FOXBORO, Mass. – Defense has always been a strength for the King Philip program under head coach Brian Lee, but the Warriors have rarely faced an offense as dynamic and as talented as Catholic Memorial.
The Warriors (9-3) accomplished something no other team had this season, holding the Knights scoreless through the opening 12 minutes of Thursday night’s Div. 2 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium, but it is nearly impossible to keep CM off the board for long. The Knights grabbed the lead before halftime and used big plays to break the game open in the second half, en route to a 42-18 victory.
“Once you get behind by more than you’re comfortable with then you can’t do what you want to do and be patient,” Lee explained. “We had a couple plays that really hurt but you’ve got to be able to overcome that and against them it’s so hard. You have to play perfect and you’ve got to keep pressure on the whole time and it’s a lot to do.”
Lee was also vocal about his team, which was making its fourth Super Bowl appearance in the last six years, going up against a school that can pull players from a wide area. While school population means that CM actually opted up two divisions to compete in D2, Lee argued that there remains a talent gap that public schools will struggle to overcome.
“I’ll play any team, anywhere, anything like that, but does that look like that’s apples and apples?” Lee asked. “You’ve got to fix it. We have to play with kids who were in Cub Scouts together and they choose to stay, play hard, and work hard, but there’s just no way to close that gap. We can’t work hard enough. I can’t bring them in at four in the morning in the off-season to make them that good.”
CM got the ball to start the game and went to work in the running game, behind junior Carson Harwood (16 carries, 135 yards) and junior BC-commit Datrell Jones (nine carries, 95 yards). After Jake Sullivan and Sean King stuffed a third and four play at the 41, Hunter Hastings pressured CM quarterback JC Petrongolo, who slipped for a nine-yard loss.
KP wasn’t able to take advantage of the short field. Charlie Grant’s pass to Thomas Brewster fell incomplete on fourth down at the 36 giving the Knights back the ball.
This time, CM was able to get bigger chunks and deep into KP territory. Harwood broke a 13-yard run on the first play and Petrongolo (7-of-14, 137 yards) hit Jaedn Skeete (three catches, 103 yards) for 21. Crawford Cantave was able to bring down bruising fullback Kyle King three yards short of the goal line and on fourth down Sullivan forced a Harwood fumble that was recovered by Luke Danson in the end zone.
After picking up a crucial turnover, KP tried to convert it into points. On third and eight, Grant (14-of-22, 175 yards) connected with Brewster for 26 out to midfield. Rudy Gately (19 carries, 79 yards) started to go to work behind KP’s big offensive line. Grant was able to get just enough on fourth and one to keep the drive going, but on third down at the CM 11 he was unable to find an open Brewster in the back of the end zone. Matthew Kelley booted a 28-yard field goal to put KP on top.
The momentum from the opening score disappeared quickly. After Jones broke a 19-yard run, Petrongolo hit Kole Osinubi in stride on a deep slant for a 51-yard touchdown. Following a KP punt, CM got the ball back with 2:47 left in the half and proceeded to add to its lead. This time Petrongolo used a quick snap and threw a perfectly weighted pass to Matthew Rios for a 14-yard score.
KP had played well, used a lot of clock, and found itself down 14-3 at the break.
The Warriors got the ball to open the second half and missed another opportunity to put points on the board. After combining on a completion earlier in the drive for a first down, Grant rolled out to the near sideline and fired a third down pass on the run to a wide open Brewster, who had snuck behind the coverage but was unable haul it in.
Grant’s punt pinned CM back at its own seven, but Jones broke free for a 44-yard run that got the Knights into KP’s half after just two plays. Illegal motion wiped one TD off the board but Petrongolo found Harwood in the flat to convert on fourth down and then Jones punched it in from the three.
With the game in danger of getting out of hand, KP responded on its next drive. It started with a 26-yard completion to Danny Clancy to the 50. Clancy also drew a pass interference call and made a nice grab on the sideline to convert on third down. On fourth and two, Jonathan Joseph got open in the flat for six yards down to the four. Gately did the rest, breaking off tackle to the left and, rather than racing to the pylon, initiated contact with the linebacker to break the plane.
Once again, momentum switched straight back to CM. On the first play on the ensuing drive Petrongolo threw a backward pass to Drew DeLucia, who in turn threw it down field to a wide open Skeete for a 66-yard touchdown, just 12 seconds after KP scored.
“When you try to get into matching them, that’s not our game in the second half,” Lee said. “That’s what they do to everybody. Boom, you make a mistake, you force something that’s not there, and that’s what you get.”
The Warriors remained defiant. Clancy drew another pass interference call and Grant hit Nathan Kearney for 11 yards on a screen. After a holding call backed them up, Grant caught the CM defense with a shovel pass to Joseph, who broke it for 25 yards to the CM 40. Another screen to Gately turned into a 31-yard completion inside the 10. On third and goal, Grant kept it on the left side of the line for a one-yard plunge. He also found Cantave for the two-point conversion to make it 28-18 with 8:57 to play.
CM was proving unstoppable on the other side of the ball. A big return by Jones put them out near midfield and a pass interference call moved them down to the 23. On third and five, Petrongolo hooked up with Osinubi for an 18-yard score right down the seam. Osinubi would cap his three-score night with a pick six in the final 90 seconds to cap the scoring.
“I’m so proud of them,” Lee said. “They were never supposed to have a chance.”
Reflecting on how far the team has progressed this season, he added, “I didn’t even think we were that good and then all of a sudden you’re in the Super Bowl. It’s all about them, how hard they worked, how much they believed.”
