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.
Attleboro, 21 @ Dartmouth, 7 – Final 1st Quarter: (D) Dylan Pacheco 8-yard pass to Nathan Oliver, XP good.
2nd Quarter: No scoring.
3rd Quarter: (A) Jason Weir 1-yard rush, 2pt failed; (A) Isaac Gudiel 55-yard interception return, Justin Cote 2pt rush.
4th Quarter: (A) J. Cote 4-yard rush, Colby Briggs XP good.
Foxboro, 0 @ King Philip, 17 – Final First Quarter: (KP) Cole Baker 35-yard field goal.
Second Quarter: (KP) Ryan Halliday 1-yard rush, C. Baker XP good.
Third Quarter: No scoring.
Fourth Quarter: (KP) R. Halliday 3-yard rush, C. Baker XP good.
Mansfield, 14 vs. Everett, 41 – Final 1st Quarter: (M) Nick Marciano 4-yard rush, Nico Holmes XP good; (E) Dillon Doherty 2-yard rush, XP good.
2nd Quarter: (E) D. Doherty 37-yard pass to Tyrese Baptiste, XP blocked; (E) D. Doherty 51-yard pass to Mike Sainristil, 2pt conversion good; (E) D. Doherty 36-yard pass to M. Sainristil, 2pt failed.
3rd Quarter: (E) D. Doherty 10-yard pass to Eli Auguste, XP good.
4th Quarter: (M) Vinnie Holmes 1-yard rush, N. Holmes XP good; (E) Jaden Mahabir 1-yard rush, XP good.
North Attleboro, 19 vs. Bishop Feehan, 23 – Final 1st Quarter: (NA) Nick Raneri 70-yard pass to Ryan Gaumond, Tyler DeMattio XP good; (BF) Safety.
2nd Quarter: (BF) Tim Ambrosia 5-yard rush, XP blocked; (NA) T. DeMattio 25-yard field goal; (NA) T. DeMattio 28-yard field goal.
3rd Quarter: (BF) T. Ambrosia 1-yard rush, T. Ambrosia 2pt pass to Nick Norko.
4th Quarter: (BF) T. Ambrosia 1-yard rush, William Lynch XP good; (NA) Brendan McHugh 8-yard rush, XP no good.
Oliver Ames, 18 vs. Silver Lake, 28 – Final
Sharon, 7 @ Ashland, 14 – Final
Stoughton, 7 vs. Catholic Memorial, 20 – Final 1st Quarter: No scoring.
2nd Quarter: (CM) Darius LeClair 1-yard rush, XP no good.
3rd Quarter: (CM) Owen McGowan 7-yard rush, O. McGowan 2pt rush; (CM) Barrett Pratt 2-yard rush, 2pt failed; (S) Jeff Grier 18-yard rush, Josh Cocchi XP good.
4th Quarter: No scoring.
Taunton, 27 vs. Durfee, 7 – Final 1st Quarter: (T) Noah Leonard 15-yard pass to Brayden Merrill, Coby Adams XP good.
2nd Quarter: (T) Tryton Zavala 11-yard rush, C. Adams XP good; (T) T. Zavala 4-yard rush, C. Adams XP good; (T) N. Leonard 18-yard pass to Wesner Charles, XP failed.
3rd Quarter: No scoring.
4th Quarter: (D) Elijah Concepcion 8-yard rush, XP good.
Attleboro, 4 @ Stoughton, 1 – Final – Attleboro scored three times in the second half to earn a win on the road. The Bombardiers had four different goal scorers on the day. Will Halben opened the scoring on an assist from Mike Russo but Stoughton’s John Neves tied the game going into halftime. Alex Naughton (from Joey Soucy), Justin Lurssen (from Russo), and Hugo Henriquez (from Soucy) scored in the second half for Attleboro.
Franklin, 0 @ Canton, 2 – Final – Canton scored once in each half to secure two points with a win over visiting Franklin. Simon Cruz opened the scoring in the 32nd minute as the Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead into the break. Paul Corcoran made it 2-0 just five minutes into the second half. Alejandro Correal notched his first career shutout.
