MANSFIELD, Mass. – Sometimes everything just clicks on the pitch. The game plan, the formation, the passes, the runs, the marking, the energy, everything comes together over 80 minutes and makes it hard for the opposition to keep pace.
In Wednesday night’s Kelley-Rex title showdown at Alumni Field, Franklin had one of those rare nights. The Panthers hardly put a foot wrong from the opening whistle, scored twice in the opening 18 minutes, and walked away with a 3-1 victory over Mansfield.
“That was the best 80 minutes of soccer we’ve played all season,” said Franklin coach Jodi Klein. “That is what we’ve been working for all season long. We knew how we needed to play to beat this team and they did it.”
Franklin’s win ended a run of four straight defeats to the Hornets, including a 1-0 loss almost exactly a month ago, opened up a four-point gap on Mansfield in the title race, and kept Franklin two points in front of King Philip with two matches to play. It was the first time in the last seven meetings that either team scored more than one goal.
“They played great,” Mansfield coach Kevin Smith admitted. “They were fast, they were quicker than us to the ball, they connected their passes, and they came out in the first 20 minutes and scored the two goals and then we started settling in a little bit. On the whole, the better team won tonight.”
It was mostly one-way traffic in the opening half. Franklin needed only two minutes to fashion a good chance, as freshman Kelly O’Connor got forward down the left wing and crossed to an unmarked Anya Zub on the edge of the six-yard-box. The Panthers’ top scorer headed the chance wide.
Chances kept coming. In the eighth minute, an out-swinging corner was partially cleared to Bridget Leo, who hit a perfect half-volley from 20 yards only to have Mansfield keeper Olivia Salisbury made a full-stretch save to prevent the opening goal. It turned out to be only a momentary reprieve. On the ensuing corner from Izzy Arnold, Salisbury could only knock it down and Zub made no mistake from close range.
The lead was doubled in the 18th minute. Another run down the left by O’Connor opened up the Mansfield defense. Her line drive cross into the box missed Zub’s run but Riley Fitzpatrick cut in from the right wing and was able to direct the cross past the dive of Salisbury.
Franklin kept coming. The midfield trio of Stella Regan, Chloe Barca, and Leo were passing their way past the Hornets and forcing a lot of running and tackling out of holding midfielders Bridget Hanley and Katie Miller. While there were impressive performances all over the pitch, it was O’Connor that stood out in the first half. Every time the freshman touched the ball, the Panthers created a chance.
Another O’Connor cross was palmed out of the box but right to Regan, who teed up Leo for a shot from distance that went well over. A minute later, O’Connor was running at the back line again, dancing past a pair of defenders before firing a shot into the side netting.
At the half-hour mark, O’Connor and Regan played a nice one-two with Regan slipping the winger in behind the defense. O’Connor got all the way to the end line and fired a cross off Salisbury that Hanley had to be alert to clear.
“She’s a monster,” Klein said about O’Connor. “She doesn’t have a ton of points this season, but she creates so much offense. She just creates chances and excitement and energy. She doesn’t stop and I’m so excited to see what she does in the next few years.”
Right before halftime, Leo had one more good look from distance. She picked the pocket of a Mansfield player and ran to the edge of the box before forcing Salisbury into another good save down low to her right.
The Panthers were good value for the two-goal advantage. Mansfield had created little of note in the attack, as the center back pairing of Norah Anderson and Maddie Horton were repelling everything that came their way.
Olivia Homsi had the first shot on target for Mansfield in the second half, cutting in from the left and putting a shot into the hands of Rachel Welch. A long pass from Anderson sent O’Connor off on a run. She split a pair of defenders but the shot was comfortably saved by Salisbury.
Ten minutes after the break, Franklin added a contentious third. O’Connor was bundled over on the far edge of the box and, much to the frustration of the Mansfield defenders, the official on the opposite side pointed to the spot. Regan stepped up and fired a shot over Salisbury, who had guessed right.
