FRANKLIN, Mass. – Throughout the regular season, the headlines have focused on Franklin’s high-power offense and all of the different skill guys it uses.
In the first round of the Division 1 South tournament, the Panthers’ defense took center stage.
#4 Franklin’s defense prevented #5 Brockton from getting in the end zone, adjusted to limit the Boxers’ run game, came away with three interceptions and anchored the Panthers to a 26-3 win.
After Brockton’s offense combined for 97 yards and three points on its first two drives of the game, the Panthers’ defense limited the Boxers to just 66 yards the rest of the way. Of Brockton’s final seven drives, three ended with interceptions, one with a safety, and two turnover on downs.
“Our defense has been pretty good all year in all of our wins,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain. “It’s been pretty solid all year and in the second half, they won us that game. They put the nail in the coffin and sealed it for us.
“I love coaching and all that but the kids do all the work. From day one, they bought in. We’ve taken our bumps and we’ve grinded along the way but these guys earned everything they’ve gotten so far. I think we have great athletes but these guys have everything in their power to develop as people and as football players. That’s really shown this year.”
Brockton’s offense had its lone success of the first two drives of the game. After a good return, the Boxers offense quickly marched 47 yards — all on the ground — into the Franklin red zone on the first drive of the game. But the visitors couldn’t convert as Franklin’s Nolan McLaney and Austin Jordan combined for a tackle for loss on second down, and Brockton fumbled on third, meaning they had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Carlens Jean.
It took Franklin just over two minutes to respond, finding the end zone in just six plays on its first drive of the game. Junior quarterback Nick Gordon (11/16, 178 yards, two touchdowns) converted a third down by finding junior Jake Davis up the seam for a 36-yard gain – the only stopping him from going the distance was his own momentum.
After two plays without a gain, Franklin converted another third down, this time Gordon finding a streaking Jack Nally up the middle for a 32-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead with 2:08 left in the first quarter.
The Boxers nearly struck back with an immediate response of their own. Brockton junior running back Ahmik Watterson broke free for a 50-yard scamper to get inside the Franklin 10-yard line. Another run from Watterson put the ball at the 1-yard line. Franklin’s defense came up with a key stop and Brockton was whistled for a dead fall foul, pushing them back to the 15-yard line.
Two plays later, Jean’s 25-yard field goal attempt was just wide left and Franklin’s offense took over.
“They had a pretty cool set early where they where they were unbalanced one way with a power-I going the opposite,” Bain said of Brockton’s early running success. “You have to adjust the front while also maintain some integrity on the back and be gap sound. Once we settled down we felt OK.”
The Panthers marched up field, going 74 yards to get into scoring territory at the Brockton 6-yard line. The drive was highlighted by a 27-yard catch from Sean Leonard and a terrific leaping 30-yard catch from Ryan Driscoll on third down. But Brockton’s defense was up to the task, not letting Franklin get any closer.
The Panthers settled for a 23-yard field goal from Parker Chevrant and a 10-7 advantage with 6:55 to play in the second quarter.
Although Brockton’s defense just had a big stop to get some momentum, Franklin’s defense stole it right back. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Brockton quarterback Michael Norman was intercepted by Driscoll near midfield and he returned it all the way into the red zone at the 18-yard line.
Four plays later, on fourth and 2 from the 10-yard line, Bain elected to go for it and Gordon linked up with Leonard, who just got his feet down, in the end zone for a 17-3 advantage with 4:29 left in the first half.
“Any game you can really boil it down to about a half dozen moments and for us, that stretch was certainly one of them,” Bain said. “We’ve put a lot of stock in our kids and we really trust them. We went up to the line with a dummy call, we weren’t going to run a play but Leonard is a three-year guy, Gordon has stepped in the clutch all year so we let them do their thing.”
Brockton started its drive inside its own 20-yard line and junior linebacker Evan Wertz made a big tackle on third down to force the Boxers to punt. But the snap sailed high on the punter, and by the time he was able to pick it up he stepped out of bounds in the back of the end zone while under pressure from McLaney, resulting in a safety and a 19-3 lead for the Panthers.
