FRANKLIN, Mass. – Taunton ran 60 plays to Franklin’s 27. The Tigers had seven drives that reached Franklin territory, including three that reached the red zone, but came away empty on each possession. The Panthers put together only two drives of more than five plays, but they found the end zone four times.
Although it felt closer than the final score, Franklin made the big plays on both sides of the ball and rolled to a comfortable 35-0 win over Taunton on Friday night at Pisini Stadium. The win keeps Franklin unbeaten overall and in a three-way tie for first in the Kelley-Rex.
“They had a ton of chances,” Franklin coach Eian Bain admitted. “[Taunton] put the pressure on us, they did some things that made it hard to do what we wanted. When you play bad football, you can’t win games. The first thing we had to do was get rid of the bad football and once we got rid of bad football, we were able to compete a little better and we made some plays.”
Taunton coach Brad Sidwell was rueing missed opportunities for his offense in each of the past two weeks and a missed opportunity to end his former team’s perfect record. “We’ve got to capitalize when it’s our opportunity and we didn’t do it,” he said. “I knew their offense was pretty potent and their defense is kind of underrated. They’re pretty fast and and they run to the ball and make plays. We’ve got to make sure we punch it in early on.”
The Tigers, helped by two third down penalties, moved the ball near midfield on their first drive before punting. Just two plays later, they were behind. Jared Arone started away from the Franklin sideline then looked back and hit a wide open Mack Gulla (240 total yards),who had leaked out of the backfield, for a 69-yard score.
Nathan Keenan returned the ensuing kick 33 yards out to the 44 to give Taunton good starting field position for its next drive. A 15-yard screen pass from Jacob Leonard to Evan Perrotta and a 19-yard sweep by Jose Touron got the Tigers into Franklin territory. The Panthers clamped down on the ground game and on fourth and three from the 15, Leonard’s pass to Touron fell incomplete.
Mckyen Gonsalves recovered a Gulla fumble two plays later to give Taunton back the ball at the Franklin 35. A sack by Jay Gulla and Nick Quintina pushed the Tigers back, but on fourth down Leonard connected with Touron on a 21 yard catch and run to get the ball to the five. Taunton only managed two more yards and Keenan’s 20-yard field goal slid wide right.
Two personal foul calls ended Franklin’s next drive quickly and Taunton again started in opposition territory. A good tackle on third down by Jack Marino forced a Tigers punt. Nick Lima’s sack of Arone forced a three-and-out and Taunton got the ball at the Franklin 39. This time the Tigers gained six yards but Leonard (14-of-34, 182 yards) couldn’t connect with Touron on fourth and short.
With just over two minutes remaining in the half, Franklin went into its hurry-up offense and put together its best drive of the game. Helped by a face mask call, the Panthers quickly got into Taunton’s end of the field but a touchdown pass to Will Tracey was called back because an ineligible receiver downfield. Arone (8-of-11, 132 yards) would eventually fire a strike down the middle to Shane Kindred, who held on through contact for a 15-yard score with just eight seconds left in the half.
It was the third time in five games that Franklin has put together a drive like that to close out a half.
“That was the backbreaker and then it turned the tide the rest of the way,” Sidwell explained. “I felt like we could keep fighting if we could put one in there but after that it was tough to keep it together. I was worried we were going to have to match their scores and we certainly didn’t.”
Although it felt like Taunton had the ball for the bulk of the first 24 minutes, the Panthers led 14-0. Just 1:13 into the third quarter and the lead grew to 21-0. After another touchdown pass to Tracey was called back by penalty, Gulla (10 carries, 170 yards) took a carry to the left, cut inside the tackle, and then bounced it to the sideline, racing away from Taunton defenders for a 56-yard touchdown.
“Mack really took off in the second half,” Bain said. “We haven’t used him a lot catching the ball but tonight we were like we’re going to get him a ball or two out of the backfield and he caught that one and went with it. Mack is a very powerful kid but he’s very fast. He’s got a lot of breakaway speed so when you give him enough room he can make a big play.”
Taunton tried to mount a scoring drive to stem the home team’s momentum. Leonard found Touron with a nice pass on the run to convert third down and then followed that with a 29-yard pass down the near sideline to Troy Santos. The Tigers got as far as the Franklin 27, but a sack by Jay Gulla set up third and long and two incomplete passes later the drive was over.
On the very next play from scrimmage, the game was effectively over too. Mack Gulla broke through the line and into the secondary where he spun off a hit, cut to this right to the sideline and was gone. The 73-yard score put Franklin up four scores with 18 minutes left to play.
A 39-yard screen pass to Perrotta, who appeared to be dragged down but actually landed on a Franklin player before getting up for an extra 15 yards, gave Taunton first and goal, but Cullen Pek stuffed a run for a loss of one and then Jase Lyons intercepted a pass at the goal line. Lyons would later add his second pick of the night, perfectly reading and undercutting an out-route, and returned it 24 yards for the game’s final score.
Bain praised his team’s ability to not have a letdown after last week’s big win over Mansfield. He said, “There’s something to be said about getting used to people talking about you, having articles about you, we had Homecoming going on, but we talked to the kids about championship mentality. I thought we responded in the second half and that was big.”