The third goal seemed to spark Mansfield into life. Tarynn Smith set up Carly Devine for a shot from the edge of the box that Welch got down well to hold. Smith had a shot from 18 yards that again forced a save out of the keeper. Homsi and Devine both thought they had gotten behind the defense only to have the official rule them offsides. Gabby Smith had a long free kick that she put on target but Welch made a good catch.
Klein explained, “We haven’t really needed to manage a lead in such a high-intensity game. We’re just really starting to be confident and trust each other and know that we can do that against a team with that kind of speed. You can do it against teams that aren’t putting any pressure on you but when you’ve got Mansfield girls running down your back it’s different.”
Franklin wasn’t finished. A corner from Arnold went all the way across the box and out to her fellow fullback Jackie O’Neil, who played it back in. Salisbury bravely got down at the far post to smother with O’Connor waiting to pounce. In the 71st minute, Salisbury denied Fitzpatrick a brace after Zub’s steal and cross.
With five minutes to play, Mansfield got on the board from the spot after another contentious call. Miller made no mistake from the spot, firing into the bottom corner past the dive of Welch.
“It was a great build up and experience of what tournament is going to be like, playing every other day against a top-level team,” Smith said about the challenge of facing OA, KP, and Franklin in the past week. “It was great for us. What else can you ask for than playing top teams to get you ready?”
Franklin (11-1-2) can clinch at least a share of its second straight league title if it beats Milford on Monday. Mansfield (10-4) will look to bolster its tournament positioning when it hosts Taunton.
SOUTH EASTON, Mass. – Sometimes it takes just one moment to separate two good teams. On Wednesday night at Muscato Stadium, the moment came right before halftime when Oliver Ames senior Camryn O’Connor burst out of midfield and crossed to junior Jenna Gilman at the back post. Making her first start of the season up top, Gilman made no mistake from a few yards out to put the Tigers back in front.
OA was able to hold onto its halftime lead, beating Mansfield 2-1 in a game that had the proper intensity for two teams fighting for first place in their respective divisions, battling for higher rankings in the state tournament, and getting prepared for making deep playoff runs next month.
“I preach all the time that a great game is 2-1,” said OA coach Britt Sellmayer. “Someone is going to make a mistake, someone is going to hit a brilliant goal, and you need two [goals] to win. That’s two games in a row that this team has shown some growth since the Foxboro game where we had a 1-0 lead with 10 minutes to go and it kind of slipped away.
“It’s one of our best games of the year, so I’m pleased because Mansfield’s always tough to break down.”
The first half was largely dominated by the hosts. OA’s pressure on the ball was forcing turnovers high up the pitch and forcing Mansfield to resort to long balls over the top. There was very little time to take a touch and the Hornets struggled early.
Just six minutes into the game, OA had its first chance on a set piece. An in-swinging corner was only partially cleared and Ella McDonough got a foot to it. The shot was blocked onto the post and then a goal-bound rebound effort was blocked by Carly Devine.
In the 12th minute, another set piece would provide the opener. Mansfield keeper Olivia Salisbury did really well to prevent Katie Gibson’s corner from heading straight in, clawing the ball out from under the bar. Alexa Lane was there to knock the rebound back at goal but it was blocked out to Mary Cross. Third time was the charm, as the senior defender poked it home.
Lyla Nappa would have Mansfield’s first shot on goal in the 18th minute and it was comfortably saved by Emily Meyers. At the half-hour mark, the Hornets equalized out of nothing. Abby Jean and Tarynn Smith played a nice one-two about 35 yards from goal. Smith looked up and, for once, had no pressure on her so decided to have a go. The shot slid just under the bar and over the fingers of Meyers to make it 1-1.
“She’s starting to and we need it,” Mansfield coach Kevin Smith said of Tarynn Smith finding the back of the net more often in recent games. “We’re built on a team offense. We don’t have the Steph Kemp or the Cam O’Connor or the Kailee McCabe, so we have to get contributions from everybody.”