Franklin had a chance to add onto that lead before half, getting to the Brockton 30-yard line on the ensuing drive but a fumble ended the drive.
Brockton moved 30 yards to get into Franklin territory in the final minute of the first half but Owen Palmieri came away with an interception to send the teams into the locker rooms for half.
“For us, our strength is our back end, our strength is our athletes,” Bain said. “I think we have very good linemen but we’re always going to be outsized, that just the way it is here. But we’re fast and athletic, so we if we can get a team to play to our strengths, we’re in a better spot. We wanted to make them throw it some and get out of their comfort zone.”
The second half featured a battle of ground games trying to solve two strong defensive fronts. Brockton had 20 plays in the second half with a total of 29 yards.
Franklin’s offense didn’t fare much better as it tried to get its ground game going and keep the ball away from the Boxers. The Panthers offense had 30 plays for a total of 57 yards.
“We like we had some opportunities to run, that was what they were giving us,” Bain said of keeping the ball on the ground for the majority of plays in the second half. “We didn’t want to give them a short field or anything. They have the athletes to get back in the game in one strike. I don’t want to say we were conservative, we truly believe they were the right play calls but hopefully we can have some more success on the ground next week.
The big play of the second half came when Franklin’s defense once again thwarted the Boxers trying to throw the ball. Midway through the fourth quarter, a sack from senior Adam McMorrow forced the Boxers into a 3rd and 15 scenario inside their own 20 yard line.
Norman tried to link up with a receiver down field but McLaney stepped in front for the interception. The senior returned it 26 yards to the 1-yard line, setting the Panther offense up.
After being stuffed on the first two tries on QB sneaks, Gordon took the next snap in shotgun and pushed his way up the middle for a 26-3 lead with 5:39 to play.
Franklin football (6-2) advances to the D1 South Semifinal and will take on top-seeded Xaverian (6-1) on Friday night at 7:00 in Westwood. The Hawks beat BC High 17-0 in the opening round.
MILFORD, Mass. – On its opening three possessions of the game, Franklin managed about 30 yards of offense and turned the ball over twice. But the Panthers got one more chance to break the scoreless deadlock before halftime and made it count, scoring on the final play of the second quarter.
The momentum carried over into the second half, as Franklin would score on both of its possessions in the third quarter to break Friday night’s rivalry game with Milford wide open and pull away for a 21-0 victory that sends the Panthers into league play with a 2-0 record.
“It’s a big win for us,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “This is a tough place to play. To get out of here 2-0, and more importantly 1-0 this week and focused on this task, we’re going to enjoy it for 24 hours.”
The game did not get off to a start that either team would have hoped for, with turnovers on the opening two plays. Shapel Feaster fumbled on the first play from scrimmage for the Hawks, but he made up for it on defense by forcing a Jack Nally fumble at the one-yard-line on Franklin’s first play.
Both defenses were in control for most of the opening half.
A Brendan White sack of Franklin starting quarterback Thomas Gasbarro ended one drive and Ryan Pearl picked off a pass by Nick Gordon, Franklin’s second quarterback, to end another. Milford was trying to mix things up, spreading out the Panthers on one play and bunching up on a power set on another, but the Panthers defense stood tall.
With under two minutes remaining in the half, Franklin took possession at its own 42. Gordon (6-11, 147 yards) hit Nally down the sideline for 21 yards and then found Ryan Driscoll (four catches, 115 yards) for nine yards to the Milford 28.
After an incomplete pass, Franklin had eight seconds left in the quarter. Gordon dropped back and again looked down the far sideline where Driscoll had gotten open in between two defensive backs for the game’s opening score.
Milford coach Anthony Vizakis admitted that it was a deflating moment for his team. He said, “It was because they knew we were close to going in with a 0-0 ballgame and that’s a totally different mentality. It’s a totally different feeling. I thought we came out [for the second half] with a little energy but it just wasn’t enough for tonight.”
The Panthers took control with the opening possession of the second half, marching 75 yards on seven plays to make it a two-score game. Gordon again hit Driscoll on a go-route down the sideline for 38 yards into Milford territory and then found Will Davis for another 11 yards. Three plays, including two Gordon keepers, later, Gordon was able to scramble and keep a play alive before finding a seam for a seven-yard score.
