The Panthers converted a fourth down for a touchdown inside the final minutes of the first half, landed a huge counter-punch score late in the third quarter, and its defense stood tall all game long. The result was a 17-3 decision in favor of the hosts.
While the defense was certainly the story for Franklin, the biggest play of the game came from the Panthers’ offense. Attleboro, which was held scoreless in the first half, made it a one-score game when senior Colby Briggs drilled a 41-yard field goal with just seconds left in the third.
But before the third quarter came to an end, Franklin delivered a game-changing response. Instead of starting the fourth hanging on to a seven-point lead, Panther senior running back Mack Gulla (21 carries, 172 yards) took the first carry of the ensuing drive to the end zone. The senior found a gap on the left side and then split a pair of defenders in the secondary, scampering for a 64-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead with just four seconds left in the third.
“That wasn’t the game but it certainly allowed us to kind of take a deep breath and have some room,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain. “It allowed us to really focus on the little things to keep the lead. A lot of people wouldn’t peg us as a team with someone with over 20 carries a game but that’s two weeks in a row that we’ve been able to get the run game going a little bit and that opens things up for passing.”
Franklin’s defense then put a pair of finishing touches on its strong performance, denying the visitors twice inside Panther territory. The Panthers were set to give the ball back to the Bombardiers with a punt but it was blocked by a diving Anthony Salviati. Attleboro’s Alex Bakowski dove onto the loose ball and the Bombardiers were back in business with nine minutes left at the Franklin 28-yard line.
But a second down strip sack from Jay Gulla forced the Bombardiers back 12-yards and an incomplete pass forced Attleboro to punt. A high punt bounced in a sea of players, bouncing off a Panther, and Attleboro’s Chris Leonardo won the battle at the bottom of the pile to give the visitors a second chance, this time first down in the red zone at the Franklin 18-yard line.
“We were not good in situational football last week and I thought we were definitely better tonight,” Bain said.
“We were in the right positions, I thought we were more comfortable with the calls. I thought coach Rosen did a nice job getting the gameplan tailored to our crew. Attleboro presents a lot of problems and they move Strachan around a lot and it’s hard to account for him and know where he is plus all their other talented players.”
The Panther defense was up to the task though, stuffing a runner for no gain on first down (after a false start backed Attleboro up 5 yards). An incomplete pass on second down was followed by a 7-yard run from senior Michael Strachan (14 carries, 41 yards) set up 4th and 8 from the 16. Attleboro went for it with a pass into the corner of the end zone but Franklin sophomore Luke Davis won the jump ball for the interception.
“We just can’t seem to put it all together, we haven’t been able to finish,” said Attleboro head coach Mike Strachan. “We’ve had chances, we’ve been in the right spots but we can’t seem to finish. We have something going, we shoot ourselves in the foot. We get a big run, there’s a hold…we block a punt and we don’t capitalize. It’s little things, and we’re young, and these are the growing pains. It’s a tough league to have growing pains.
“We felt like we were right there in this game. We’ve been in the last two games but we have to figure out a way to close out drives, to finish out drives. It’s a short year so it’s hard, there’s not much time to figure it out but we’re going to get right back to work and try to build off our defense and get our offense going.”
Attleboro’s defense got off to a strong start, forcing a three-and-out from the hosts on the opening drive of the game but Franklin’s defense was equal to the task, forcing the visitors to punt after six plays despite some good early runs from Kaiden Murray (17 carries, 47 yards).
Franklin had more success with its second drive, getting points on the board despite being held out of the end zone by the Bombardiers. Junior quarterback Jared Arone (8/12, 117 yards) hit senior Jake O’Brien on a hitch route on third to move the sticks, and then the two linked up again on the next play as Arone hit O’Brien on a quick slant over the middle and the receiver did rest, sprinting for 50 yards into Attleboro territory.
The Bombardiers buckled down inside the red zone though, holding the Panthers to just five yards on a pair of runs, sandwiched around an incomplete pass. Franklin settled for a 28-yard field goal from Parker Cheuvront with 1:54 left in the first quarter.
Attleboro grinded its way down field on the ensuing drive, moving the ball 57 yards on 14 plays (4.1 yards per play) — all on the ground. Murray and Strachan had the majority of the carries, and the Attleboro offense benefited from a pair of offside calls to move the sticks. The drive finally came to an end inside the red zone when Briggs’ 32-yard field goal was short.
Franklin went on another long drive, and this time found the end zone. A healthy dose of Mack Gulla early (27 yards on three straight carries) and a 16-yard pass-and-catch from Arone to Will Tracey helped move the Panthers into Attleboro territory. Gulla ran for five yards on third down to get inside the red zone but the Panthers had 4th and 5 from the 19-yard line. Instead of another field goal, Bain elected to go for it with under two minutes left in the half.
Arone dropped back and fired a pass over the middle, connecting with classmate Shane Kindred right at the goal line for a touchdown and a 10-0 advantage at halftime.
Besides the scoring drive for the Bombardiers at the end of the third quarter, Attleboro had three punts, the missed field goal, an interception, and a two-play drive at the end of the first half, totaling just under 150 yards of total offense.
“I thought the defense came to play,” Bain said. “We have a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball but on defense, not only do we have new faces, but we’re young too. With a scrimmage and two games under our belt, I think it’s starting to show that we’re starting to earn our stripes.
“I know everybody is in the same boat with their offseason program but this year it really hurt us as we tried to get the young guys up to speed quicker, get them sharper mentally, get them some actual reps. But as we’ve gotten some experience under our belts and as we’ve stayed the course of what we’re trying to do, I think it’s starting to show.”
Franklin football (2-1) is back in action on Saturday when it hosts Milford for a 12:00 start. Attleboro (0-3) will try to get its first win when it hosts Taunton on Friday at 6:00.