The remainder of the half was largely controlled by O’Connor. The Boston University-commit was proving difficult to contain, even as the Hornets threw multiple defenders on her. After sending one just wide from 25 yards, O’Connor dribbled past a pair of defenders into the box taking advantage of a Gabby Smith clearance ricocheting off Kara Santos for another chance that went just wide.
In the 39th minute, Lucinda Li Cotter teed up O’Connor from 20 yards that forced Salisbury into a full stretch save, tipping it around the post.
With the clock stopped at the end of the half, O’Connor had her moment. She rode a challenge near midfield and then carried the ball a full 40 yards down the left channel, got to the end line, and sent over a pinpoint, left-footed cross to Gilman ghosting in unmarked at the back post.
“Cam had the big play that we need every game from her,” said Sellmayer. “She is one of those rare players that has pace on the ball. Sometimes there will be a tackle and it ends up on your foot, ends up on my foot, well it usually ends up on her foot a little more often.”
The second half would feature very few chances for either team, but the Hornets made significant improvements in how they played out of the pressure. Smith admitted that it had little to do with his team talk at the break.
He explained, “Got to halftime and said what do you guys think? They were like, coach we were playing scared a little bit. They actually self-reflected and they figured out how to break it down. It’s what I love about these kids, they really think about the game and we’re growing.”
OA had a chance of yet another corner early in the second half but McDonough didn’t catch it cleanly and Santos was in the way to block and clear. In the 64th minute, Katie Gibson had a deflected cross find her at the back post but she couldn’t make clean contact and hit it right at Salisbury. A minute later, Carly Gibson set up O’Connor on her right foot but it was a tame effort that Salisbury snagged.
Those were the only chances for the Tigers after the break, but they were also limiting Mansfield, who was playing better and getting into advanced areas down the wings but still not troubling Meyers. The foursome of McDonough (making her first start), Cross, Allison Evin, and Sophia Byron largely held the Hornets at arm’s length.
“We really didn’t give them many chances inside the 18 and that’s something they’ve worked on,” said Sellmayer. “I thought Kyla [Melton] playing in the midfield gave us another edge on those headers that we didn’t have in the Foxboro game.”
Still, in a one-goal game, all it takes is a single chance to turn two points into one. Mansfield finally got that look in the 70th minute. Santos won the ball at the back and hit a quick outlet to Anna Darlington down the right wing leading to a corner. Smith curled one into the six-yard box and Devine was there but unable to keep her header down.
OA was able to run out the final nine minutes to secure the win and stay level with Foxboro in the Davenport title race
“I keep saying we’re young and learning and we are,” said Smith. “It’s been our mantra all year and it’s a great opportunity to learn about those little things and how to play against a team that’s, in the power rankings, No. 4 four in the state. It was good for us, I’m proud of my girls.”
This year, it might be the deepest it’s ever been.
There isn’t much separation among all six teams, but even less between the top three or four teams vying for the Kelley-Rex crown.
On Friday night, it turned out the difference between Milford and Mansfield was only a matter of inches.
Sophomore Damien Carter went up and hauled in a 9-yard touchdown over a pair of defenders and landed just inches inside the touchline for the walk-off winning score, giving the Hawks a 27-24 win over the Hornets in overtime at Alumni Field.
After early fireworks that saw Milford score on its first two drives and Mansfield orchestrate a pair of good drives, scoring on the latter, the teams settled down in the second half. Mansfield took an early lead on its second drive of the half but Milford responded in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
Both defenses buckled down in the final quarter as the teams combined to punt five straight times and the game went into overtime.
Mansfield went on offense first but a pair of incomplete passes sandwiched for a loss of yards on second down meant the Hornets had to settle for a 30-yard field goal off the right foot of James Gilleran.
Milford went next, gaining just a yard on first down. The Hornets nearly ended the game on an interception on second down but instead, it was Milford putting the game to bed when Evan Cornelius (11-for-20, 156 yards, two TD) floated one just past the pylon on the right side and Carter came down with it; the sideline ref ruling his foot landed in-bounds before his body did out of bounds.