The Milford offense had to try and speed up, focusing on the spread formation and the passing game to try and cut into the lead, but that also played right into the strength of the Franklin defense – its secondary.
“With a two touchdown lead, you sort of take war off the table,” said Bain about Milford’s run-first set. “Our strength of the defense is our speed…whereas the war is what they do best and they can dictate to an opponent. To get them out of that was a big step in the second half.”
Milford’s junior quarterback Colby Pires completed three of his four passes in the first half, but with the Panthers dropping back into coverage then he was only able to complete two of 14 passes in the second half. Driscoll and Nally both broke up passes in coverage and Nolan McLaney was able to bat a pass down at the line of scrimmage.
“We had the clock against us and sometimes when you’re down two scores you try to speed things up a little bit,” Vizakis explained. “It was frustrating because we just couldn’t hit anything over the top.”
Franklin’s success defending the pass was largely done without getting much pressure on Pires. Adam McMorrow had the only sack of the game for the Panthers and it came on Milford’s possession.
Franklin made it three straight possessions with a touchdown and sealed the win before the end of the third quarter. The Panthers went 57 yards on 11 plays, including a 40-yard pass from Gordon to Driscoll. On third and goal from the six, Gordon took a keeper to the left side and snuck inside the pylon with a leap over the goal line.
Bain said, “We do spend some time talking about scramble drill and Nick’s able to that. It was a great night for the boys.”
“They run the spread very well,” Vizakis said. “Their quarterback runs the ball very well and we’ve just got to stay in our assignments, stay disciplined.”
Franklin (2-0) will open Kelley-Rex division play next Friday night at Alumni Field against Mansfield. Milford (0-2) will look for its first win when it starts Davenport division play with a visit from Canton.
Injuries hampered Attleboro right from the start of the 2017 season, but the 2018 Bombardiers are healthy and hoping for a big turnaround this fall to compete with the top teams in the Kelley-Rex division and make a return to the postseason.
The graduation of quarterback Cam Furtado is a significant loss on offense, but the Bombardiers will hand the ball to junior Jason Weir, who has a big arm and a lot of potential at the QB position. Size and strength won’t be a problem for Weir, who played defensive end as a sophomore. Seniors Justin Cote and Alex Rodriguez will be the primary backs for Attleboro this year and give the Bombardiers dynamic weapons out of the backfield. The offensive line is bolstered by 6-foot-6, 290-pound junior Qualeem Charles and 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior Nick Evans. At 6-foot-3, junior Nolan Jaeger will be a weapon at receiver along with senior Josh Therrien and sophomore tight end Michael Strachan.
Evans battled injuries at the start of last season, but he is one of the top defensive linemen in the league and is drawing Div. I college offers. Attleboro will be a tough team to run against this season with Evans on the end and Charles (who is also getting DI looks) and 6-foot-3, 365-pound senior Eddie Porreca on the inside. Strachan and junior Isaac Gudiel will be starting at inside linebacker, while senior Desmond Woodson will be starting on the outside. Therrien is capable of making plays downfield at his free safety position and will be the leader of the secondary.
“I am looking forward to the 2018 season,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “We have a strong senior class and we have strong leadership on our football team. Our team worked out hard in the off-season and I am looking forward to that hard work paying off this season.”
Third-year head coach Eian Bain is optimistic about the 2018 season, and the long list of players returning with plenty of experience is a big reason why. The Panthers have over a dozen players back that started or saw significant time on offense and the same goes for the defense, include a very seasoned secondary.
Franklin must replace three-year starter Jake Noviello at quarterback but Bain is confident that a healthy competition between senior Nick Gordon and junior Thomas Gasbarro will result in a strong option starting under center for the opening week. While Franklin has to replace its quarterback, they return a ton of skill players on offense including senior tight end Sean Leonard, who hauled in a league-best eight touchdown passes last season. Ryan Driscoll (five touchdowns), Jack Nally, Will Davis, and Jake Davis will fill out the receiving corps while Sean Hofferty and Owen Palmieri man the backfield. Seniors Riley Downing and Liam Arsenault are experienced and will anchor the offensive line.
