Originally, it looked as though Franklin High was going to walk off the Mansfield football field with a win and the inside track to the Hockomock League title.
However, football is a game of two halves and the Hornets gave their fans something to cheer for in the second half of the contest and escaped with a 28-21 win and the league championship Saturday night. Mansfield will play Duxbury in the playoffs.
“This was a good one. I told them two years ago that the Super Bowl would come back,” said Hornet head caoch oach Mike Redding. “This was great, one of the best second half performances I’ve ever seen in 23 years of coaching and we lost our starting center, our starting tackle and were missing (Robert) Rapoza for the whole game and found a way to win in the second half.”
Following a scoreless first half Mansfield jumped on the board first with a Kevin Makie 6-yard touchdown run. Mansfield was denied on the two-point conversion and held a 6-0 lead.
The lead that would not last all that long.Franklin running back Kyle Finamore got things going for the Panthers toting the ball on the next four plays moving the ball into Mansfield territory.
After a holding penalty that pushed the Panthers further away from the end zone, quarterback Nick Zucco connected with Brandon Eccher for a 40-yard touchdown pass and a one-point Franklin lead.
The two teams traded possessions each going three and out. Mansfield would pick up a first down the next time they had the ball, but that’s all they could muster.
In fact, outside the Makie score they couldn’t do much of anything, while their counterpart was moving the ball all over the field.
Prior to the first half concluding, Zucco (9-16, 106 yards and two touchdowns) would hit Robert Dellorco for a 24-yard score. The original PAT was blocked, but a Mansfield penalty gave the Panthers another opportunity that they did not squander it and went into the locker rooms up 14-6.
As if things were bad enough for the Hornets in the first half it could have been worse if not for the fast thinking of Hornet punter William Palanza.
Mansfield snapped the ball over Palanza’s head rolling inside the 10-yard line and would have given the Panthers another chance for a quick score. The senior punter picked the ball up and avoided a tackle and was able to avoid disaster, getting the punt away.
“That was an unbelievable play by a senior captain who’s poised enough to get it off,” Redding said. “It was a 35-yad difference in terms of field position.”
While Franklin controlled the first half, the second half belonged to the Hornets. Mansfield scored on its first possession of the half grabbing the momentum and never letting go.
The Hornets went 75 yards in 10 plays with a good mixture of pass and run plays; the final play was a 13-yard touchdown scamper from Chris Buchanan. Kyle Wisnieski hit Brendan Hill for the two-point conversion knotting the contest at 14.
Franklin couldn’t do a thing and quickly turned the ball back over to the home team, who in turn would once again march down the field, this time 72 yards with Makie sweeping right on a fourth and goal from the one for his second touchdown.
Franklin was able to move the ball with ease on its next possession to what looked like a game tying drive; however Mansfield’s Mike Barressi picked Zucco off on the 16-yard line and thwarted a potential tie.
The Hornets put together yet another long, substantial drive once again culminating in a Makie touchdown. The senior back notched his third rushing touchdown on the afternoon, this time from three-yards out allowing the hometown fans to breathe a sigh of relief.
Makie rushed the ball for 113 yards in the win, 76 coming in the decisive second half.
“Kevin really stepped it up with Rapoza out and he was only at 90-percent playing with a high ankle sprain,” the Mansfield coach said.
Franklin accounted for the final score with a late game drive as Finamore broke a tackle and rumble into the end-zone from 15-yards out.
Mansfield was able to grab the Hock title with an all around team performance in the second half. In the first half, the Panthers were able to pounce on the Hornets for 195 yards of total offense, the Hornets held them to 77 yards in the second half.
“We set up some base plays in the second half to get our run game going, which got our play-action going, but the biggest thing was avoiding penalties in the second half, no turnovers and very few offensive penalties,” said Redding. “We found a way to hang around all year and I’m not sure that we should be winning the title, but it’s ours and we’ll do the best that we can to represent the league in the playoffs.”