MANSFIELD, Mass. -- Mansfield had its 1,000 yard rusher sidelined, lost their starting center and tackle during the game, and faced a second half deficit to a strong Franklin Panther team.
No big deal, right?
The Hornets overcame it all behind a strong rushing performance from senior Kevin Makie (28 rushes, 133 yards, 3 TD) and forced three interceptions to rally past the Panthers, 28-21, and clinched the Hockomock League’s Kelley-Rex Division.
“I’ve been here 23 years,” Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said. “It was one of the best second-half performances I’ve ever seen by a football team.”
Despite drawing first blood on Makie’s first score –- a six yard run -– the Hornets found themselves behind at the break.
After Mansfield’s scoring drive, Franklin responded with a six-play drive that ended with Panther quarterback Nick Zucco finding a wide open Brandon Eccher over the middle for a 41-yard score.
Momentum swung back and forth as Mansfield went three-and-out but the Hornet defense responded with an Aurian Dawkins interception. But Mansfield’s drive stalled and the momentum swung back to Franklin as Jeff Gray blocked a Mansfield punt.
After three straight rushes from senior Kyle Finamore (102 yards, TD), Zucco went over the middle again, this time to Robert Dellorco for an 18-yard touchdown to give Franklin a 14-6 lead at half.
“I thought the big thing in the second half was that we avoided penalties,” Redding said. “No turnovers, very few offensive penalties, we executed great.
“The defense came to play in the second half, that was the critical piece, getting the ball back to our offense.”
The defense started off right away, forcing a three-and-out from Franklin on their first drive. The Hornets then took the ensuing drive 10 plays, capped off by a Chris Buchanon run from 14-yards out. Quarterback Kyle Wisnieski found sophomore Brendan Hill in the back of the end zone for the successful two-point conversion to tie the game at 14.
It was a déjà vu performance from the Mansfield defense on the next drive, again forcing a three-and-out that led to more points o the ensuing Hornets possession. Senior James Comer, a 260 pound defensive lineman who had an interception in the first half, came up with the key stop on third down.
The Panthers used eight rushing plays –- a combination of Makie, Buchanon, and Alexander Rudy –- and one pass play to take their second lead of the game. On fourth and goal from the one-yard line, Makie took it to the right and into the end zone for the first play of the fourth quarter.
Franklin looked to respond on their next drive, getting into Mansfield territory behind the legs of Zucco, but their drive came to abrupt halt when Zucco was picked off by Michael Barressi.
Mansfield’s next drive was the knockout punch.
The Hornets went 62 yards, including two huge third down conversion passes from Wisnieski (one to Michael Hershman for 14 yards, the other to Makie for 18) and a division-clinching fourth-down conversion from Mike Cunningham at the Franklin 11.
After the fourth down conversion, it was announced at Alumni Field that Hockomock rival King Philip had taken down North Attleboro 16-14, meaning if Mansfield won, they would clinch the Kelley-Rex.
Two plays later, Makie found the end zone for the third time on a three-yard burst to give the Hornets a 28-14 lead.
The Panthers didn’t go quietly though, as Zucco orchestrated a 69-yard drive finished off by a 14-yard touchdown run from Finamore. With just 35 seconds left and no timeouts, Franklin attempted an onside kick but Barressi was able to recover for the Hornets, giving them the Kelley-Rex Division.
“It feels great,” Makie said. “Everyone came in doubting us and we proved everyone wrong. KP got the big win and we’re going to the playoffs.”
Mansfield now has a date with Patriot League Keenan champ Duxbury, ranked No. 6 in ESPN Boston's latest statewide poll, on Nov. 27. The time and location are to be determined.
Big-Makie: With leading rusher Robbie Rapoza (1,067 yards, nine touchdowns) sidelined with an injury, the focus of Mansfield’s offense turned to Kevin Makie.
Makie, who came in with 730 yards and eight touchdowns, took full advantage of his opportunity, racking up 133 yards and scoring the winning touchdown with just 2:28 left in the game.
“We just wanted to put up points, we knew that they had a good offense,” Makie said.
Redding made it a point to note that Makie isn’t playing at 100% either.
“Makie’s been tough,” Redding said. “Kevin has really stepped up and he’s playing at about 90 percent with a high ankle sprain. We’ve got some tough cookies here.”
Not much to be thankful for: When the ball is kicked off on Thanksgiving, there will be no playoff implications at stake in the Hockomock league. Entering this week, it looked as though it was going to come down to Turkey Day to decide who would represent the league in the playoffs, but Saturday changed that.
Earlier in the day, Sharon was able to edge out Foxboro to clinch the Davenport Division and earn a date with Pembroke, leaving 9-1 Stoughton on the outside looking in.
On the large side, it will be 9-1 King Philip left out of the playoffs. Ironically enough, it was KP’s win over North Attleboro that allowed Mansfield to clinch with a win.
With no playoff implications, all teams will be playing for pride, including King Philip and Franklin who will play each other.
MANSFIELD 28, FRANKLIN 21
Franklin (7-3) 0 – 14 – 0 – 7 --- 21
Mansfield (7-3) 0 – 6 – 8 – 14 --- 28
M – Kevin Makie 6 yard run (2 point failed)
F – Brandon Eccher 41 yard pass from Nick Zucco (Mike Carden kick)
F – Robert Dellorco 18 yard pass from Zucco (Carden kick)
M – Chris Buchanon 14 yard run (Brendan Hill pass from Kyle Wisnieski)
M – Makie 1 yard run (Michael Hershman kick)
M – Makie 3 yard run (Hershman kick)
F – Kyle Finamore 14 yard run (Carden kick)