Junior Evan Wertz will be a key piece in the middle of the Panthers’ defense after having a breakout campaign last year with nearly 100 tackles from his linebacker spot. Senior Spencer Briggs and sophomore Alex Honor will also see time at linebacker while Downing is joined by Jack Jarosz, Dom Natale, and Keenan Bassma on the defensive line. The Panthers boast a seasoned secondary with Nolan McLaney and Driscoll both back, along with Palmieri, Jake Davis, and both Gasbarro and Gordon.
“We have experience on both sides of the ball,” Bain said. “It is a cohesive group that has been working hard together for our first two years and they are eager to the turn the corner with our program.”
The target on King Philip’s back is bigger than ever as the Warriors pulled off a second straight undefeated season and another state championship.
So how will head coach Brian Lee get this year’s team to focus on 2018 and not the past two seasons?
“The work and preparation have been the same but now it’s up to this season class to leave their legacy,” Lee said. “The previous two classes had their moments, now it’s up to these seniors to make their own moment. This team will go as far as these seniors lead them.”
The seniors will have plenty of opportunities to make their mark because King Philip doesn’t have a returning starter on offense. The Warriors need to replace quarterback Brendan Lydon, who didn’t lose a game as a starter. Junior Robbie Jarest looks poised to take over under center this season. While it isn’t a lot of experience, Jarest took over in the second half of the state final after Lydon got hurt and helped the Warriors finish off Lincoln-Sudbury. The toughest shoes to fill will be those of Shane Frommer, who will go down as one of the best players in KP history.
Junior Ryan Halliday will be the feature back while Aidan Bender and Sam Callanan will be in the mix as well. Jack Webster and Jack Collentro will be keys to the offense from the fullback position. Senior Terrell Jacobs Bastons has some experience on both sides of the ball and will likely start at guard while classmate Josh Fice will fill in the other guard spot. Junior Nolan Gunning is likely to get a starting spot as well, either at center or tackle.
Defense has been a staple for the Warriors throughout their successful run over the last couple of years, and that’s what KP will count on again this season. The strength will come from the linebackers with Webster back in an outside spot and Max Armour returning in the middle. Jacobs Bastons will be a big presence in the middle of the defensive line while the secondary will have familiar faces back in Aidan Bender, Timmy Nault, and safety Luke D’Amico.
And as we saw in the state final, having a reliable kicker is priceless. Cole Baker, who booted the winning field goal in the final, is back for his third year. Not only will he be a big help on offense, his kickoffs will be a weapon for the defense.
Mansfield has finished second in the Kelley-Rex in each of the past three seasons and the Hornets will be counting on experience under center and depth at the skill positions to end King Philip’s two-year reign atop the division and return to the top of the league standings for the first time since 2013.
Senior Damani Scott will be the starter at quarterback for the second straight season and he will be backed up by the capable Jack Mousette, giving the Hornets plenty of experience and reliability from their signal caller. Scott will also have a ton of weapons to call on this year with a skill position group that head coach Mike Redding calls one of the best that Mansfield has had in a while. Khristian Conner and Aidan Sacco will be weapons in the passing game while junior Vinnie Holmes is back in the backfield. Juniors Makhi Baskin, Michael DeBolt (who was also an outstanding kicker last year), and Nick Marciano will provide depth in the slot/running back positions. Senior Daenin Walker and junior Jason Comeau will add experience to the offensive line.
Defensively, Holmes will return to the linebacking corps after setting a program record for tackles in a season as a sophomore. Seniors Chris Copponi and Philip Dinov also return and can play as linebackers or as defensive ends depending on matchups. The secondary will be strong for the Hornets this year with Conner and Sacco at the corners and Marciano and Baskin at the safety positions. The only new additions on the defense are Anthony Capece at noseguard and junior Joe Plath at linebacker.
Redding said, “We have an experienced, athletic, aggressive defense that should be tough to score on and we’re young on offense, but have a ton of depth and talent at skill positions. Just need to gain some experience up front with our new guys on OL and DL.”
