MILFORD, Mass. – Heading into halftime, Franklin was frustrated. The Panthers had made a series of mistakes from turnovers to missed blocks to dropped passes to using up timeouts early in the half and Milford had taken advantage, playing the game at its pace and grinding out a three-point lead.
After the break, Franklin turned the game around, scoring 21 straight points and forcing Milford to abandon the power running game that it prefers. Behind three touchdown passes from senior Jake Noviello, Franklin pulled out a 28-10 victory in Friday night’s Game of the Week and evened its record at 1-1.
“They’re tough and we knew that. They compete and those kids don’t quit,” Franklin coach Eian Bain said about Milford. “We gave them the ball in great field position, we allowed them to execute their game plan, and we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
He added, “Once we got out of our own way, that’s all it took. Milford is a very good, competitive, and tough team. You can’t do that kind of stuff and expect to beat them.”
Things started perfectly for the Panthers, who marched down the field on the opening possession of the game. Franklin went 78 yards in 11 plays and no-huddle offense was clicking in perfect rhythm. Noviello (15-26, 180 yards) was 5-for-8 on the drive and capped it with an eight-yard strike to Jack Nally (who caught four of the five completions on the drive) for the game’s first score.
Special teams got Milford right back into the game. Junior Shapel Feaster returned the ensuing kick-off 66 yards to start the Hawks at the Franklin 20. The Hawks made it count with junior Brendan White (11 carries, 26 yards) tying the game with a four-yard run that was aided by a big push from his teammates that carried him and several would-be tacklers across the goal line.
Ryan Driscoll coughed up the ball on the kick return and again Milford started well into Franklin territory; this time at the Panthers 16. A holding call denied Ryan Pearl a touchdown on a keeper and a Jackson Gilbert tackle on third down and goal forced Milford to settle for a 20-yard Sean Lehane field goal to take the lead.
Milford continued to grind out yards on the ground, running out the clock with a balanced attack that featured Will Pointer (13 carries, 65 yards), Ryan O’Toole (eight carries, 32 yards) and White.
The Hawks got the ball out of halftime and there was a lot of energy on the sidelines, but Franklin forced a punt on the first possession and then its offense got back into gear. The Panthers put together a 12-play, 75-yard drive and took the lead for good. Noviello was 4-for-6 on the drive and threw a perfect pass to hit Evan Wendell in the far corner of the end zone for a 14-10 lead.
“Once we got rolling in the second half, the kids settled down,” said Bain. “They knew they were in a fight, but we also knew what we were doing wrong. It’s not hard to fix mistakes that are self-inflicted and we were able to correct them and get back on track.”
On Milford’s next possession, Evan Wertz ripped the ball away from White and returned it inside the 20, with a penalty getting Franklin down to the six. Two plays later, Noviello hit Driscoll for the six-yard score and a crucial two-possession lead.
“We’ve got a really young quarterback and anytime, with our offense, when we get behind it’s tough,” admitted Milford coach Anthony Vizakis. “We like to ground and pound, but that can only go so far.”
With the Hawks needing to up the tempo, Vizakis turned to sophomore quarterback Colby Pires and a spread formation, but Franklin picked off a pair of passes, including a sliding interception on the far sideline by Nolan Mclaney that gave the Panthers a chance to put the game away.
“We see a bright future with Colby Pires and we’re definitely working towards that,” Vizakis explained. “Nothing against (last year’s starter) Matt Curran, he’s a good kid and we’re using him in other spots, but we see Colby being a starter here for a few years, so he’s getting some good experience.”
Facing fourth and one on the next drive, Noviello used a hard count to draw Milford offsides and, although his pass was intercepted by Feaster, Franklin got the first down. Sean Hofferty(15 carries, 39 yards) finished the drive with a two-yard dive to wrap up the scoring.
Bain said, “As soon as we could get them out of their comfort zone, that’s what you want to do is make your opponent play left-handed. Once we tipped the scales, we were able to switch the match-ups into more of our favor.”
Despite the loss, Vizakis, who is in his first year in charge of the program, saw plenty to build on going forward. He said, “We started six sophomores tonight, offense and defense, so young kids getting good experience. We’re definitely going to be teaching every day.”
When asked about the importance of picking up a win before league play kicks off next week, Bain joked, “My car would be on blocks right now if we were 0-2.”
