MILFORD, Mass. – The Hawks had the ball in Franklin territory for almost the entire first half but had only a Blake Hill touchdown run to show for their domination. Momentum shifted away from Milford just before the break when the Panthers engineered a 14-play, 86-yard drive that tied the game with eight seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Coming off a difficult opening game loss to Marlboro, in which they only managed five points, the Hawks could have been demoralized by the swing in the game. Instead, Milford regrouped at the break, scored on its opening possession, forced a turnover, and scored again to break the game open.
Behind three touchdowns from Hill, three forced turnovers, and an offensive attack that totaled 270 yards on the ground, Milford rebounded from week one to beat Franklin 35-7. It was the first win for the Hawks against their neighbors in 26 years, according to Milford athletic director Peter Boucher.
“Last week was definitely tough, but we used it as motivation,” said Milford coach Joe Todd, who admitted that last year’s last second loss to Franklin was one of the toughest losses he has dealt with as a coach. “We kind of used it as a wake-up call that on any given week, anyone can beat you. It doesn’t matter how talented you are at the top, you have to play as a team.”
It was a team effort in the first half, as the ball seemed perpetually in the Franklin half of the field. Milford had two drives stall inside the Panthers 40, before Hill (18 carries, 179 yards) got the Hawks on the board with a 13-yard run. The kick-off team followed that with a big play to force Franklin to start from its own 14.
The Panthers put together what turned out to be their only sustained drive of the game. Jake Noviello (14-26, 102 yards) went 6-8 on the drive, including a 10-yard completion to Jake Wolowacki (23 carries, 85 yards) on third and six to get into Milford territory and then a 22-yard strike to Connor Peterson down the seam. Two plays later, Noviello hit Kinley Baird (four receptions, 27 yards) for a nine-yard score that silenced the home crowd.
Milford got a big, 34-yard return of the second half kickoff from Ryan O’Toole out to the 47. It would only take three plays to regain the lead. Asonga Aminmentse broke a 27-yard run to the Franklin 25 and, after a holding call brought a play back, Hill broke free for a 31-yard touchdown to make it 14-7.
“That was huge,” said Todd of the quick bounce back score. “We were really focusing with our guys on finishing – finishing every play, finishing the game, and we pitched a shutout in the second half, our offense came back and ran the ball great, quarterback controlled the ball and we finished the game.”
On just the second play of its next possession, Franklin fumbled and it was recovered by Harrison Bliss at the Panthers 25. Matt Curran (6-8, 45 yards) hit Jack Cappalletti for seven yards on third and six to get the ball into the red zone. Aminmentse capped the short drive with a one-yard dive to extend the lead to two scores.
“We got the ball to [Wolowacki] 21 times in the first half (18 carries and three receptions), we established the run, it wasn’t the best and it wasn’t where we need to be but you can’t come out of half give up a quick score and turn the ball over,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain.
After a three and out by Franklin, Milford put the game away. The ground game set up the score, but Curran found Tyler Joyce to finish the drive with an 11-yard touchdown with eight minutes remaining. Joyce added a big third down sack of Noviello to end the ensuing Franklin possession.
Hill would get a hat trick of touchdowns to add gloss to the scoreline. After taking a toss for 14 yards, he was brought down by several Panthers and there was some pushing after the whistle that resulted in a personal foul against Franklin. On the next play, Hill went straight up the gut for another 14 yards and another score.
“Blake Hill is obviously a great running back but he needs blocks; he can’t run over everybody,” Todd explained, praising the play of his offensive line. “It was great to see us run the ball. That’s what we need to do.”
Bain noted, “Where Marlboro was successful is they got to him in the backfield. They were at his feet, he couldn’t get that head of steam, and early in the game we were able to do that but later in the game we started getting washed out of gaps and he started finding creases.”
The Panthers have struggled against the run in the opening two games of Bain’s inaugural season as coach, but he saw some improvements and was staying confident about the team’s development.
“We were better this week,” he said. “We’ve got guys that can do it [but] it’s a learning process for everybody…All hands are on deck, but I told the guys that we can’t lose faith.”
The victory ended a long losing streak for the Hawks against Franklin, one that predated Milford’s entry into the Hockomock League by a couple decades.
“We just knew that if we kept playing tough that we would be able to run the ball,” Todd said. “It was a great win for our program…26 years is a long time to wait for a win.”
Milford (1-1) will look to keep the momentum going next Friday in the opening league game of the season against Canton (1-1). Franklin (0-2) will look for its first win on the road at Taunton (1-1), against former head coach Brad Sidwell, who is now the coach of the Tigers.