The 2018 version of the Oliver Ames Tigers have already had to make an audible after star running back Anthony Berksza suffered a season-ending injury over summer. Berksza had a breakout year last season, rushing for over 1,100 yards and finished with 16 total touchdowns, 15 of those rushing.
With Berksza out, Oliver Ames will rely heavily on the rest of its returning starters to carry the load. Junior Cam Perron returns under center after taking over the starting job during the regular season last year. While Perron looks to find some of his options, he has an offensive line protecting him that has some experience but will be looking to form cohesiveness throughout the year. Dean Pacini, Shane Murphy, Billy Tat, Luke Thibeault, and Garrett Wood all return with experience playing on the line. One challenge will be finding someone to step up and be a leader of that group after the graduation of two-time all star Jack Mills.
Nathan Cabral takes over as the feature tailback and OA head coach Mike Holland is confident the junior can get the job done. Holland says Cabral runs hard and is a tough player. Perron will also have the likes of Shane Kilkelly, Jake Erlich, and Evan Craig to work with as targets.
The heart of the defense will be at the linebacker position. Both Pacini, Murphy, and Darnele Ryan return after starting there last year and Holland will count on both senior captains to lead the way for the Tigers. Sam Stevens is back in the secondary at the safety position but OA will need some new faces to emerge alongside him.
“We’re looking forward to the start of the season,” Holland said. “We have a great group across the board. We have some experienced players back and some talented players competing for jobs.”
Taunton started last season with a 3-0 record, one of the program’s best starts in years, but then lost five straight games, including a playoff game against BC High, the top seed in Div. 1 South. The Tigers turned it on again from that point, winning the final three games of the season, including an impressive win against Brockton, to finish with a winning record under second-year head coach Brad Sidwell.
Experience will be a key for the Tigers this season, as Taunton tries to build on that playoff appearance and the momentum from a strong closing stretch. Senior Noah Leonard will be the starting quarterback for the third straight year and is now fluent in Sidwell’s offensive system. Leonard will have familiar targets in senior wideouts Brayden Merrill, Tryton Zavala, and Wesner Charles, while junior Cam Carroca looks to step in as a feature running back and junior Javon Franklin is a new target in the passing game. On the line, Taunton returns plenty of size in 6-foot-3, 337-pound tackle Christian Tourinho and his fellow senior Cam Correiro. Senior Ryan Williams will be the center, while junior Mason Frank, listed at 6-foot-2 and 274 pounds, will be back to battle at the line of scrimmage.
Size and athleticism will be strengths for Taunton on the defensive side of the ball as well. Tourinho, Correiro, and Frank can bottle up opposing running games and will be joined on the line by seniors Corey Pintabone and John Rockwood. Williams will lead the linebacking corps along with classmates Max Moitoso and Kyle Cuoto. Senior Prince Brown will be back at corner and senior Sebastien Celestin looks to step into the safety position.
“Taunton football is progressing forward,” said Sidwell. “Like all teams, we’d like to gain some confidence early in the season and carry it on. The Kelley-Rex division is challenging with great programs, coaching staffs, and communities. We are happy to be a part of it and want to represent Taunton High well by competing at the high standard set by the other league members.”
MILFORD, Mass. – Heading into halftime, Franklin was frustrated. The Panthers had made a series of mistakes from turnovers to missed blocks to dropped passes to using up timeouts early in the half and Milford had taken advantage, playing the game at its pace and grinding out a three-point lead.
After the break, Franklin turned the game around, scoring 21 straight points and forcing Milford to abandon the power running game that it prefers. Behind three touchdown passes from senior Jake Noviello, Franklin pulled out a 28-10 victory in Friday night’s Game of the Week and evened its record at 1-1.
“They’re tough and we knew that. They compete and those kids don’t quit,” Franklin coach Eian Bain said about Milford. “We gave them the ball in great field position, we allowed them to execute their game plan, and we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
He added, “Once we got out of our own way, that’s all it took. Milford is a very good, competitive, and tough team. You can’t do that kind of stuff and expect to beat them.”