He continued, “The kids have worked so hard for this. It hasn’t been like that around here in a while where we go in and expect to win and I feel like we’re there now. To start 0-2, it’s hard to keep preaching that mantra.”
Franklin (1-1) will try to keep the momentum going next week against unbeaten Mansfield in what the Panthers are expecting will be the first game on the new turf at Pisini Field. Milford (0-2) will open Davenport division play against Canton at World War II Veterans Memorial Field.
The Bombardiers started the season 3-2, but closed with only one win in the final six games, including a pair of losses to league rival and eventual Super Bowl champion King Philip. Injuries piled up for Attleboro in 2016, but it gave a number of players the chance to gain valuable varsity experience and the Bombardiers have high hopes for improvement this fall.
Experience at the skill positions is one of the reasons for optimism at Attleboro. Senior Cam Furtado is slated to start the season at quarterback and has proven to be a dynamic playmaker. Classmate Elvin Sam emerged as a big play weapon last fall, whether in the backfield or split out wide, and tight end James Weir gives Attleboro an option in the middle of the field. Wideout Josh Therrien and running back Justin Cote could also play bigger roles with running back Marcus Blaise adding depth.
Attleboro also has a strong returning core on defense with Furtado, Sam, and Therrien in the secondary and Weir joining senior Nate Barboza and junior Jacob Weatherford at linebacker. Matt Corrado, Matt Jimenez, and Kyle Walsh will give the Bombardiers strength on both sides of the line and junior Nick Evans could be poised for a breakout year after moving from linebacker to defensive end. Sophomore Qualeem Charles is also a player to watch on the line.
“I am extremely excited about our senior group of players,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “We have some dynamic players in Cam Furtado and Elvin Sam and hopefully they can maximize their athletic talents. We have many returning starters from last season so we hope to build on that experience.”
The first season for the Panthers under new head coach Eian Bain was a struggle at times for a young roster that was adapting to new systems on both sides of the ball, but there is hope that the experience gained last fall will pay dividends in 2017. Franklin will have a number of returning players to count on this season.
Offensively, Franklin will have to find ways to make up for the production of graduated running back Jacob Wolowacki, who was a go-to weapon in the ground and passing games. Senior quarterback Jake Noviello will be counted on to lead the offensive unit after more than 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall. Junior wideout Sean Leonard started all 11 games last year and will be a tough matchup for defenses along with fellow receivers Jack Nally, Will Davis, and Evan Wendell and running back Sean Hofferty. Three-year starter Brian Kosicki will be the leader of the offensive line and tight end Patrick Morrison will be a weapon in the passing game.
On defense, the Panthers have depth in the secondary, including junior safety Nolan McLaney, who was second on the team in tackles last year. Junior Ryan Driscoll has speed on the corner and Bain called him the “focal point” of the defense. Nick Gordon will hold down the other corner spot. Senior defensive end Jackson Gilbert is coming back from injury that cut short his junior season and will add strength on the edge. Junior Riley Downing gives Franklin size and speed in the middle of the line.
“We are in year two of our process,” said Bain. “We are in a different place than we were a year ago…Fans should expect to see a better team in 2017. We have a roster full of experience and had great participation through the Franklin speed and conditioning program. In a league this good we have to bring our best every week.”
What will the Warriors do for an encore? King Philip won its third league title in the past five years, second outright Kelley-Rex title in the past three seasons, and completed an unbeaten season with a win over Reading in the Div. 1A Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
Despite losing a large and influential senior class, the Warriors are being picked by some to repeat at champs this fall. One reason for continued belief is the return of senior quarterback Brendan Lydon, who showed poise in the pocket and the ability to make accurate passes downfield in his first year under center in 2016. Yale-commit Shane Frommer is also back for his senior season and will be the feature back for the Warriors in a system that prides itself on pushing teams around on the ground. Beyond that, it will be up to a group of rookies to make an impact. KP will boast an entire new offensive line, anchored by senior Anthony Vahue, and all new receivers. Junior David Morganelli will be one of the options for Lydon.
The Warriors boast a bit more experience on the defensive side of the ball. Even though a good chunk of starters are gone, KP’s rotation last year allowed for players like Evan Rice (defensive end), Jack Webster (linebacker) and Dylan Leonard (safety) to see action. Frommer will be back opposite Webster while Vahue will also play on the defensive line. Andrew Dittrich returns as a starting corner back to anchor the secondary.