FRANKLIN, Mass. — Before the main course of turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, the Franklin football team helped themselves to an early serving of stuffing.
Franklin senior Jack Marino denied King Philip on a 4th and 1 situation just beyond midfield with two minutes left in the game to help the Panthers secure a 27-20 win over the Warriors in the 61st Thanksgiving clash between the two teams.
With the win, Franklin clinches its first-ever Hockomock League Kelley-Rex division title and first league crown since 2009. It also snaps a 10-game Thanksgiving skid and an 18-game overall streak to the Warriors, their first win over KP since the same year they won their last title.
“It’s incredibly satisfying, and I’m obviously proud as the coach but I’m just happy for the kids and the town,” said Franklin head coach Eian Bain. “The last couple of years, this game has been good and there’s been some close ones and not so close ones. Eventually, these are games we have to win to move our program forward.
“This is a step in the right direction, and hopefully, our young kids realize what they can do if they keep working. But as awesome as this is, I hope they realize this took a lot of work from a lot of young men. I’m just really happy for the kids to see that hard work pay off today.”
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, the latter — plus a two-point conversion — had the hosts ahead 27-20 going into the final quarter of play.
The Warriors were marching into Franklin territory as the final minutes ticked off the clock. KP punted on its second drive of the second half and then fumbled in Panther territory on its previous drive.
A heavy dose of junior Rudy Gately (24 carries, 162 yards) and Crawford Cantave (14 carries, 72 yards) had the Warriors over midfield, but Will Astorino’s third down run was stopped a yard shy of the marker on a tackle from Luke Davis and Cullen Pek.
On fourth down, Marino came flying through the offensive line and met Gately in the backfield for a loss of yards and a turnover on downs.
Mack Gulla (16 carries, 109 yards) ran for back-to-back first downs and the Panthers ran the clock out to secure their first win in the series in over a decade.
“Me and [Nick Quintina], we knew it was going to be either me or him that had to make the play, we needed to make a play and make a tackle,” Marino said. “Rudy is a hard runner, I’m good friends with him but I was able to get through the gap and he was there for me to make the play.
“It’s great to get this win…the rivalry between Franklin and KP has always been there all the way back to Pop Warner. They’ve had our number for a decade or so, but it’s great to get the last one, especially for the seniors.”
“Jack is one of the savviest athletes out there,” Bain said. “Coach [Zach] Brown would say the same thing with baseball…looking back at any big win, there’s a moment when Jack Marino turned the tide.”
While it was the perfect end for Franklin, it was far from the perfect start.
King Philip’s defense forced a quick three-and-out and its offense needed little time to find the end zone. Gately broke free up the middle for 64 yards and three plays later, senior quarterback Charlie Grant (4/9, 84 yards) went play action and hit classmate Drew Danson in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Things went from bad to worse for the Panthers as they fumbled on their first carry of the ensuing drive and KP pounced on the loose ball, taking over in Franklin territory.
The Warriors needed just four plays again, helped along by a 33-yard pass and catch from Grant to Danny Clancy down the right sideline down to the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Grant kept it himself on the sneak and Matthew Kelley booted the point after for a 14-0 lead with 5:55 left in the first quarter.
“You’re up 14-0 and you keep trying to tell the kids it’s not going to last,” KP head coach Brian Lee said. “You want to try and jump on them as much as possible early. I think if we had maybe one more there…but it just comes back to the little things.
“The quick reaction is jeez, we made a lot of mistakes but how much of that is from the pressure [Franklin] was bringing on us? It makes you a little antsy, jump offside, lineup wrong, just little things like that…you like to think it’s us self-destructing but I think it’s the pressure they put on us. That’s what happens playing against a very good team.”
Franklin had to punt on its third drive but the Panther defense delivered a big stop, cooling some of KP’s momentum.
After a first down run from Gulla, Bain dipped into his bag of tricks and the Panthers executed a perfect flea flicker. Gulla took the handoff but tossed it back to Jared Arone (11/17, 231 yards, 3 TD) and he hit Shane Kindred (5 catches, 159 yards, 3 TD) in stride for an 85-yard touchdown with just over a minute left in the first. Sean King blocked the point after for KP but Franklin was on the board, down 14-6.
Helped by a holding call, KP’s offense went backward on its next series. A third-down pooch punt didn’t travel as far as the Warriors’ hoped and Franklin took over at the KP 45-yard line with 9:19 left in the second.
Arone broke free from a facemask hold and weaved his way to a 45-yard score, only for a block in the back to offset the penalties and nullify the play. But the Panthers’ offense carried on as Arone hit Will Deschenes to convert a fourth down and on the next play, Arone hit Kindred up the left hash for a 17-yard touchdown, making it 14-13 after Garrett Portesi’s extra point.
A false start and a tackle for loss from Marino stalled KP’s next drive, and a sack from Jay Gulla ended it as the Warriors had to punt it back.
Franklin’s offense capitalized on the momentum as Arone hit Kindred to convert an early third down, and the duo hooked up two plays later on the right side and Kindred managed to stay inbounds, racing up the right sideline and diving into the end zone. Hunter Hastings blocked another point after attempt but the Panthers had a 19-14 lead at halftime.
“I think we’ve been in that situation a couple of times, and even though you might get your confidence rattled a little bit, we’re still a pretty good football team,” Bain said of facing an early deficit. “And as long as we kept believing, I think the biggest thing was just having our kids settle down. You want them to play with emotion but they had to settle down and once we hit the big play to Shane at the end of the first quarter, and then we got a stop that we needed and we settled in.
