WRENTHAM, Mass. – King Philip came into Friday night’s season opener against fellow league champion North Attleboro at Macktaz Field in a very different position than last season’s matchup. The defending Div. 1A Super Bowl champion Warriors graduated the vast majority of the starters on both sides of the ball, including all but two on offensive, and had a roster filled with new faces.
Many of the names may have been new, but the play on the field was the same.
KP sacked North’s star quarterback Chad Peterson (13-24, 165 yards) five times, forced four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles), and the Warriors made enough plays to pull out a 24-14 victory, the program’s 14th straight win stretching back 2015.
“I’m very pleased,” said KP coach Brian Lee after the game. “I had no idea what to expect. We’re only returning five guys, so there were a lot of rookies out there, a lot of guys going two ways. I love playing North because they make you play your best.”
From North Attleboro’s perspective, it was mistakes that doomed the Rocketeers on Friday. In addition to the struggles protecting Peterson and the turnovers, North also committed five penalties and just looked out of sync.
“Too many self-inflicted wounds,” said North coach Don Johnson. “We had kind of seen it in preseason, but way too many [mistakes] to beat anybody really. They made plays they had to make but we had mistakes in basic coverages. That second touchdown we had someone line up wrong and left a guy wide open.”
The struggles started on the opening drive when KP defensive lineman Evan Rice sniffed out a third down screen, tipped, and intercepted Peterson’s pass to give the Warriors the ball at the North 33. A 13-yard run by senior quarterback Brendan Lydon (7-12, 143 yards) got the ball inside the 10, but KP was stopped on three straight plays and settled for a 22-yard Cole Baker field goal.
North’s defense made the next big play when Brendan McHugh got to Lydon on a blitz and stripped the ball loose. Brad White recovered the fumble for the Rocketeers and three plays later Peterson hit Nolan Buckley for a 21-yard touchdown into the back corner of the end zone to take North’s only lead of the game.
Facing third and 15 on its next possession, KP hit a big play to answer right back. A broken coverage left junior Aidan Bender running free down the seam and Lydon hit him in stride for a 71-yard score. Just two plays into the Rocketeers’ next possession and senior corner Andrew Dittrich forced a McHugh (11 carries, 45 yards) fumble and Dylan Leonard dove on it to get the ball right back.
Thomas Madden saved the possession for the Warriors by diving on a fumble on the first play and on third and eight from the North 13, Lydon threw a perfect strike into the corner that was pulled in by David Morganelli for a 17-7 halftime lead.
“I thought the wideouts caught some really good balls for us and I thought our pass [protection] was good,” said Lee about the success of the passing attack. “Sometimes you’ve got to change up what you’re doing and I thought the guys really responded.”
Johnson added, “I was pleased with the way that we stopped the run game, but they had good balance. I think the quarterback has come a long way for them. He was a difference maker.”
A punt and then back-to-back fumbles gave North the ball at its own 21 about halfway through the third quarter. The Rocketeers put together a 17-play drive that took more than 10 minutes off the clock and needed two fourth down conversions to get themselves back in the contest.
Peterson was sacked three times on the drive, twice by Bender, but also went 5-for-7 passing, including a dart on fourth and eight that hit Omar Jasseh and kept the drive alive. One play after the combo just missed on the right side of the end zone, Peterson threw another fourth down strike, this one to senior Marion Bresko down the left sideline for a 27-yard score that cut the lead to just three points (17-14) with 7:54 remaining.
Lee joked, “They pulled a KP on us. We didn’t do anything in the second half, except for hang on and play some ‘D’. We tell the kids, you’re going to fight. They’re going to come over here and fight to the end. We hung on and sometimes that’s what you have to do.”
A punt gave North the ball right back and a roughing the passer call pushed the Rocketeers to the KP 31. Two plays later, Peterson tried to go for the end zone, but the ball was intercepted by Luke D’Amico at the three-yard-line.
On third and nine, facing another punt to give the ball back to the Rocketeers, Lydon fired down the middle to senior tight end JJack Piller, who pulled the pass down despite two Rocketeers in coverage and held on through contact for a crucial first down. With 48 seconds left, senior running back Shane Frommer, who was held to just 41 yard on his first 13 carries, bounced a run off tackle to the left side and was gone for a 57-yard touchdown to seal the win.
The personnel may be very different from last season’s experienced squad, but the attitude is the same. The Warriors find a way to grind out victories and make opponents uncomfortable.
“That’s kind of our mentality in general – we like to attack,” said Lee. “Sometimes it looks nice to drop eight into coverage but good quarterbacks make plays when they have enough time. We’re just pretty good at it.”
He added, “We love to play good defense here. We made plays when we had to.”
King Philip (1-0) will try to make it 15 wins in a row when it takes on Foxboro next Friday in the first game at the newly renamed Jack Martinelli Field. Next week, North Attleboro (0-1) will host Bishop Feehan at Community Field.