NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – When Cole Sidwell intercepted a pass inside his own 30 with 36 seconds remaining, the Franklin bench exploded onto the field assuming that the victory was sealed. But, two penalty flags sat on the Community Field grass and, after a lengthy discussion between the officials, off-setting penalties meant that North Attleboro would have one last chance.
Facing fourth and 13 from the Franklin 49, North quarterback Chase Frisoli dropped back one more time and fired a deep ball to Jovany Rivera down the right sideline. The North receiver had a step on the corner, but he just wasn’t able to haul in the pass.
After a giant exhale, the Franklin sideline exploded into life again, knowing that all it would take was one kneel down and the win was theirs. The Panthers survived Friday’s league opener 21-20, earning their first win at North since 1992.
“It’s two top 10 teams, Franklin coach Eain Bain said. “I don’t care if we won by half a point, as long as we get out of here with a win. We knew coming in here there would be adversity tonight, fortunately we took advantage of some things in the first half. As a team effort, I thought it was a great win.”
“We were there,” North coach Mike Strachan. “We had a good look at it on fourth and it didn’t go our way. I said at the beginning of the game it was going to be penalties and turnovers and we didn’t win that battle. At the end of the day, in a one-point game, that is what it is. You can’t turn the ball over like we did.”
North came into its league and home opener off a bye week, but the momentum of the opening two wins seemed to carry over to the first drive of the game. Frisoli (13-of-26 for 146 yards) converted third and eight with a 14-yard pass to Rivera (six catches, 89 yards) and then took off on a 20-yard keeper into Franklin territory. Nathan Shultz took a toss to the left side, broke a tackle, and streaked down the sideline for a 49-yard score.
It wasn’t the ideal start for a Franklin defense that was coming off a tough loss to Duxbury, but the Panthers turned things around after that tough first three minutes. Franklin sacked Frisoli seven times, including four in the first half, and forced a pair of red zone turnovers.
Bain explained, “When you can get pressure with your front then you can start getting creative using our second level guys to try and find a matchup, find something in protection we can go after. When we can do that effectively, it can cover up some mistakes we do on the back end.”
After Jack Nutter stuffed Shultz for a loss of seven. Franklin got great field position for its second possession, starting at its own 49, but a penalty and a Kaiden Leary sack forced third and 16. Jase Lyons was able to hit Derek Dubriske for 23 and the first down. Three plays later, the same combo connected again, this time for a 24-yard touchdown on the left sideline to tie the game.
Franklin again had great starting field position. A 17-yard completion to Luke Davis (four catches, 57 yards) moved the ball into North territory. Following a holding call, Lyons (12-of-17, 188 yards), who completed his first seven throws, found Dubriske (four receptions, 66 yards) for 18 and another first down. On the next play, Davis got the ball on an underneath out route, threw a head fake to lose the closest North defender, and raced down the sideline for 31 yards and a 14-7 lead.
North’s offense was finally able to get things moving late in the second quarter. Frisoli hit Jack Munley on a drag route across the middle for 13 down to the Franklin 38. A 15-yard penalty for too many men moved North even closer. On third and 10, Greg Berthiaume broke through the line for a first down run, but as he pushed for extra yards the ball popped loose and Bobby Padula recovered for the Panthers.
It was a big missed opportunity to get right back into the game. Garrett Portesi’s punt pinned North back inside its own 10. Jay Gulla sacked Frisoli on second down and North was forced into another punt that was returned to the 30. Franklin needed only one play to double its lead. Lyons threw one up for Grayson Hunter at the goal line and the 6-foot-4 tight end out-jumped a pair of North defenders, pulling in the 30-yard score.
North looked ready to mount an immediate comeback when it got into the red zone on its first third-quarter drive, but Sidwell was able to intercept Frisoli’s pass at the goal line and keep the hosts off the board.
“They’re very quick,” Strachan said of the Franklin defense. “They did some good things up front, they did a lot more stunting this week than we saw last week. They’re physical. They came to play. They had a chip on their shoulder from last week and it showed.”
After the defense did its job and held the Panthers to a three-and-out, North got the ball back at the Franklin 31. Facing fourth and five, Frisoli was able to hook up with Rivera for six yards to keep things moving. Berthiaume was given the ball on three straight carries, all of seven yards, including the final one that found the end zone to make it 21-14 at the end of three.
North got the ball back at its own 21 with 8:13 remaining and marched 79 yards in 13 plays, taking up six minutes. Again, Frisoli found Rivera for a fourth down conversion to keep things alive and then hit him again for 25 yards to the Franklin nine. After an eight-yard pass to Aidan Conrad, Frisoli punched it in with a one-yard sneak.
The hosts were an extra point away from tying the game with 2:16 to go, but a low snap led to confusion and an attempted pass that Franklin was able to snuff out to preserve a one-point lead.
It came down to one last play to decide which team would get off to a winning start in the Kelley-Rex, and it was the defending champion Panthers that left the happier team on Friday.
“Tell me the easy game in the Hockomock,” said Bain. “We’re just going to take it one game at a time. Records don’t really matter, it’s how you come to play that night.”
Strachan added, “The Kelley-Rex is like the Big Ten, there’s no easy week. It’s something that we’ve got to put this behind us as quick as we can and get ready for Milford.”