“KP did an awesome job, they’re going to Gillette for a reason. Kind of like last week, we knew they’d score points and make big plays, we just had to take it one series at a time. You can’t hit fast forward to the fourth quarter and the game is over, we had to work for it and earn it.”
KP opened the second half in typical Warrior style: a 9-play, 70-yard march down the field to retake the lead. Gately and Cantave alternated carries, and Grant hit Gately for 25 yards out of the backfield on a third and long. Cantave capped the drive by backing his way across the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown.
The two-point pass was broken up in the corner of the end zone by Franklin’s Devine Johnson.
Franklin went three-and-out on its first drive of the second half after a pass break up on third by KP’s Kelley. But the Panthers’ defense bounced back and stuffed the Warriors, who went for it on 4th down from the Franklin 32-yard line.
“I think it was good to get back to our identity and our reality,” Bain said of the defense. “Certainly, Springfield Central can take anyone out of their comfort zone and King Philip does it in a totally different way, and that’s hard. It’s hard to keep getting hit in the mouth and then you’re down 14. You have to ask yourself, do I want to keep getting hit in the face over and over and over again. Our guys didn’t back down…it was hard, and they’ll be sore tomorrow but they kept answering the bell time and time again, getting off the mat. In the fourth quarter, they made a couple of plays that were key to winning the game.”
Gulla made a nice catch on the left sideline for 19 yards to move the sticks and then bulldozed his way for 10 yards on the ground and another first down. Four plays later, he ran up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown.
On the two-point try, Arone went to the right on the bootleg but didn’t have anyone open so he raced back to the left and into the end zone for a successful conversion and a 27-20 lead.
“I don’t want to think if we did lose, but I think they still would have had a great career but I think this was needed for them,” Bain said of his senior class. “I think a couple of classes before them, I think they feel a part of this too but this group pushed us over the hump. Everyone got screwed out of a normal experience last year but to bounce back and to have this, for this to be their last high school football memory, it couldn’t be more fitting for this group of kids.
It was the first time in nearly a decade that Thanksgiving games counted towards division titles in the Hockomock League. With the new rating system, the league elected to have Thanksgiving count as a league game with holiday rivals only playing once in the season, rather than twice as they had for the past eight years.
King Philip still has one game left as the Warriors are headed to Gillette Stadium to play Catholic Memorial in the Division 2 State Championship game. But the Warriors weren’t focused on next week just yet. KP played all of its starters.
“We were focused on this game…you have to respect their seniors, that’s a great team and they want to know they beat us with our guys,” Lee said. “They deserve that shot, that opportunity after the season they’ve had. And we wanted our guys to have a shot at the league title. Yeah, we’re going to the Super Bowl but who knows what’s going to happen? We’re playing against an absolute animal of a team. But with a chance at the Hock title, we wanted to try and go get it.”
Franklin finishes the season at 10-1 and a perfect 5-0 in Kelley-Rex division play. King Philip enters its showdown with CM next week at 9-2.
BROCKTON, Mass. – King Philip has been in these type of games before. Despite trailing by two points going into halftime of Friday night’s Div. 2 state semifinal at Brockton’s Marciano Stadium, the Warriors remained confident that they could turn things around.
In the third quarter, KP ran 20 plays to Milford’s one. The Warriors ate up more than nine minutes off the clock on a 16-play, go-ahead drive to start the half, forced a turnover, and then ran another 10 plays and used up more than four minutes to extend the lead. Before the Hawks had a chance to find their footing after the break, KP had taken control of the game.
The Warriors scored 17 unanswered in the second half, turning a two-point deficit into a 31-16 victory that sends KP to Gillette Stadium for the fourth time in the past six years (or four out of the past five seasons where a state title was up for grabs).
“We knew we weren’t getting that good of a push up front and we wanted to come out there and we wanted to set the tone for the second half,” said senior lineman Hunter Hastings about turning things around out of halftime. “We knew we had to do it on the first drive, so we came out there and we pounded the ball and we took up time and scored the ball, doesn’t get better than that.”
He added, “Coach Lee tells us what we need to do and he knows we’re going to be in these situations and he knows we’ve got to fight through the adversity and that’s what we do at KP.”
Milford came out with a hurry-up offense, trying to get the KP defense on its heels and slow down the pass rush. It worked on the opening drive, as the Hawks marched right down field, going 70 yards on 13 plays, and taking the lead. The big play was a 30-yard pass to the sideline from Evan Cornelius to Jayden Agnew to convert on third and long. Cornelius would finish off the drive with a 4-yard keeper.
“We wanted to go hurry-up early, but we just don’t have the numbers to sustain that for a whole game,” Milford coach Dale Olson said. “Tried to limit their blitz package and had a great first drive.”
The lead lasted all of 19 seconds. Although Milford is known more for the big-play offense, KP hit paydirt on its first play from scrimmage. An end around to Crawford Cantave caught the Hawks over-pursuing and the senior raced up the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown that quickly tied the game.
“You get knocked down, you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to have a response,” Lee explained. “Craw gets us right back in so we get a fresh start. I told them, let’s get through it, eventually the pace will slow, things will get down, and we’ll get back on schedule.”
Olson said, “Give them props, that’s a new formation we saw last week and they ran the double handoff. Our team’s chasing the first handoff and they give it to the kid going the other way and we haven’t seen it on film. It was a great call on their part.”
Isaiah Pantalone, who was held to one catch, broke a 54-yard return on the ensuing kick and the Hawks were back in business, starting at the KP 36. After a false start brought up first and 15 at the 30, Cornelius hit Nick Schuler for 13 yards. Tyler Lane (15 carries, 119 yards) got two to bring up fourth and one. The Hawks lined up to go for it but a false start backed them up, so the field goal unit came out. Another false start made it a 43-yard kick, which KP blocked.
