MANSFIELD, Mass. – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – King Philip makes enough plays down the stretch, getting the defensive stops it needs to hold on and grind out a playoff win. It seems to now be built into this program’s DNA that, as the weather gets colder and the games get tighter, the Warriors will find a way to come out on top.
On Friday night at Alumni Field, KP did it again. The Warriors scored 17 unanswered to hold a three-score lead at halftime and then held on, making a red zone stand to force a field goal and picking up a key interception to all but seal a 17-10 win over upset-minded Bishop Feehan in the Div. 2 semifinal.
“In the end, they always seem to grit up and find a way to do it,” KP coach Brian Lee said of his team. “We were able to hang in there, make them grind and put them in a passing situation, something they didn’t really want to do, and then we can make that play at the end.”
Senior lineman Christopher Sesay added, “It’s hours of hard work. We know how to work together, we know each other, and we all trust each other. When the game is on the line, we all rally together and we know what to do, what plays we’ve got to make, what business we’ve got to handle.”
The Warriors set the tone early in the game with a prototypical KP drive. Behind its imposing offensive line, the Warriors took the ball and proceeded to march 66 yards on 11 plays and chew up more than six minutes off the clock.
William Astorino got things started with a couple of dives for 15 yards and Kyle Abbott burst through the line for 12. Astorino (12 carries, 70 yards) broke free for 15 more down to the Feehan 20. Rudy Gately (10 carries, 63 yards), who is only recently back from an injury that kept him out for the majority of the regular season, got a couple handoffs. Astorino would get the call on the final three plays, eventually punching it in from a yard out on fourth down.
Feehan had scored 97 combined points in the first two rounds of the tournament (KP had allowed only 19) and was riding the legs of running back Nick Yanchuk, who had rushed for more than 300 yards in each of the first two games. KP knew what was coming on Friday and tried to bottle up the Shamrocks star.
Carson Meier and Luke Danson combined for a tackle on first down, then Aiden Astorino made back-to-back stops to force Feehan’s first possession to end in a punt. On its second drive, Feehan got into KP territory but a false start forced third and long and Meier sacked Niko Iovieno for a loss of five to get the ball back.
KP started at its own 41. On second down, Gately was able to spin out of the pile and broke down the near sideline for 29 yards. It was KP’s longest run of the day. Two plays later, Abbott (seven carries, 53 yards) went around the left side of the line and raced down the sideline for a 25-yard score.
The Warriors were winning the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Danson stuffed Dante Bruschi for a gain of one and, on third and four, Feehan tried a draw to Yanchuk that was dropped for a loss by Robert Casper.
Following a punt return by Gately, KP started at its own 47 and there was a feeling that another touchdown would seal the win even if there was another half to play. Astorino got five yards to convert third and four, but KP wouldn’t be able to keep the drive going. Matthew Kelley made sure that the Warriors came away with points, splitting the uprights from 46 yards out to make it 17-0.
Coming out of the break, the game flipped on its head. Feehan was suddenly winning the battles up front and Yanchuk, who had been held to 49 yards in the first half, finally found some room to run. A 30-yard gain would get the ball into KP territory and a bench interference call tacked on 15 more. On second and goal, Yanchuk (29 carries, 155 yards) would slip through the right side to put the Shamrocks on the board.
It was an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ate up more than six minutes off the clock, almost an exact replica of KP’s opening possession. When the Warriors went three-and-out on offense, it put a tiring defense back on the field against a Feehan team that felt momentum shifting.
Starting at their own 48, the Shamrocks were going to sink or swim with the ball in Yanchuk’s hands. He got the call on 11 of the next 12 plays, pushing the Warriors back to their own 15. A false start gave the defense a little life and Aiden Astorino made a big play on third and seven to stop Yanchuk for two yards. Brett McCaffrey would pull Feehan back within seven by booting a 30-yard field goal.
“We realized what’s on the line here,” Sesay said about the team coming up with a big stand to hold Feehan to three points. “We owe it to ourselves to get back to Gillette and take it home this time, so I guess we all motivated each other with, if we don’t win this game then we’re going home. Most of our d-line is seniors and it’s our last season together and it’s just the culmination of all the hard work since we were like eight years old.”
KP was unable to get things going with the ball, getting one first down but then failing to fool the Shamrocks with a Thomas Brewster end-around on third and nine. Feehan would get the ball back at its own 30 down by a score with 4:19 to go.
Iovieno converted fourth and an inch with a QB sneak and got another first down on second and short with the same play. Now in KP territory, Feehan was backed up five on a false start. On first and 15, Iovieno was sacked by Abbott and Meier for a loss of seven. Feehan spiked the ball to stop the clock, bringing up third and 22 with 1:49 to play.
Kelley broke on the route on the outside, picking off the Iovieno pass and returning it to the Feehan 21, effectively sealing the win and sending KP back to the state title game.
“Watching film I saw they like the out-route,” Kelley explained, “and I was playing deep because I didn’t want to let anything behind me. I saw the out-route, saw the quarterback’s eyes, and just jumped it.”
With the victory, KP advances to the D2 Super Bowl for the fifth time in six seasons. The Warriors are now 18-3 in playoff games since 2016.
“It’s pretty freaking crazy,” Lee said. “The kids work and give so much. It’s not easy to win and it’s harder now than it ever was, so to be able to do that, to get there again, it hasn’t even sunk in. Five in six years, that’s pretty awesome.”
When Sesay was asked about being part of the program’s sustained success, he replied, “It feels amazing just to be a part of a program that can do something that big.”
“To know we’re part of something this big that will carry on for generations, it’s something special I’ll always hold with me and I’ll know with these guys, it’s something I’ll remember my whole life being part of the KP dynasty.”
King Philip (9-1) will have a rematch in the state title game, regardless of the opponent. Either the Warriors will face top seed Milford in a rematch of their league encounter from October or they will face No. 4 seed Catholic Memorial in a repeat of last year’s title game.