“I hope people believe now that Milford is for real,” said Milford head coach Dale Olson. “We knew coming into this year that we had some young kids but some talented kids. If we’re not a top 6-8 team in this state, I don’t know who is.
“I had actually called for the play before to go over there and [Cornelius] decided to go to the other side. After that, we wanted the 1-on-1 on that side. [Mansfield] did a great job on Isaiah. We went up 14-0 and they started to double on him. I thought early on we ran the football at-will on them. But that’s a great program, they did a great job tonight. But in the end, our kids buckled down and played great defense.”
It was a dream start for the visitors, who were making their first trip to Alumni Field since joining the Hockomock League nearly a decade ago. The Hawks needed less than five minutes to march 75 yards on 12 plays to get into the end zone. A 21-yard scamper from Tyler Lane (18 carries, 90 yards) helped move Milford into the red zone and Cornelius kept it himself to convert 4th and less than a yard for a 7-0 lead.
Mansfield looked poised to respond right away as the Hornets started to move the sticks. But the drive came to a sudden halt on its 10th play when Mansfield lost the ball on a run up the middle and the Hawks recovered the ball for their first red zone takeaway.
The Hawks’ offense picked up right where it left off, this time orchestrating an 88-yard drive in just seven plays. On the final play of the first quarter, Cornelius hit Isaiah Pantalone (eight catches, 94 yards) on a slant that went for a 67-yard gain. Three plays later, Lane plunged into the end zone on third down from a yard out to give Milford a 14-0 lead with 10:47 left in the second.
The turnover didn’t seem to bother the Hornets’ offense and they came up with a much-needed response. On third down, junior Conner Zukowski (12-for-21, 146 yards) connected with sophomore Trevor Foley for a big 40-yard completion. Three plays later, Drew Sacco took the handoff and sprinted in for a 5-yard touchdown that cut the deficit on the scoreboard in half.
Mansfield’s defense gained some momentum with back-to-back stops. The Hornets forced the Hawks into back-to-back three-and-out series to get the ball back. The offense rewarded them with a 6-play, 54-yard drive that resulted in the tying score just before the half. Zukowski hit Foley for a first down and then dropped one to CJ Bell for 31 yards and a visit to the red zone. Milford’s defense came up with some stops to make it tough but Zukowski got low and kept it himself to convert a fourth down with a 1-yard touchdown keeper.
The Hornets looked to pull a double, scoring on both sides of the half, and it looked like there was a good chance they’d complete it. Mansfield marched 44 yards on 7 plays but Milford’s Jaden Agnew made a terrific read and a diving interception inside the red zone to put the Hornet drive to a halt.
Mansfield’s defense had an answer of its own and on third down, defensive lineman Pedro Cruz got his paws up to bat down a pass and force a punt. Given a second chance to take the lead, Mansfield took care of business. Bell made a great move to evade a defender and get a first down on a 16-yard reception and a holding call in the secondary moved the sticks again for the hosts. On fourth and one from the 3-yard line, Zukowski tossed it to James Fichera on a sweep to the right and the senior captain rushed it in for a score and Mansfield’s first lead, 21-14, with 1:53 left in the third quarter.
“We finally get the lead and had a big score in the second and one in the third and then we just couldn’t get a first down,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “We tried to run it but they were doing a good job defending that. They were doubling our receivers. That was the key…we needed to get some first downs. We didn’t need to score but at least punt from midfield and give them a long field but we gave them way too many chances in the second half and sooner than later they capitalized.
“We’ve got to start better. it’d be nice to be up a touchdown instead of down one. We have to find a way to get a lead and play ahead. The last three weeks we’ve been playing from behind. We play hard and we catch up but these teams, it’s too much to overcome early.”