On the final possession of the first quarter, KP struck again. Charlie Grant (4-of-9, 38 yards) converted a third and long with a 12-yard pass over the middle to Danny Clancy. On third and two from the Milford 49, Rudy Gately (22 carries, 134 yards) found a little seam between the right guard and tackle and burst through it, breaking away for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
Milford again got into KP territory on its next drive. Lane had the big play with a 43-yard rush down to the 32, but that’s where the possession stalled. Sean King blocked a fourth down pass to get the ball back, but the Warriors went three-and-out and punted. With the short field, Milford was able to tack on three points. A nice play by Cantave and William Astorino on third down forced the Hawks to settle for a 32-yard kick by Nicholas Araujo.
The biggest play of the half came on KP’s next possession. Milford brought a big rush to try and block Grant’s rugby-style punt. Lane got through for the block, scooped up the loose ball, and took it the distance. He appeared to be tackled at about the five, but somehow managed to stay on his feet and find the end zone. Although a low snap led to a missed extra point, Milford regained the lead going into the break, 16-14.
KP came out intent on grinding down the Milford defense. Nathan Kearney converted on third and one, then Grant hit Clancy for eight yards to convert on third and eight. Gately converted back-to-back third downs, as KP just kept pounding the ball up the middle and moving the chains.
The Hawks were able to get stops inside the 30 and force the Warriors to settle for a 38-yard Matthew Kelley field goal, but KP had used up 9:19 off the clock, ran 16 plays, regained the lead, and stolen all of the energy from the opposite sideline. Milford tried to take a shot on the first play of its first possession, but Crawford was able to go up and intercept a pass to Pantalone and get KP the ball back at the Hawks 42.
“We ran one play in the third quarter and it’s a 50-50 ball that goes through Isaiah’s hands into one of their best player’s hands,” Olson said. “Usually Isaiah makes that play and it’s a big play down the sideline, but that’s the game of football.”
Four plays later, the third quarter came to a close. Milford had run one play in 12 minutes. After Grant found Cantave in the flat to convert third and five, Gately got four straight carries down to the 10. On third and six, Grant looked for Clancy in the end zone. The pass fell incomplete but the officials called defensive holding, which gave KP another chance. Now, on third and one from the five, Gately got the call, spun out of a tackle in the backfield, and scored for the second time.
“Rudy doesn’t look like your typical pound back but he finds a way to make things happen when he gets the ball in his hands,” said Lee. “Craw was able to do it and the offensive line had a response. We made some big pass plays. We made plays.”
A short punt on Milford’s next possession meant that the Warriors got the ball back near midfield and they went right back to grinding out first downs. Facing third and nine from the 14, Gately somehow managed to keep his feet moving, breaking tackles in the backfield again, and moving the pile down to the five for a first and goal. Two plays later, Cantave punched it in from the three for a 31-16 lead.
Thomas Brewster broke up a pass play on the sideline and Jake Sullivan sacked Cornelius (8-of-20, 63 yards), not allowing Milford to put together a drive to try and cut into the lead in the final two minutes.
When asked how it feels to be heading back to a state title game, Hastings replied, “It’s never felt better. We come to play every week. We don’t care who we’re against.”
Olson remarked, “I’m proud of my kids. We’re still trying to build this and for us to be in this game is huge for this program.”
This will be the fifth Div. 2 (2016 was D1A) Super Bowl in a row, and eighth in the last 11 years, that has featured either King Philip or Mansfield. Only two times in the past 11 years, 2014 and 2015, has the Hock not had at least one team reach a Super Bowl.
King Philip (9-1) will face Franklin on Thanksgiving Day to decide the Kelley-Rex division title and then will await the winner of No. 1 Catholic Memorial and No. 4 Marshfield in the Super Bow. Milford (8-3) will face Taunton in the first Thanksgiving Day matchup between the two programs.
“It feels awesome,” Lee said about heading back to Gillette. He added with a laugh, “I love that we have a humungous Thanksgiving Day game against, you know, the third best team in the state before. We can’t enjoy it for long.”
WRENTHAM, Mass. — King Philip senior Jonathan Joseph knew Friday night’s clash with rival Mansfield was going to be his final game played at Macktaz Field.
He wasn’t going to let it be a loss.
Joseph had a pair of fourth quarter interceptions that came on back-to-back drives inside the final five minutes to help #3 King Philip secure a 21-14 win over #6 Mansfield, the second time the Warriors beat the Hornets this season.
Despite the MIAA’s switch to a state-wide format, King Philip and Mansfield clashed for the fourth straight postseason. Since the 2017 season, the Warriors and Hornets have played a total of nine times with KP taking a 5-4 edge with the win on Friday night.
“You luck out and have a good game against them the first time and now we’re going to see them again and they’re going to be angry,” said
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King Philip head coach Brian Lee. “If you kick a hornet’s nest, you know it’s going to come back at you. Mike [Redding] has been in too many big games, he always has his team ready.
“They were able to throw the ball and do some other things that they had trouble doing the first time, they were much improved and gave us everything we could handle. Right up to the end, blocking that field goal. It was a great battle but it would be nice to play someone else once in a while.”
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King Philip scored on its first two drives of the game but then the offense stalled and the Warriors had four straight series spanning over the second, third, and fourth quarters all end in a punt. And it looked like another drive was in jeopardy as the Warriors were faced with 4th and 3 from the Mansfield 33-yard line.
