ATTLEBORO, Mass. – King Philip has developed a reputation for being able to grind out victories, relying on its defense and special teams to pull out close games. On Saturday afternoon at Attleboro’s Tozier-Cassidy Field, the Warriors bolstered that reputation.
KP recorded only 43 yards of offense in the first half, had only one play from scrimmage in the third quarter (a fumble), and only had two drives in the game that lasted more than three plays, but they still walked off the field with a 17-3 victory and a 2-0 record.
“I don’t know how?” KP coach Brian Lee replied when asked about his team’s ability to win the game despite its struggles. “I don’t know if we deserved to. I don’t think those numbers are very good…we’re trying to get things organized and it doesn’t feel like it’s coming together for us yet.
“The kids did enough. They made a big play bringing it back and that’s the difference in the game. Special teams actually played well.”
Special teams was the spark that got the Warriors going on Saturday. Jake Silveria’s 52-yard punt pinned Attleboro inside its own 10. After a three-and-out, Jonathan Joseph’s punt return put KP at the Bombardiers 22 to start its second drive. Mike Malatesta dove for two yards on fourth and one to keep things moving to the Attleboro 11.
Charles Grant just missed a touchdown pass to Drew Danson towards one corner of the end zone (landed just out of bounds) and on third down Anthony Salviati made a great breakup on the other side of the field to keep KP, momentarily, off the board. Matthew Kelley stepped in and made a 28-yard field goal (the first of his varsity career) to make it 3-0.
After admitting that his team lost the physical battle up front in the season opener against Milford, Attleboro coach Mike Strachan was pleased with his team’s effort up front.
On their third possession, the Bombardiers started to pick up some first downs in the running game. Alexander Bakowski (23 carries, 67 yards) was the primary back on Saturday and he had success getting to the edge. Blake Garzaro’s two-yard sneak on third and one kept the drive moving and his hard count drew an offsides penalty on fourth and three for another first down.
After getting to the KP 33, Attleboro tried to look downfield with Crawford Cantave making a good play to knock away one pass to Christian Dame and two passes to Salviati falling incomplete. The Bombardiers moved the ball much better on Saturday, but still struggled to finish drives.
“That’s what we’re going to improve on,” Strachan said of his team’s improvement up front. “Bakowski did a good job and Michael got going a little bit more on offense but we just don’t have that team, breakaway speed and that’s the difference. We matchup [with KP] and that’s a battle right there.”
KP went three-and-out to give Attleboro back the ball in the closing minutes of the half. Michael Strachan broke a 19-yard counter to the Warriors 27. Three plays later, on fourth and two, Attleboro elected to go for a 36-yard field goal. Pat Zarba went up the middle and blocked the kick, which was grabbed in stride by Cantave and he had no one in front of him, racing 72 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
“In a game like this, it’s going to be about possessions,” said Strachan about the decision to go for the kick. “You saw what they did in the fourth quarter, they grind it and that’s what we do. Hindsight, I was trying to get back to the point where we could tie it up. I thought we had momentum at the time. We were moving the ball.”
Attleboro got the ball to start the second half and didn’t look like it was going to give the ball back until the quarter was over. The Bombardiers put together a 17-play, 64-yard drive that ate up more than 10 minutes off the clock.
Strachan powered ahead for two yards to convert a third down, another hard count drew an offsides call to convert a second third down, and Garzaro hit Salviati on a slant for 12 yards to convert on fourth and eight. It was his only completion of the game.
On third and five, Freddy Wheaton broke a 12-yard run up the middle to get down to the KP eight, but there the KP defense stiffened. Hunter Hastings stuffed Strachan for a two-yard loss back to the nine and a pass to Dame in the back of the end zone fell incomplete. Colby Briggs split the uprights with a 26-yard kick, cutting the lead to 10-3 and recording Attleboro’s first points of the season.
Malatesta returned the ensuing kick out to the 41, but the first snap of the drive was fumbled and recovered by Wheaton. KP had less than 20 seconds of possession in the third.
KP got the ball back at its own 10 and finally strung together a few plays to switch field position around. Cantave (17 carries, 66 yards) started to work between the tackles, powering the Warriors out to the 31. KP converted twice on third down (one on an offsides penalty) and moved 54 yards on 12 plays. After stalling at the Attleboro 36, they pinned the Bombardiers back to their own seven.
Down by a touchdown, Attleboro nearly hit a big play on first down, but the bomb to Salviati was just out of his reach with no KP player between him and the end zone. The Bombardiers tried four passing plays in a row, but none connected, giving the Warriors back the ball.
Cantave put the game out of reach just two plays later, finding a seam for a four-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead with just 1:55 remaining.
Lee was happy to be undefeated while still trying to figure everything out, but admitted that they’re going to need to improve to keep racking up wins. He said, “It’s good to be 2-0 and we’re not there, but Milford looks really good. And then it’s Mansfield. It gets harder as we’re going here so we need to figure things out. At least let’s stop making mistakes at this point.”