Taunton, 2 @ Foxboro, 5 – Final
King Philip, 1 @ Milford, 2 – Final – Milford’s Lucas Da Silva scored twice in a two minute span to help the Scarlet Hawks complete the comeback. KP took the lead at the midway point of the second half on a goal from Justin Wilson but Da Silva tied it two minutes later, finishing off a flick from Walisson de Oliveira to make it 1-1. Just two minutes later, Joey Madden’s long throw was flicked on by Leo Coelho and finished by Da Silva to make it 2-1. de Oliveira, Anthony Salvador and Cam Doherty played well for Milford.
Mansfield, 1 @ Sharon, 1 – Final – Mansfield’s Owen Mullahy scored in the final seconds of the game to help the Hornets grab a point on the road. Sharon took the lead in the first half off a free kick but Mansfield cashed in on a long throw to get the tie. Sharon’s Brian Higgins gave the Eagles the lead with a left-footed shot off a free kick. In the final sesconds, Mansfield’s Cam Eddy’s throw was kept in the box by Sam Nugent, and he found Mullahy in close for the tying tally. Nugent, Ethan Brill-Cass, and Colin Caridi had strong games for the Hornets.
Stoughton, 0 @ Attleboro, 3 – Final – Attleboro scored three times in the second half to pull out the win. Isabella Salviati scored a goal and assisted on another and Jess Gates had a pair of assists for the Bombardiers. Briley Harnois opened the scoring off a Salviatie assist. Salviati added the second from Gates and then Sam Fasoldt made it 3-0 with a header off a Gates corner. Attleboro coach Steve Santos is Gates controlled the midfield and Sophia Salviati played well in defense. Ashley Macia earned the clean sheet. Stoughton goalie Brianna Buckley had a strong first half, according to head coach Tara Daniels, to keep the game scoreless. Daniels added that moving Gabi Diaz from midfield to sweeper also helped organize the defense.
Canton, 1 @ Franklin, 3 – Final – Olivia Rodman opened the scoring for the Bulldogs but Franklin responded within five minutes on a tying goal by Halle Atkinson. Freshman Stella Regan gave the Panthers the lead and then late in the game Sydney St. Marie added an insurance goal to seal the win.
Sharon, 0 @ Mansfield, 4 – Final – Steph Kemp had two goals and an assist and Cassidy McMahon had a brace for the Hornets. Melissa Reef, Sydney Mulkern, and Karina Gemiani each had an assist in the win.
Milford, 0 @ King Philip, 3 – Final – Chloe Layne scored twice and Avery Snead had a goal and an assist to keep KP perfect in the league. Snead scored the eventual game-winner with a header off a Faye Veillieux corner after 15 minutes. Nine minutes later, Layne scored from the penalty spot to double the lead before halftime. With 20 minutes left, Layne volleyed in a Snead cross to end the scoring. Taylor Butler made five saves for her third clean sheet of the season.
Attleboro @ Stoughton – Postponed to a date and time to be announced.
Oliver Ames, 3 @ North Attleboro, 1 – Final – The Rocketeers took the lead on a goal by Abby Calistra, but the Tigers scored three straight in the second half to get the win. Hannah Stryke tied the game off a penalty corner, with Maggie Woods picking up the assist. Kayla Lozzi completed a three-on-one break to give OA the lead and Woods added a goal to her earlier assist when she knocked in a rebound off the goalie’s pads. OA coach Sharon Lawrence also praised the midfield play of Meaghan Rockey and Brynna Courneen and the defending of Emily Han. Kara Ostrander made three saves to preserve the win.
King Philip, 5 @ Milford, 0 – Final – King Philip raced out to a 3-0 lead at halftime and never looked back in a win over Milford. Nicole Connor opened the scoring with an unassisted tally (23:51), Dana Truini converted a pass from Kate Lindmark (13:32), and Alli Meehan made it 3-0 off of a pass from Connor (1:39). In the second half, Lindmark scored on an assist from Meehan (16:24) and Meegan capped the scoring with 11:50 on a pass from Olivia Kulesza. Grace May and Mackenzie Manning combined for the shutout in net for KP.