The Warriors went for it on fourth down and senior quarterback Charlie Grant hit classmate Crawford Cantave along the right sideline for 30 yards. Two plays later, Rudy Gately (16 carries, 74 yards) burst up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown. Matthew Kelley’s third successful point after made it 21-14 with 4:32 to play.
Mansfield went to the air on the first play of the ensuing drive and it looked like the pass would fall incomplete when it went over the receivers’ head, but Joseph made an incredible diving catch to haul in the interception and get the Warriors the ball back.
“When he walks by, he’s not that big, not much there to look at but he’s a great kid and a captain for us,” Lee said of Joseph, who is listed on the roster at 5’9, 170-pounds. “He’s all heart. He’s been coming along getting better and better, working on his confidence. In the spring season, we yanked him a couple of times but he came back and responded the right way, just working hard to make himself a captain.”
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KP moved the ball behind carries by Gately and Will Astorino but on third down, Caden Colby and Ryan Sullivan stopped the Warriors in the backfield. On top of that, an unsportsmanlike dead ball foul put the Warriors into 4th and 21 from the 28-yard line, likely changing the play call from a field goal (with the line of scrimmage at the 13) to a pass play.
Mansfield was hit with a pass interference call to erase KP’s 15-yard penalty, and then too many men moved the ball five more yards, but the Warriors were still looking at 4th and 1 and Lee elected to send Kelley and the field goal unit out.
The Hornets blocked the field goal, with Jean getting through the line and a paw on the ball. It bounced all the way to the 34-yard line where Mansfield took over with 1:35 to play, but no timeouts.
Conner Zukowski (13/22, 172 yards) hit Ryan DeGirolamo for an 11-yard screen to get the visitors near midfield but two plays later, Joseph intercepted a pass over the middle and clinched the win for KP.
“I didn’t want my last game here to end with a loss, that’s all I was thinking about the whole game,” Joseph said. “I wanted that first one so bad, I wanted the game to be over there. On the second one, I was just thinking just do it again. I trusted all my teammates out there.
“It’s hard to beat a team twice, we had to prepare for this. This game was tough, we had some ups and downs throughout the game. But we were prepared. We play them twice almost every year, it always seems to come down to the playoffs with them.”
The majority of offensive fireworks came early with the Warriors entering the end zone on its first two drives and Mansfield scoring one of its two touchdowns on its second drive of the game — all coming within the first 15 minutes of the contest.
Mansfield lined up to go for it on fourth down on its first drive of the game but the snap came before Zukowski was ready and KP ended up with ideal starting position at the Hornets’ 22-yard line.
A chop block only delayed the Warriors as Cantave gained 15-yards on the next play and Gately pounded it in from a yard out two plays later for an early 7-0 lead.
The Hornets orchestrated an immediate response, going 80 yards on just seven plays to knot the score. Drew Sacco (15 carries, 70 yards) and CJ Bell (102 total yards offensively) moved the sticks on back-to-back runs, and Zukowski found Bell for 37 yards later in the drive to move into the red zone. Two plays later, Sacco plowed his way up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown, and James Gilleran’s point after made it 7-7 with 30 seconds left in the opening quarter.
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Then it was KP’s chance to respond as the Warriors answered with an 80-yard drive of its own, taking eight plays to find the end zone. Grant and Gately each had first down runs early on and Cantave carried for nine yards to get over midfield. Three plays later, Grant found Danny Clancy in single coverage over the middle and dropped a 37-yard touchdown pass in stride to go back in front, 14-7.
“You’re playing in the toughest league and then you have to go through it twice,” Lee said about a second encounter with Mansfield, and next up Milford. “I know there are other great teams and it’s nice when you’re playing someone that hasn’t seen you. I knew this would be a battle, they know us way too well so you knew it was going to be the game it was.”
Mansfield finally put together another lengthy drive to find the end zone. The Hornets marched 74 yards on 11 plays to level the game late in the third quarter. Early runs from Sacco and Bell moved the sticks to get the offense in a rhythm, and sophomore Trevor Foley (five catches, 71 yards) went up and stole a pass from the defensive back to haul in a 32-yard pass.
Despite a total of three false starts on the drive, Mansfield found its way into the end zone, and on 2nd and goal from the 10-yard line, Zukowski found Foley open in the corner to make it 14-14 with 1:25 to play.
Mansfield forced a three and out on KP’s next drive but the Hornets coughed up a fumble on their first play. It was one of three fourth quarter turnovers for the visitors.
“A lot of shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “The snap in the first quarter hands them a touchdown, we lined up wrong on the fake punt and I thought we would have had great field position for a chance to take the lead. Then the turnovers in the second half killed us. We moved the ball pretty well but their secondary made some plays. I told them, it was a great effort, we played tough and so much better than the first game but we just continue to shoot ourselves in the foot at the worst time and in these games, it’s going to kill you.”
Mansfield’s defense stood tall after the fumble but its next drive stalled and after moving the sticks once, the Hornets had three incompletions and had to punt.
“I’m glad someone from the Hockomock is going to Gillette, I don’t know who to root for,” Redding said. “We have a heck of a league, I’m betting North is going to be in the Final Four [in Division 3], Franklin [Division 1] is going, and Foxboro [Division 4] could go. And we have two in Division 2. We’ve lost four games but it’s to Franklin, KP twice, and Milford — all of them are top four teams, maybe top two in their divisions in the state. So we’ve lost games but to the highest level of competition so I’m proud of the way we’ve battled all year.”
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King Philip (8-1) will now take on another Kelley-Rex division foe in Milford in the D2 State Semifinal, with the date, time, and a neutral location still to be announced. The Warriors handed the Hawks their first loss of the season in mid-October on a last-second field goal from Kelley.