Milford’s offense couldn’t find its rhythm as it had to punt again on its next drive after a fumble on second down set them back. But the Hawks’ defense did its job and forced Mansfield into a three-and-out. That was a big swing and the Hawks found their footing on offense again. A penalty on third and short gave Milford life, and a holding call in the secondary moved the sticks again on the next play. Cornelius connected with Carter twice on the drive, the first for 13 yards and a first down and, three plays later, on a slant on the right side that turned into a 40-yard touchdown. Nick Araujo’s third successful point after attempt made it 21-21 with 7:56 left.
“In past, I think this program would have [panicked], they didn’t know how to win big games like that,” Olson said of Mansfield scoring 21 straight points to take the lead. “Tonight, we had that 14-0 lead and it felt like the Natick game all over again. I was hoping for one more stop and I thought, if we can go up three scores against a Mike Redding team, we’re going to force them into throwing the football more than they want to. But our defense stepped up in the end.
Mansfield had two drives in the final minutes of the fourth but only totaled 19 yards on its eight plays. Milford also had a shot at the go-ahead score but their five plays had a total of 7 net yards and they had to punt both teams as well, sending it to overtime.
“Every drive is important, every third down conversion is critical,” Redding said of the tight competition in the Kelley-Rex this year. “We’re learning as we go with young kids and they are playing hard but they need to realize how every series is critical in terms of momentum. You have to move the chains when you have the ball. And we just have to find a way to start better. We almost overcame it again but just not enough.”
Milford (2-0 Kelley-Rex, 5-0 overall) hits the road for the third straight week with a trip to Wrentham to take on King Philip. Mansfield (0-2, 3-2) will look to snap a rare two-game skid when it hits the road to take on Attleboro.
MANSFIELD, Mass. – Canton lost its opening two games of the season and gave up nine goals in the process. The Bulldogs were incorporating a lot of new faces in the defense and there was a learning curve. It is a curve that the team seems to have left in the rearview mirror.
With a 2-0 shutout of Mansfield on Tuesday night at Alumni Field, Canton has won its last seven games and moved into first place in the Davenport division. Defense has been a major factor in that win streak, as the Bulldogs have allowed only one goal in those seven wins and are now second in the league in goals allowed.
“Our defense is really stepping up,” said Canton coach Chrissy O’Connor. “We definitely started out slow. That was definitely one of the areas that we were trying to fill in some lost spots from last year. The first two games, there were some growing pains there, but they’re really starting to gel together.”
Things didn’t start off comfortably for Canton on Tuesday. Mansfield has speed on the wings and the Hornets tried to take advantage of that in the transition game. Midway through the first quarter, Celia Puleo got free down the left and knocked a cross into the circle. Maddie Brown did well to bring the head-high pass down and get a shot on target, but Canton goalie Carolyn Durand was able to make a double save to keep it scoreless.
It was the best scoring chance of the game for the Hornets, who forced Durand into only one more save for the rest of the night.
Mansfield coach Theresa Nyhan said, “We lost it in the midfield, a combination of Canton making plays, poor decision-making on our part, and just not having enough people up on attack.”
Canton started to tilt the field, putting constant pressure on the Mansfield defense. Despite all the possession in the attacking half, Mansfield goalie Lily Danehy was largely untroubled. Ellie Bohane tried to create an opening 10 minutes into the game, but Sarah Cunningham’s shot on the turn went just wide.
It took 13 minutes for the Bulldogs to put a shot on target. A 10-yard shot through bodies off the stick of Maggie McCready was kicked aside by Danehy.
The second quarter was more of the same, Canton attacking in numbers and Mansfield repelling those attacks without allowing anything near the goal. After nine minutes, Bohane had a look that Danehy was equal to and, in the final minute of the half, Erin Lane’s goal-bound shot was blocked by Audrey Murphy before Danehy cleared the rebound.
“A lot of receiving issues, a lot of mistakes on our own that we need to clean up offensively,” said O’Connor about the lack of clear chances in the first half. “We do have a lot of different scorers, which is a positive, but we need to clean up some of the errors.”
