WRENTHAM, Mass. – King Philip head coach Brian Lee would be the first to tell you the Warriors’ offense isn’t typically flashy, but in a crucial division showdown on the road at Mansfield, sometimes you need to add some flare.
Lee did just that, picking the perfect time to reach into KP’s bag of tricks. Trailing 17-14 with nine minutes to play in the game, quarterback Brendan Lyon tossed to his right to Sean Garrity, but instead of taking the ball around the edge, Garrity tossed it back to an oncoming John DeLuca on a reverse. DeLuca went on to break a couple of tackles downfield – one with the help of receiver Michael Mello – before finally being tackled at the 4 yard line – a 61 yard gain.
Two plays later, Lydon (3/10, 77 yards; 5 carries 17 yards) snuck it in from a yard out to put KP ahead.
The Warriors defense did its job, forcing a three and out on Mansfield’s ensuring drive and stopping the Hornets on fourth down with just over two minutes to play to secure a 20-17 win at Alumni Field.
“We’ve had it, we put it in the [playbook] a while ago but we were looking for the right moment to pull it out,” Lee said. “It’s a good play in concept but when John runs it, it becomes that much better of a play.”
The Hornets looked like they might pull back ahead on their final drive of the game. Anthony DeGirolamo connected with Hunter Ferreira for 24 yards on first down to move the ball to midfield. Two plays later, a double move from Ferreira put him open towards the end zone, but the throw just missed as Ferreira could only get one hand on the ball before it fell incomplete.
On fourth and 6 from their own 46, DeGirolamo dropped back to pass but the Warriors brought heavy pressure. Shane Frommer came from DeGirolamo’s right, forcing him to move in the pocket and Alex Olsen and Brett Mazur came crashing in for the sack and the turnover on downs.
KP converted a fourth and inches from the Mansfield 38 yard line with just over a minute to seal the win.
“Whenever you play Mansfield, it just always feels different,” Lee said. “I told the guys, when you come over there, you’re going to feel the difference. They hit harder, they run faster, they coach well. So you’re going to have to battle the entire time, there won’t be any runaways. I was pleased they were able to keep chopping like they did.”
After trading punts to open the game, DeGirolamo hit Will Garvin for a 27 yard gain to get inside the KP 10 yard line. The Warriors’ defense held on though and Mansfield settled for a 20-yard field goal from Diogo DeSousa to go up 3-0.
The Warriors forced Mansfield to punt on their next drive but King Philip senior Ethan Dunne came flying in untouched to block the kick. King Philip took over at the Mansfield 21 yard line.
It looked as though Mansfield’s defense had stopped KP despite the good field position, but the Warriors earned a defensive pass interference call on 4th and 19 from the 30 yard line. Two plays later, Lydon hit Garrity (15 carries, 58 yards) on a screen for a 25 yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
Mansfield worked up the field for a 44 yard field goal attempt just before halftime but it appeared the Warriors got a hand on the kick and it fell short.
“Just huge,” Lee said of the special teams plays. “We were struggling to move the ball on offense, we needed something positive to happen. We work a lot on special teams so to make plays like that…I think we blocked the field goal before the end of the half too. So two huge plays for us to turn it around.”
It didn’t take long for Mansfield to regain the lead in the second half, cashing in on its first drive. On just the third play, Hornet back Nick Graham (19 carries, 124 yards) got a nice block from fellow backJoe Cox, cut back into some space and sprinted for a 50 yard touchdown to put Mansfield up 10-7.
KP responded right away to tilt the game back in their favor. Lydon hit Dunne on third down for a big 39 yard gain. Four plays later, Olsen (8 carries, 27 yards) plunged up the middle for a 2 yard touchdown to make it 14-10 with 5:37 left in the third quarter.
The seesaw battle continued with Mansfield landing a counter punch on its next drive. Facing 3rd and 5 from their own 34, DeGirolamo (5/12, 132 yards) used play action and then found a wide open Ferreira (3 catches, 105 yards) in space for a 66 yard touchdown, making it 17-14 with 2:17 left in the third.
The Warriors started the fourth quarter with a big play, converting a 4th and 1 from their own 30 yard line with a Lydon sneak. Three plays later is when Lee elected to go with the reverse for DeLuca’s big run.
“We blitzed on the backside and ran by it, that was a good call,” Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said of the play. “They had run the toss the last three games. We were prepared for that, but they hadn’t shown the reverse. It was a great call at that point and DeLuca made a great run. We wrapped him up a couple of times but he broke away.”
The extra point following Lydon’s sneak was short, opening the door for Mansfield with a three point deficit and foot of DeSousa available.
But KP’s defense held Mansfield on the ensuing drive, forcing a punt. Mansfield’s defense did the same as the time ticked away in the fourth quarter. That set up Mansfield’s fourth down attempt that was shut down by Olsen and Mazur’s sack.
“We were having a hell of a time covering their guys,” Lee said of sending pressure on the fourth down. “You wonder if you should play soft. They have so many weapons; they could have run it on fourth down. We thought they’d pass, the guys got in there and made a huge play.”
“Alex is our emotional leader on defense, a captain on defense. He puts us in the right defense, he works really hard. He’s an old school hard-nosed kid. And then at the end, running the ball, those ugly looking dives.”
The win puts King Philip in the driver’s seat in the Kelley-Rex division. Although it was Mansfield’s second loss of the season, it was the first in terms of the playoff system.
“Now we have to bang out the next three and get ready for the playoffs. Maybe [KP] finishes the one seed and we finish the second seed and maybe we play again, maybe the finals or the semifinals. I think that’s the focus now. We have three games to bang out wins and then lined up ready to go.
“This thing could go on for three more days and I think it’d go back and forth – two very good high school teams. It’s a tough one to lose but with this new system we have a second life to get lined up for in November to make a run in the playoffs. I think us and them are two of the better teams in the division, we still have a lot to play for.”
King Philip football (4-0, 2-0) will return to Macktaz Field next Friday with a visit from Thanksgiving rival Franklin. Mansfield (2-2, 1-1) will take a trip to Aleixo Stadium to take on the Tigers on the same day.