“Milford is definitely feeling it, they got a big win over Natick,” Lee said. “Coach [Olson] has done a great job with that program, turned them around, and made them a contender right off the bat. So it’s on.”
WRENTHAM, Mass. – On the fourth play of Friday night’s regular season finale at Macktaz Field, Mansfield’s Caden Colby intercepted a pass by King Philip quarterback Charlie Grant. The Hornets got the ball in KP territory, but the Warriors defense held and forced a three-and-out. On its next three possessions, KP ran the ball 25 straight times and all three drives ended with points on the board.
The Warriors dominated the line of scrimmage throughout, junior tailback Rudy Gately ran for 171 yards (including 130 in the first half alone) on 28 carries, and three players found the end zone, as KP earned a 24-6 victory. With the win, KP remains unbeaten in league play, tied with Franklin for the Kelley-Rex division lead, and likely secured a home game in the opening round of the playoffs.
“I’ve got no problem throwing the ball,” said KP coach Brian Lee, “it was just the run was going to be there tonight. It was working and it also takes the clock away. When we did call pass plays, they turned into long runs. It was nice.”
Mansfield missed an opportunity on that opening drive to send a message and take hold of the game. The Hornets never seemed to find any momentum on the offensive side of the ball. Gately ended the first half with more carries (21) than Mansfield had plays (19).
“We were very, very poor on offense,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding explained. “Almost every possession, at some point, we’d have a five-yard penalty and it’s tough to go 10 yards against these guys in three plays, trying to go 15 and now you end up in third and nine, third and eight and you’re playing into their hands.”
After a big tackle for loss by Christopher Sesay and a third down pass breakup by Nick Viscusi, KP stopped Mansfield’s first possession. Crawford Cantave returned the punt 25 yards out to the Warriors 35 and then the ground game went to work. A 20-yard carry for Gately got the ball into the red zone. William Astorino went up the gut for six down to the 11 and two plays later Gately went right up the middle to make it 7-0.
The Hornets dropped the ensuing kick out of bounds, starting at their own four. They went three-and-out again and KP got the ball at the Mansfield 35. Gately got carries on six of the seven plays on the drive, getting as far as the four, but Braeden Veno made a big play in the backfield and KP had to settle for a 23-yard kick from Matthew Kelley and a 10-0 lead.
Mansfield was in desperate need of a spark and seemed to get some life when Drew Sacco and Rocco Scarpellini (16 carries, 82 yards) combined for 20 yards on the first two plays of the next drive. On third and four from the Mansfield 44, Conner Zukowski (5-of-17, 43 yards) was nearly intercepted by Jonathan Joseph. The Hornets went for trickery to try and jump start things, as punter James Gilleran stepped up and threw a pass to James Fichera for 20 yards down to the KP 36.
Scarpellini followed it with a 14-yard carry and the Hornets were in business. After an incomplete pass, the Hornets picked up a false start penalty. Facing third and long, Zukowski’s pass was broken up by Kelley and on fourth down the pass dropped incomplete, giving the ball back to the Warriors.
“The defense bailed us out of that,” said Lee. “We made two bonehead plays and I think the difference in this game [compared] to other games was we were able to respond. Usually, that would just open the floodgate and let them score and then we’re playing in this back and forth.
It was a missed opportunity and KP took advantage. The Warriors marched 75 yards in 11 plays to open up a three-score lead. Gately got the call eight of the 11 plays on the drive, with Astorino and Cantave also getting carries, as the offensive line of Hunter Hastings, Sean King, Dan Nineve, Amro Ismail, and Logan Van Vaerenewyck was getting a great push on every snap.
On first down from the Hornets 22, Grant dropped back to pass, saw no open receivers, scrambled to buy time, and then cut upfield into open space. He weaved through the Mansfield secondary for the touchdown.
“They played so much man and there weren’t a lot of dudes open, so we just said hey Charlie just go for it,” Lee explained. “When he threw the pick, afterwards I’m like why force it. If you’ve got the edge, just go ahead and run. He looked like the Charlie of Pop Warner days, running around, he was the nice athlete on the field, and I’m like you can still do all that.”
The Hornets got the ball to start the second half, but any thoughts of a comeback were quickly diminished. A false start backed Mansfield up five yards and Viscusi broke up a pass on third and long. KP started its first drive of the second half at the Mansfield 44.
A holding call denied Gately a good run, but Grant again scrambled for a big gain to get the first down at the 30. Four plays later, KP was inside the 10 and Cantave got the call. He went straight up the middle, took a hit at the two, and dove full extension to cross the goal line and make it 24-0.
“They execute up front, both backs ran hard, and they controlled the line,” Redding said. “We had a really hard time getting them in third and longs and the couple times we did the Grant kid did a great job running out of the pocket. We couldn’t make a play to get them off the field.”
If Mansfield had any chance of a comeback, it needed to score on its next possession. The Hornets were finally able to string together a long drive, going 72 yards on 16 plays to get on the board. Fichera and Scarpellini kicked things off with carries of 10 and 19 yards to get into KP territory.
On fourth and nine, Zukowski hit CJ Bell for 10 yards and the first. With another first down at the 11, Scarpellini was stuffed for no gain by Luke Danson, then got dragged down after two yards by Hastings. Sesay sacked Zukowski for a loss of five and it looked like another chance gone by for the offense, but on fourth down Zukowski moved in the pocket to give himself some time and fired a bullet into Bell, who made a nice leaping grab for the score.
The conversion failed and the Hornets trailed 24-6 with 10:17 to play.