Things started perfectly for the Panthers, who marched down the field on the opening possession of the game. Franklin went 78 yards in 11 plays and no-huddle offense was clicking in perfect rhythm. Noviello (15-26, 180 yards) was 5-for-8 on the drive and capped it with an eight-yard strike to Jack Nally (who caught four of the five completions on the drive) for the game’s first score.
Special teams got Milford right back into the game. Junior Shapel Feaster returned the ensuing kick-off 66 yards to start the Hawks at the Franklin 20. The Hawks made it count with junior Brendan White (11 carries, 26 yards) tying the game with a four-yard run that was aided by a big push from his teammates that carried him and several would-be tacklers across the goal line.
Ryan Driscoll coughed up the ball on the kick return and again Milford started well into Franklin territory; this time at the Panthers 16. A holding call denied Ryan Pearl a touchdown on a keeper and a Jackson Gilbert tackle on third down and goal forced Milford to settle for a 20-yard Sean Lehane field goal to take the lead.
Milford continued to grind out yards on the ground, running out the clock with a balanced attack that featured Will Pointer (13 carries, 65 yards), Ryan O’Toole (eight carries, 32 yards) and White.
The Hawks got the ball out of halftime and there was a lot of energy on the sidelines, but Franklin forced a punt on the first possession and then its offense got back into gear. The Panthers put together a 12-play, 75-yard drive and took the lead for good. Noviello was 4-for-6 on the drive and threw a perfect pass to hit Evan Wendell in the far corner of the end zone for a 14-10 lead.
“Once we got rolling in the second half, the kids settled down,” said Bain. “They knew they were in a fight, but we also knew what we were doing wrong. It’s not hard to fix mistakes that are self-inflicted and we were able to correct them and get back on track.”
On Milford’s next possession, Evan Wertz ripped the ball away from White and returned it inside the 20, with a penalty getting Franklin down to the six. Two plays later, Noviello hit Driscoll for the six-yard score and a crucial two-possession lead.
“We’ve got a really young quarterback and anytime, with our offense, when we get behind it’s tough,” admitted Milford coach Anthony Vizakis. “We like to ground and pound, but that can only go so far.”
With the Hawks needing to up the tempo, Vizakis turned to sophomore quarterback Colby Pires and a spread formation, but Franklin picked off a pair of passes, including a sliding interception on the far sideline by Nolan Mclaney that gave the Panthers a chance to put the game away.
“We see a bright future with Colby Pires and we’re definitely working towards that,” Vizakis explained. “Nothing against (last year’s starter) Matt Curran, he’s a good kid and we’re using him in other spots, but we see Colby being a starter here for a few years, so he’s getting some good experience.”
Facing fourth and one on the next drive, Noviello used a hard count to draw Milford offsides and, although his pass was intercepted by Feaster, Franklin got the first down. Sean Hofferty(15 carries, 39 yards) finished the drive with a two-yard dive to wrap up the scoring.
Bain said, “As soon as we could get them out of their comfort zone, that’s what you want to do is make your opponent play left-handed. Once we tipped the scales, we were able to switch the match-ups into more of our favor.”
Despite the loss, Vizakis, who is in his first year in charge of the program, saw plenty to build on going forward. He said, “We started six sophomores tonight, offense and defense, so young kids getting good experience. We’re definitely going to be teaching every day.”
When asked about the importance of picking up a win before league play kicks off next week, Bain joked, “My car would be on blocks right now if we were 0-2.”
He continued, “The kids have worked so hard for this. It hasn’t been like that around here in a while where we go in and expect to win and I feel like we’re there now. To start 0-2, it’s hard to keep preaching that mantra.”
Franklin (1-1) will try to keep the momentum going next week against unbeaten Mansfield in what the Panthers are expecting will be the first game on the new turf at Pisini Field. Milford (0-2) will open Davenport division play against Canton at World War II Veterans Memorial Field.
The Bombardiers started the season 3-2, but closed with only one win in the final six games, including a pair of losses to league rival and eventual Super Bowl champion King Philip. Injuries piled up for Attleboro in 2016, but it gave a number of players the chance to gain valuable varsity experience and the Bombardiers have high hopes for improvement this fall.