While Canton was struggling at times to connect in the circle, a lot of the credit goes to Mansfield defender Caitlin Dumouchel, who seemed to always be in the right place to break up attacks and try to spring the Hornets down the other end.
“She’s a game changer for us,” Nyhan said of Dumouchel. “She’s a great last line of defense and an awesome first line of attack. It’s not just a whack, she carries out and she carries out with speed.”
After lacking the final touch in the first half hour, Canton wasted no time finding the opener after the break. Just two minutes into the third quarter, the Bulldogs got the game’s first corner and converted it into the game’s first goal. Cunningham played it out to Payton McDonough at the top of the circle. A touch put the ball onto Lane’s stick and she lifted a shot through traffic that found the back of the net.
Mansfield’s fast start on the break had faded and the Hornets were struggling to get anything going in the offensive end of the field. Dumouchel blocked an attempted shot off a corner and sent the outlet pass to Brown in the middle of the field, but her attempt to race forward was quickly stopped by the stick of Laura Valkanas.
Canton had a good chance to double its lead 11 minutes into the second half, with Bohane firing a pass in front to Audrey Koen, but Danehy came through with a huge double save. Two minutes later, off another corner, the Bulldogs got their second. This time McDonough played a pass to Cunningham at the near post. The first tip was stopped but got caught under Danehy’s feet and Cunningham was able to poke it across the line.
“Which is one of the things we’ve been struggling with is our corners, just getting off a shot and things we’ve been working on,” said O’Connor. “So, I was glad to see the girls actually capitalize on corners.”
The fourth quarter was largely a stalemate, as Canton continued to hold possession but was wiling to play field position and hold onto its lead. Mansfield did try to make one late push to get back into the game, winning its only corner with six minutes to play only to move too early and wipe away the opportunity.
“It’s kind of the way things have been going for us,” Nyhan explained. “We have three returning varsity players. We’re young and we’re struggling scoring. So, when they don’t score early I think they feel disappointed and then they just put so much pressure on themselves. They need to relax and play.”
O’Connor knows there is still a long way to go in the season and a lot of potential twists in the division’s title race, but she is thrilled with the progress her team is making. “Definitely gelling a little bit more,” she said. “The girls really stepped up and every game there’s somebody different that’s improving. They’re really starting to come into their own.”
FRANKLIN, Mass. – It was only seven months ago that Franklin traveled to Alumni Field to open the Fall II season. The Panthers were a young team learning the ropes against a senior-laden, highly-experienced Mansfield squad filled with Super Bowl-winning talent.
When the two teams met on Friday night at Pisini Stadium, the roles were reversed. Now it was the Panthers that had the experience and they took advantage at every opportunity. Jared Arone (9-for-13, 206 yards) tossed four touchdown passes and the Panthers beat Mansfield 28-10. in front of a packed house.
It was Franklin’s first win against the Hornets since going undefeated in the 2009 regular season. It also ended Mansfield’s 19-game win streak, which had been the longest active streak in the state.
“We had a normal summer, a normal weight program, a normal training camp where we could meet and walk through and do all the things that you’re supposed to do and we let our kids just be kids this year finally,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain about the growth of his team over the past few months. “I think they’ve grown a lot as people, as men, as students, as players.”
Despite being 3-0, Mansfield has struggled early in games and had to come from behind in each of the past two weeks. The pattern repeated itself on Friday, as the Hornets hurt themselves with penalties, regularly finding themselves in long-yardage situations, missed a field goal, and were unable to finish drives.
Mansfield coach Mike Redding admitted that was too much to overcome against a team as good as Franklin. He said, “So sloppy and I think tonight was the first time that we played young almost the whole night. Tonight it was like we could never be consistent. We just kind of took a step back in terms of execution on both sides of the ball.”
After forcing a three-and-out, thanks to pass breakups by Jase Lyons and Devine Johnson, Franklin took over for its second possession at its own 32. Two plays and a first down later, Arone went deep right down the middle of the field, hitting Shane Kindred (five catches, 106 yards) in stride for a 54-yard touchdown. Garrett Portesi’s extra point made it 7-0.