Mansfield got the ball one more time at its own 20. Thomas Brewster made a couple of nice plays to break up passes and the Hornets turned it over on downs, allowing KP to run out the clock.
King Philip (6-1) will await its seeding in the Div. 2 state tournament, but the Warriors know that they will also face a Thanksgiving Day showdown against Franklin that will decide the Kelley-Rex champ. It is the first time since 2009 that the holiday meeting had this much on the line.
“So much fun,” Lee said. “It’s almost like we pause the season and then we’ll think about Thanksgiving when we get there. The Hock has just felt like playoffs the whole season.”
Mansfield (5-3) is also awaiting its seed in the D2 tournament and hoping to get at least one game at Alumni Field.
Attleboro struggled on the offensive side of the ball last year, scoring only 44 points in six games and not scoring a touchdown until the fifth game of the season. The Bombardiers will need to improve on that side of the ball to try and move up the standings and challenge the top teams in the Kelley-Rex. With eight returning starters on both sides of the ball, Attleboro can rely on an experienced roster to try and turn things around this fall.
It will be obvious where Attleboro’s strength lies. The Bombardiers run 6’3 285, 6’3 255, 6’2 285, and 6’3 305 at the guard and tackle positions. They are going to try and overpower teams. The leader of that group is senior Chris Leonardo, who is a force on both sides of the ball. Seniors Alvin Harrison, Jacob Struminski, and Isaac Pereira are a formidable front and junior Isaiah Miranda will be back at center. Experience and size are important, but the Bombardiers will need its array of running backs to take advantage. Seniors Ryan Betts, Freddy Wheaton, Keigan Conley, and Kaiden Murray will all get the chance to carry the ball. Junior Aiden Hochwarter returns under center after taking over midway through last year and he will have classmate Anthony Salviati to throw to out wide and senior tight end Christian Dame.
The Attleboro defense will also rely on its strength up front with Leonardo and Harrison controlling the middle. The linebackers have plenty of experience, with Dame, Wheaton, Betts, Conley, and senior Hayden Hegarty all coming back after seeing significant time last year. The secondary has a lot of athleticism. Junior Ethan Lako, Salviati, and Murray are all capable of making big plays and forcing turnovers.
“It is great to have some normalcy back this fall,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “We have eight returning starters on each side of the ball this season and we have great senior leadership. We are looking to a great fall season.”
All eyes are on Mansfield and King Philip as the favorites in the Kelley-Rex and that’s how coach Eian Bain likes it. The Panthers are certainly flying under the radar a bit but that might not last very long, especially after their success during the preseason has turned some heads.
Having a lot of familiar faces in key positions will be an early advantage for the Panthers, who have a strong non-league schedule that starts with Wachusett and features perennial state powerhouse Duxbury. Senior Jared Arone gained a lot of experience at quarterback during the Fall 2 season and could be poised for a big year with a full schedule on tap. Part of the reason why is because of all the weapons around him. Both Shane Kindred and Will Tracey developed a lot of chemistry with the QB in the abbreviated season and will be his main two targets this year.
And while the Panthers have developed a reputation for a pass-heavy offense, we saw a much more balanced approach during the spring and with senior running back Mack Gulla ready for a breakout season, it’s likely that balance continues. Gulla is a tough runner that will keep defenses honest; he isn’t just going to help set up the passing game, he’s a true threat to run all over defenses. It will all start up front and the Panthers have center Ethan Aeillo and tackle Jack Porkorny back in starting roles.
Senior Joe Tirrell and junior Luke Davis give the Panthers a veteran presence in the secondary. Franklin allowed over 20 points per game last season but will be looking to bring that number down some this year as they try and establish themselves as a contender in the division. Senior Jonathan Martins impressed last season and will be a key piece on the defensive line while the linebackers will be anchored by senior Cullen Pek.
“The Panthers return many familiar faces but face a tough task of replacing some key positions,” Bain said. “Many players have stepped up but there is still a lot to be answered before the home opener against Wachusett.”
King Philip has a strong core of returning players set to compete for the Kelley-Rex crown this Fall season but the Warriors are hoping to develop some depth along the way as they navigate through one of the state’s toughest schedules.
KP is still hurting from the Fall 2 season, when they lost six players to season-ending surgery, four of which were starters. With a quick turnaround to this season, the Warriors will still be without those players but there is still lots of excitement around those who will be on the field this year. Senior Charlie Grant returns as the starter at quarterback and has some weapons to utilize around them, starting with receivers Danny Clancy, Nick Viscusi, and Jonathan Joseph. All three have varsity experience and are seniors. Junior Rudy Gately and senior Crawford Cantave give the Warriors a thunder and lightning running back combination. Senior Drew Danson was set to be one of the top tight ends in the league but is out due to injury. Sophomore Thomas McLeish will also be in the mix to play at quarterback and Grant could see time at receiver.
Hunter Hastings and Chris Sesay are the returners on the offensive line and will start at the tackle positions while Dan Nineve will be the center and Amro Ismail and Sean King man the guard positions. It will be a lot of the same names on the other side of the ball with Hastings, King, and Sesay all playing both ways. Junior Nate Kearney will also be in the mix as a pass rusher.
The veteran group on defense will be the KP secondary, which features a lot of familiar faces. Both Cantave (safety) and Viscusi (corner) had really strong junior seasons and will lead the way alongside junior Thomas Brewster, senior Eli Reed, and Joseph, who has really impressed so far this preseason. There will be a little inexperience at linebacker but the Warriors have Gately back in the fold alongside senior Jake Sullivan and junior Will Astorino. Matt Kelley is back as the starting kicker.