Experience at the skill positions is one of the reasons for optimism at Attleboro. Senior Cam Furtado is slated to start the season at quarterback and has proven to be a dynamic playmaker. Classmate Elvin Sam emerged as a big play weapon last fall, whether in the backfield or split out wide, and tight end James Weir gives Attleboro an option in the middle of the field. Wideout Josh Therrien and running back Justin Cote could also play bigger roles with running back Marcus Blaise adding depth.
Attleboro also has a strong returning core on defense with Furtado, Sam, and Therrien in the secondary and Weir joining senior Nate Barboza and junior Jacob Weatherford at linebacker. Matt Corrado, Matt Jimenez, and Kyle Walsh will give the Bombardiers strength on both sides of the line and junior Nick Evans could be poised for a breakout year after moving from linebacker to defensive end. Sophomore Qualeem Charles is also a player to watch on the line.
“I am extremely excited about our senior group of players,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “We have some dynamic players in Cam Furtado and Elvin Sam and hopefully they can maximize their athletic talents. We have many returning starters from last season so we hope to build on that experience.”
The first season for the Panthers under new head coach Eian Bain was a struggle at times for a young roster that was adapting to new systems on both sides of the ball, but there is hope that the experience gained last fall will pay dividends in 2017. Franklin will have a number of returning players to count on this season.
Offensively, Franklin will have to find ways to make up for the production of graduated running back Jacob Wolowacki, who was a go-to weapon in the ground and passing games. Senior quarterback Jake Noviello will be counted on to lead the offensive unit after more than 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall. Junior wideout Sean Leonard started all 11 games last year and will be a tough matchup for defenses along with fellow receivers Jack Nally, Will Davis, and Evan Wendell and running back Sean Hofferty. Three-year starter Brian Kosicki will be the leader of the offensive line and tight end Patrick Morrison will be a weapon in the passing game.
On defense, the Panthers have depth in the secondary, including junior safety Nolan McLaney, who was second on the team in tackles last year. Junior Ryan Driscoll has speed on the corner and Bain called him the “focal point” of the defense. Nick Gordon will hold down the other corner spot. Senior defensive end Jackson Gilbert is coming back from injury that cut short his junior season and will add strength on the edge. Junior Riley Downing gives Franklin size and speed in the middle of the line.
“We are in year two of our process,” said Bain. “We are in a different place than we were a year ago…Fans should expect to see a better team in 2017. We have a roster full of experience and had great participation through the Franklin speed and conditioning program. In a league this good we have to bring our best every week.”
What will the Warriors do for an encore? King Philip won its third league title in the past five years, second outright Kelley-Rex title in the past three seasons, and completed an unbeaten season with a win over Reading in the Div. 1A Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
Despite losing a large and influential senior class, the Warriors are being picked by some to repeat at champs this fall. One reason for continued belief is the return of senior quarterback Brendan Lydon, who showed poise in the pocket and the ability to make accurate passes downfield in his first year under center in 2016. Yale-commit Shane Frommer is also back for his senior season and will be the feature back for the Warriors in a system that prides itself on pushing teams around on the ground. Beyond that, it will be up to a group of rookies to make an impact. KP will boast an entire new offensive line, anchored by senior Anthony Vahue, and all new receivers. Junior David Morganelli will be one of the options for Lydon.
The Warriors boast a bit more experience on the defensive side of the ball. Even though a good chunk of starters are gone, KP’s rotation last year allowed for players like Evan Rice (defensive end), Jack Webster (linebacker) and Dylan Leonard (safety) to see action. Frommer will be back opposite Webster while Vahue will also play on the defensive line. Andrew Dittrich returns as a starting corner back to anchor the secondary.
Although there are a lot of new faces on this year’s roster and a lot of leadership missing from last season’s championship squad, head coach Brian Lee has instilled a toughness that permeates the program and expectations are that KP will have a decent chance at lifting a trophy again this fall.