Attleboro, 0 @ Stoughton, 3 – Final – The Black Knights stayed unbeaten with a three-set win (25-10, 25-19, 25-22). Stoughton coach Erica Batchelder said the team “played together and shared the ball.” Mia Bennett had a strong game in the back row and Alexa Quinones had a great overall performance in the win. Attleboro’s Chelsea Calcagni had seven aces and two kills while Hailey Thake added two kills and a block.
Franklin, 3 @ Canton, 1 – Final – Franklin picked up an impressive win over a good Canton team, taking a 3-1 decision (25-21, 13-25, 25-21, 25-9) over the Bulldogs. For Canton, Julia Minichello played great defense with 14 digs and three aces and Nicole Brown was fantastic with 22 assists, 24 digs and four kills.
Taunton, 3 @ Foxboro, 1 – Final – Taunton secured its second win of the season with 3-1 (25-19, 25-20, 19-25, 25-20) win on the road at Foxboro. Jaime Brown paced the offense with 16 assists, five aces and a block while Sam Martin added five kills, an ace and a block for the Tigers. Sam Silveira had a strong all around game with three kills, two blocks, and 11 aces while Mckenzie Lucie solidified the back row with strong serve receive and defensive play (six digs).
King Philip, 3 @ Milford, 1 – Final – King Philip went on the road and picked up a 3-1 win over Milford (25-23, 21-25, 25-9, 25-14). Grace Ely paced the offense with nine kills and two aces while Catherine Waldeck added nine kills and two blocks, Nicole Coughlan chipped in with five kills, three aces four blocks, Emma Brooks added six aces, and Lillian Carlo led the defense with five digs.
Oliver Ames, 2 @ North Attleboro, 3 – Final – The Rocketeers took the final set 15-6 to earn a hard-fought 3-2 (25-17, 15-25, 25-23, 17-25, 15-6) victory. Tatian Sotelo led North with eight kills while Emma Gunn added seven kills. Hayley Gaskin had 15 assists, Joanna Collins-Bilyeu added 12 assists and Lizi Buron anchored the defense with 13 digs. Junior Jordan Bosse led the Tigers with 10 kills and three aces in defeat. OA also got 28 digs and three aces from Sadie Homer and four kills, four blocks, and two aces from Jackie Raymond.
Mansfield, 1 @ Sharon, 3 – Final – Mansfield won the third set to prevent the sweep but Sharon finished off the match to earn a 3-1 (25-23, 25-20, 16-25, 25-22) win. For Mansfield, Greenly Kelly had 14 kills, Emily Dardinski added 10 kills, and Sam Sternberg had 14 digs.
Canton, 155 @ North Attleboro, 160 – Final – Four Bulldogs shot sub-40 rounds to earn the Davenport win. Tommy Dimock shot a medalist round of 38 to lead the way, while Chris Lavoie, Mike Gobbi and Thomas Singleton each shot rounds of 39. Marcus Costa had North’s low score of the day with a 39. Jillian Barend and Matt Wanless each shot rounds of 40 and Justin Strom shot a 41 for the Rocketeers.
King Philip, 169 @ Franklin, 166 – Final – Matt D’Errico shot a 38 to lead the way for the Panthers in a close match at Franklin Country Club. Franklin also got a round of 41 from Quintin Faro and a 42 from Jake Blaney. KP was led by Kayla Shuberth, who shot a 40.
Attleboro, 178 @ Oliver Ames, 153 – Final – Thomas Walsh shot a medalist round of 35 in wet conditions to lead the Tigers to their first win of the season. Tate Hadges shot a 38, Liam Barry shot a 39, and James Walsh finished with a 41 for OA. Attleboro’s low round belonged to Ethan Johnson, who shot a 42.
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.”