Although there are a lot of new faces on this year’s roster and a lot of leadership missing from last season’s championship squad, head coach Brian Lee has instilled a toughness that permeates the program and expectations are that KP will have a decent chance at lifting a trophy again this fall.
“We don’t get any points for last year, we don’t get spotted a touchdown because we went undefeated last year,” Lee said. “When it comes to high school football, it’s about taking those rookies and getting them ready for varsity speed, they have to be able to handle the bright lights on Friday nights. If we can get them up to speed, we should be okay.”
The Hornets finished second in the Kelley-Rex division last year, with the only Hock loss coming by three points to league champ King Philip. Mansfield was stunned in a playoff thriller against Marshfield, but then bounced back to beat Div. 1 playoff teams Needham and Newton North and will enter 2017 with typically high expectations, as the Hornets look to win their first league title since 2013.
A strength for Mansfield this fall will be the experience it returns at the skill positions led by senior wideout Hunter Ferreira, who has emerged as one of the area’s top receivers. The backfield will once again be loaded for the Hornets, who will count on seniors Danny DeGirolamo and Joe Cox and juniors Khristian Conner and Aidan Sacco. New quarterback Damani Scott will try to make use of that talent and the 6-foot-3 junior has a big arm to make plays downfield.
Cox and Ferreira will add strength and speed to the linebacking corps, while seniors Mike Shannon and Jareme DiLorenzo will provide a pass rush at the defensive end positions. Conner, Sacco, and DeGirolamo will all return in the secondary. If there are questions for the Hornets, it will be at the line of scrimmage; senior Will Shield and junior Colbey Eason have returned and will be the players to build around on the offensive and defensive lines.
“After one week, we are happy with work ethic and development of linemen,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding, who is in his 30th season with the Hornets. “If we can get pieces of the puzzle sorted out up front on OL and DL, we’ll be a tough out. We have a very good collection of playmakers that can run and catch and we should score some points this year.”
The Tigers got off to a promising start to 2016, winning two of the opening three games including a dramatic one-point win over Franklin, but Oliver Ames struggled down the stretch against a difficult schedule. Now entering his third year, head coach Mike Holland is confident the program is heading in the right direction this fall.
According to Holland, the Tigers’ strength on the offensive side of the ball is the experience of playing in the system for several seasons and a greater understanding of the concepts. Senior Curtis Cann will lead the attack after taking over as the starting quarterback last season and he has several talented weapons on the outside in seniors Michael Mulrean and Noah Fitzgerald. Jay Fruci will be one of the returning players in the backfield, lining up behind a big offensive line.
Jack Mills will be a mainstay in the middle on both sides of the ball and is one of the top lineman in the league. He will be paired with fellow senior John-Michael Cole on the line, giving the Tigers depth in the trenches. Fitzgerald and Mulrean will also be important contributors in the secondary, while Fruci will bring athleticism to the linebacking corps. Holland wants his defensive scheme to take advantage of the team’s speed.
“Looking forward to the start of a new season. Our guys’ preparation and approach leading up to the season has been excellent,” Holland said. “We have guys with experience that need to play big, as well as some new guys that are in the mix to compete for spots.”
The Tigers narrowly missed out on a winning record in their first season under head coach Brad Sidwell and showed signs of improvement, including a narrow, three-point loss to Mansfield. In year two, Sidwell is hoping for even more and Taunton has potential on the roster to be a tough out in the league.
Losing wide receiver Adam McLaughlin to graduation will certainly impact the offensive attack, but junior quarterback Noah Leonard returns for his second season under center and will look to build on the experience he gained last fall. With a number of athletes at the skill positions, including senior Collin Hunter and junior Brayden Merrill at wideout and T.J. Mendes in the backfield, Taunton will use a number of formations and styles to cause matchup problems. Sidwell expects the passing game to be a major strength for the Tigers.
Defensively, Taunton will have a number of new faces, but has size and experience at the line of scrimmage. Seniors Paul Corrao and Zakim Harrow and junior Cam Correiro will all make a significant impact on the battle in the trenches. Senior Nuno Camara provides experience to the linebacking corps, while Merrill and Hunter will be important in the secondary.
“Moving into the second year, the players, coaches and fans are excited for the season but there is lots of work to be done,” Sidwell said. “Hopefully we can get off to a good start and provide some confidence to gain momentum into the difficult Hockomock League season.”