“We don’t get any points for last year, we don’t get spotted a touchdown because we went undefeated last year,” Lee said. “When it comes to high school football, it’s about taking those rookies and getting them ready for varsity speed, they have to be able to handle the bright lights on Friday nights. If we can get them up to speed, we should be okay.”
The Hornets finished second in the Kelley-Rex division last year, with the only Hock loss coming by three points to league champ King Philip. Mansfield was stunned in a playoff thriller against Marshfield, but then bounced back to beat Div. 1 playoff teams Needham and Newton North and will enter 2017 with typically high expectations, as the Hornets look to win their first league title since 2013.
A strength for Mansfield this fall will be the experience it returns at the skill positions led by senior wideout Hunter Ferreira, who has emerged as one of the area’s top receivers. The backfield will once again be loaded for the Hornets, who will count on seniors Danny DeGirolamo and Joe Cox and juniors Khristian Conner and Aidan Sacco. New quarterback Damani Scott will try to make use of that talent and the 6-foot-3 junior has a big arm to make plays downfield.
Cox and Ferreira will add strength and speed to the linebacking corps, while seniors Mike Shannon and Jareme DiLorenzo will provide a pass rush at the defensive end positions. Conner, Sacco, and DeGirolamo will all return in the secondary. If there are questions for the Hornets, it will be at the line of scrimmage; senior Will Shield and junior Colbey Eason have returned and will be the players to build around on the offensive and defensive lines.
“After one week, we are happy with work ethic and development of linemen,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding, who is in his 30th season with the Hornets. “If we can get pieces of the puzzle sorted out up front on OL and DL, we’ll be a tough out. We have a very good collection of playmakers that can run and catch and we should score some points this year.”
The Tigers got off to a promising start to 2016, winning two of the opening three games including a dramatic one-point win over Franklin, but Oliver Ames struggled down the stretch against a difficult schedule. Now entering his third year, head coach Mike Holland is confident the program is heading in the right direction this fall.
According to Holland, the Tigers’ strength on the offensive side of the ball is the experience of playing in the system for several seasons and a greater understanding of the concepts. Senior Curtis Cann will lead the attack after taking over as the starting quarterback last season and he has several talented weapons on the outside in seniors Michael Mulrean and Noah Fitzgerald. Jay Fruci will be one of the returning players in the backfield, lining up behind a big offensive line.
Jack Mills will be a mainstay in the middle on both sides of the ball and is one of the top lineman in the league. He will be paired with fellow senior John-Michael Cole on the line, giving the Tigers depth in the trenches. Fitzgerald and Mulrean will also be important contributors in the secondary, while Fruci will bring athleticism to the linebacking corps. Holland wants his defensive scheme to take advantage of the team’s speed.
“Looking forward to the start of a new season. Our guys’ preparation and approach leading up to the season has been excellent,” Holland said. “We have guys with experience that need to play big, as well as some new guys that are in the mix to compete for spots.”
The Tigers narrowly missed out on a winning record in their first season under head coach Brad Sidwell and showed signs of improvement, including a narrow, three-point loss to Mansfield. In year two, Sidwell is hoping for even more and Taunton has potential on the roster to be a tough out in the league.
Losing wide receiver Adam McLaughlin to graduation will certainly impact the offensive attack, but junior quarterback Noah Leonard returns for his second season under center and will look to build on the experience he gained last fall. With a number of athletes at the skill positions, including senior Collin Hunter and junior Brayden Merrill at wideout and T.J. Mendes in the backfield, Taunton will use a number of formations and styles to cause matchup problems. Sidwell expects the passing game to be a major strength for the Tigers.
Defensively, Taunton will have a number of new faces, but has size and experience at the line of scrimmage. Seniors Paul Corrao and Zakim Harrow and junior Cam Correiro will all make a significant impact on the battle in the trenches. Senior Nuno Camara provides experience to the linebacking corps, while Merrill and Hunter will be important in the secondary.
“Moving into the second year, the players, coaches and fans are excited for the season but there is lots of work to be done,” Sidwell said. “Hopefully we can get off to a good start and provide some confidence to gain momentum into the difficult Hockomock League season.”