,” Bain said of the Bombardiers. “I thought they had a great game plan on both sides of the ball and really gave us a hard time tonight.”
Franklin (6-2) advances to the sectional semifinal for the second straight season and will host Brockton in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal that the Panthers won. Attleboro (3-5) will wait for the identity of its next opponent.
ATTLEBORO, Mass. – If there is a question about whether or not Franklin can challenge the top teams in Div. 1, it centers on the line of scrimmage and whether the Panthers are capable of winning the battle in the trenches. On Saturday afternoon at Tozier-Cassidy Field, Franklin may have provided an answer.
The Panthers bounced back from last week’s loss to Mansfield, dominated the line on both sides of the ball, held Attleboro off the scoreboard for almost the full 48 minutes, and improved their chances at a home playoff game with a convincing 37-7 victory.
“With the guys that they have, I knew it would be tough,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “It was a key to our game to try and out-quick them, out-technique, because just the sheer size and ability they have we had to find another gear. We had a lot of success up front today.”
Attleboro tried to show off its power running game, led by junior Michael Strachan (12 carries, 37 yards), on the opening drive and got down to the Franklin 34-yard-line. A snap slipped through quarterback Jason Weir’s hands for an 11-yard loss, senior Austin Jordan stuffed Strachan for a two-yard loss, and the Panthers forced a turnover on downs. That set the tone for the game.
“Coming into the game, we knew they had a big O-line,” Jordan explained, “so we knew we had to get a knock back on them and change the line of scrimmage and I think our D-line did that very well.”
Franklin’s big-play offense got going on its second possession. Senior quarterback Thomas Gasbarro was given plenty of time to throw by the guys up front and he just missed on three attempts to look deep, but the third drew a pass interference call that kept the drive alive. The fourth attempt was on target, as he hit Jake Davis in stride for a 28-yard score.
In the second quarter, Gasbarro (16-of-27, 271 yards) completed back-to-back passes to Matthew Lazarek for a combined 41 yards to get the ball inside the Attleboro 10. A fumble on the next play was recovered by Adam Pearlstein to give the Bombardiers the ball back, but any momentum shift was ended abruptly as Sammy Morris was spun down in the end zone by Anthony Quintina for a safety.
“They beat us up front,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “At the end of the day that’s what happened. They were more physical than we were up front. They just decided to take it to us in the second quarter and we couldn’t recover.”
Getting the ball with a short field, Franklin stretched its lead. Gasbarro connected with Davis for a 21-yard completion down to the Attleboro 18 and then to running back Owen Palmieri (15 carries, 71 yards) to the four. Cole Lakatos made a leaping grab on the next play to put the Panthers ahead 16-0.
The Panthers kept their foot on the gas and added another score before halftime. Gasbarro found Jack Nally for a 23-yard grab to get inside the 10 again and then two plays later he rolled out and found Nally in the flat for a two-yard touchdown. It was the third passing touchdown of the afternoon and league-leading 15th of the season for Gasbarro.
“We just have to be who we are and I think that’s our identity,” said Bain. “We found balance today in the run game too because they challenged us to run the ball and we did. Our offensive line, I think Tommy was clean most of the game. It just kind of clicked.”
If Attleboro was hoping that halftime would allow it to regroup, Franklin came out with the first drive of the second half and put the game away. Palmieri had a pair of runs totaling 29 yards that quickly got Franklin into Attleboro territory and then Gasbarro found Nally in space for a 27-yard completion to the five. The Bombardiers nearly held out, forcing fourth and goal from the one, but Gasbarro was able to keep it himself for his first rushing TD of the season.
After forcing the hosts into a three-and-out, Franklin’s defense was forced to stay on the field when Kaiden Murray recovered a muffed punt at the Panthers 43. Luke Cunningham blew up a jet sweep for a six-yard loss, then Jordan had back-to-back sacks of Weir to push Attleboro back to its own 48.
A second straight muffed punt, recovered this time by Anthony Hoyt at the 22, gave Attleboro another shot at getting its first points. Again, Franklin held. After a false start, Jordan got into the backfield to drop Strachan for a three-yard loss. A pair of incompletions meant a turnover on downs.
“When we came out for the second half, we just wanted zero points on the scoreboard at the end of the game,” Jordan said. “It was unfortunate, the punt situation, but the defense showed up and we just didn’t let them in.”
Bain added, “The defense just kept coming up big, answering the calls. Every time we needed them to do the thing for us, they did it, so they were awesome today.”
The defense stepped up to get the ball back and the offense made it count. Gasbarro hit Nally (seven catches, 131 yards) down the sideline for 61 yards into Attleboro territory. Nally completed the drive with a 10-yard rush to make it 37-0.
“We did not come to play. Very disappointed in our effort,” Strachan admitted. “We had to do some things early because we knew we had some match-up issues and they exploited it.”
Attleboro’s only score came as the clock wound down to zero, Isaac Gudiel put the Bombardiers in position with a couple of carries and then Weir (6-of-17, 52 yards) found Ethan Cameron in the corner of the end zone.
“Last year, when we beat Attleboro in that dogfight at our place, it spring-boarded us into the playoffs,” said Bain about the importance of this bounce back win. “We control our own destiny, we know that, and it feels good to get back on track and get that confidence back that we are a premier Div. 1 program in the state.”
Franklin (4-2) will try to make it two wins in a row to close out the regular season and secure a home playoff game when it hosts Taunton next week. Attleboro (3-3) will try to bounce back, and maybe get a home playoff game as well, when it hosts Mansfield next Saturday.
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.