“I love my team, great kids,” said KP head coach Brian Lee. “We just have to make sure ready to go every single week. It’s been kind of a burn, playing in the Spring. It feels like we’ve been going, going, going, but now we have to focus on staying healthy and getting through Thanksgiving. It’s been fun to be around them, they are good kids that work hard. Hopefully, we can turn that into being successful.”
Mansfield won the 2019 state title, is riding a 16-game win streak, hasn’t lost a game in league play since September 2017, and hasn’t lost an in-state game since a triple-OT thriller against Foxboro at Fenway to close out 2018, so the Hornets have earned the target that is on their backs this fall. Everyone will be aiming to be the first Hock team to hand the Hornets a loss and try to end a three-year run as the top team in the Kelley-Rex. Although there are some guys in new spots, especially at the skill positions, Mansfield returns 10 starters and several players who saw significant action off the bench last year.
The offense will be powered by an experienced line. Four of five starters return from last year with only junior center Colton Johnson added. Seniors Mark DeGirolamo, Joe Forte, and James Gilleran, and junior Jephte Jean are all back and should give the Hornets an edge up front. Junior Conner Zukowski will be the new starting quarterback and he will have several new weapons to call on. Juniors Drew Sacco and Rocco Scarpellini are new starters in the backfield, but both were called on plenty last season. Senior Dana Johnson and sophomore Trevor Foley will get the start out wide.
Defense has been Mansfield’s calling card during its run, as the Hornets allowed only 23 points in six games last year. DeGirolamo and classmate Braeden Veno are back on the defensive line along with Jean and senior Pedro Cruz. All three starting linebackers returned, as seniors Zander Holmes and James Fichera are paired with Scarpellini. Junior safety Ryan DeGirolamo is the only starter back in the secondary and will need to provide leadership for sophomores Foley and CJ Bell. Senior Jared Fraone will start at the other corner spot.
Mansfield coach Mike Redding is counting on a tough preseason, against state powers Everett and Central Catholic, to help the Hornets prepare. He is also excited about the new statewide playoff system that could pair Mansfield with a new set of tournament opponents as they seek to make it a three-peat in Div. 2.
Milford made a successful move into the Kelley-Rex last season. Under first-year coach Dale Olson, the Hawks earned a first-ever win over perennial league power King Philip and finished second in the division. This year, the Hawks will try to make another title challenge despite having several new faces stepping into important roles.
On offense, the Hawks will be transitioning from the pass-first offense that Brady Olson ran last year. Junior Evan Cornelius is a very different quarterback, who will bring a lot of size and strength to the position (which makes sense, since he also plays defensive end). Graduation took away a lot of dynamic playmakers from last year’s offense but seniors Tyler Lane, Angelo Romero, and Grant Scudo will give Milford a deep backfield and last year senior Jaden Agnew emerged as a major threat in the passing game.
The Hawks will be tough up front again this year on both sides of the ball. Seniors Alex McColl and Marco Monteiro are big and tough and will open holes on offense while clogging running lanes on the other side. Cornelius will add a threat on the edge defensively and the linebacking corps continues to be a factor, led by Lane and Romero. Scudo seeks out the ball at safety and is always a threat to force a turnover.
Olson admits that his team lacks experience at the skill positions, but he added, “Having three scrimmages will help prepare the first-year varsity kids to play week one.”
Taunton didn’t have the best record during the Fall 2 season but the opportunity to just get on the field and play was incredibly valuable for the Tigers. There are less than a dozen seniors (eight) on the roster for the Tigers this season so head coach Brad Sidwell will be looking for a strong class of juniors, as well as some sophomores, to make up the majority of the lineup this Fall.
A good chunk of those juniors were inserted into the starting lineup or played a large number of snaps just five months ago when the Tigers played six games. That allowed the Tigers to build some depth for the upcoming season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Junior Jake Leonard got a jump start to his career when he took over for an injured Danny MacDougall. That experience will be key as he begins his first full season as the starter under center. Leonard will have three veteran options to work with in senior captains Trent Santos and Nate Keenan — two receivers — and tight end Nick Lima. Senior Faisal Mass will be a big target as a tight end, also providing key blocking on the line, while seniors Jon Castillo (receiver), Jack Moitiso (offensive line) and Evan Perrota (running back) will be in the mix as well.
Junior Ryan MacDougall started on the offensive line last season and will be joined by classmates Nate Laplante, William Guachiculca-Torres, and Logan Frank while sophomore Bryan Joanis will also be in the mix so some playing time. Keenan could also get some carries out of the backfield while junior Bryan Batista could emerge as a go-to option carrying the ball. Juniors Tyler Wynn, Isaiah Williams, and McKyen Gonsalves are three names to watch as receiving options for Leonard.
Taunton has a lot of experience in its secondary with both Santos and Keenan playing on both sides of the ball, and that experience will be a big strength for the Tigers. There is also a lot of depth in the linebackers, starting with Lima, who uses his speed to attack the ball. He can also step out and play in coverage or drop back into a safety role if needed. Lima will be joined by Frank, MacDougall, and Perrota as linebackers. On the line, Laplante had a strong sophomore season and could be poised for a breakout year.
Taunton will prepare for the ever-challenging division slate with non-league games against New Bedford, Durfee, and Middleboro in its first three weeks. It also marks the first year of its new Thanksgiving rivalry with Milford.
“We’re excited to begin the season with this group after productive preseason practices and scrimmages,” said head coach Brad Sidwell. “Although we only have eight seniors, many of our players gained experience in the spring season. We need to improve through the non-league start of the season as the Hockomock Kelley-Rex is always a challenge for any of the teams involved.”