“You want to always play with a lead,” said Bain. “It gives you a little flexibility, allows you now to panic, and we hit those big plays early. It also put some pressure on them to get out of their comfort zone.”
Another Mansfield three-and-out gave Franklin a chance to double its lead, but Trevor Foley intercepted Arone at the Hornets 39. Mansfield’s offense finally started to get things going.
Conner Zukowski (13-of-27, 141 yards) hit CJ Bell for 27 yards down the sideline to get into the red zone. A sack by Nick Quintina (one of five Franklin sacks in the game) pushed the Hornets back eight yards and Luke Davis made a nice play on the ball to deny a touchdown pass to Foley. The Hornets were forced to try a 32-yard field goal by James Gilleran, but it slid wide right.
Franklin fed off the defensive stand, putting together a 14-play, 84-yard scoring drive. Three times Arone found Kindred for first downs and Mack Gulla (32 carries, 164 yards) had nine rushes on the drive. On third and goal from the eight, Arone was able to buy time in the pocket, eventually rolling out to his right and spying Grayson Hunter open in the back corner of the end zone.
The visitors needed a spark to try and get something going before halftime. On third and seven, Foley made a nice sliding grab to get a first down. A pass interference call helped get Mansfield to the 24 and then Zukowski hit Bell for 21 more to get inside the five. Drew Sacco would get Mansfield on the board, taking a big hit at the goal line but squeezing across to make it 14-7.
Mansfield got the ball coming out of the break with a chance to tie the game, but once again the Hornets struggled to finish off a drive. Sacco broke an 18-yard run around the left side and a screen pass to Rocco Scarpellini went for 23 down to the Franklin 11. That’s where things stalled. Sacco dove on errant toss for a loss of a couple and on third down Jonathan Martins pressured Zukowski into an incompletion. Gilleran nailed a 30-yarder and the lead was down to four.
A mistake on the ensuing kick pinned Franklin back at its own four. It looked like a turning point in the game where, in the past, Mansfield would suddenly turn things around and find a way to win. Instead, the Panthers went 96 yards and extended the lead.
The drive started with an offsides penalty and then eight straight carries by Gulla. The Panthers were controlling the line of scrimmage, winning the battle in the trenches and marching downfield. After converting on third down into Mansfield territory, Franklin went for the home run. Arone threw a strike to Will Tracey on the far sideline and he hauled in the 41-yard score.
Redding said, “Gulla was as advertised. He’s a solid kid, but I think he was faster than we expected. We handled him okay but they did enough to set up the pass game and, when they did throw, they got some huge pass plays out of it. They had a good little combination going.”
A Gulla fumble would give Mansfield one last chance to try and get back into the game with 8:24 to play, but the Franklin defense continued to cover well and to pressure Zukowski. A sack by Jack Marino and another pass breakup by Davis helped the Panthers get the ball back at the Hornets 39.
“We’ve got a lot of really good athletes playing on defense,” said Bain. “They run well and they’re aggressive and they’re smart and we’re able to get in and out of a lot of looks and packages and keep the offense off-balance.”
Three plays later, on fourth and four, Franklin caught Mansfield in a blitz. Martins was free down the seam and Arone picked out his wide open tight end for a back-breaking 34-yard score.
“This a huge moment, Mansfield is a great program, but wins are not our goals,” Bain said when asked about staying focused on the schedule ahead. “It’s an elite result but we can’t forget that reaching our goals every day got us this result, so tomorrow and then Sunday and Monday we’ve got to keep achieving greatness every day.”
For Redding and the Hornets, they face undefeated Milford next, knowing that a second loss would effectively end their chances at claiming another league title. He explained, “I don’t know if anyone can run the table. So, next week is do or die. If we bring our ‘A’ game then we have a shot to win. If we stay sloppy, then we’re going to struggle. But I like our kids’ character and I think we’ll be back next Friday.”