The Panther Perspective: FHS Football Finishes Regular Season Undefeated


FHS all smiles following a 13-3 win at Milford

Tough, physical, old-school football. That’s exactly what was on display last Friday night in Milford, MA, as the FHS football team capped off the regular season with a gritty 13-3 win over the Scarlet Hawks. Holding one of the best teams in the Hock to just a field goal, Franklin showed its defensive dominance, forcing stop after stop in route to an undefeated 7-0 regular season. To hear about the latest Panther win, I sat down with CB Luke Sidwell (Jr.), OL Jake McVicar (Sr.), Ben Papa (Jr.), and K Garrett Portesi (Jr.) to hear their perspective on the win:

Ryan Martin: Luke, we’ll start with you from a defensive perspective. Milford came into this game as one of the best offenses in the Hock this season; your defense held them to 3 points and just 4 first downs overall. Was this Franklin’s best defensive performance of the season?

Luke SidwellYeah, Milford definitely had a dynamic offense. Our Front-7 (D-Line and Linebackers) just kept creating chaos and wreaking havoc throughout the game, making it tough for Milford’s offense to get going. We hope that we can play well and continue that physical style of play into the playoffs.

RM: Unlike last week when Attleboro came out and scored on their first drive, defensively, you guys held Milford to two straight punts to open the game. How impactful was that correction on defense to come out strong and make stops early?

CB Luke Sidwell sets up to cover a Milford WR (via FHS Smug Mug)

LSThose first two stops were huge. Those stops gave the ball back to the offense and gave them more chances to score. It’s always nice to get off to a fast start and let the guys on offense do their thing. 

RM: At 6’2, 235 lbs, Evan Cornelius is one of the bigger Quarterbacks you guys will face all season. What was the approach to stopping him from coming into the game?

LSWe just wanted to make him uncomfortable and not let him get into a rhythm. We did just that and prevented them from getting anything going offensively.

RM: Ben and Jake, let’s move on to you guys on the offensive side of things. After a slow first half, the second half started with 71-yard Completion. Starting and ending halves with big plays has been a theme of this team all season; why is it so important to strike in those moments specifically? How does it change the game?

Ben Papa: It’s so important to strike in those moments because the game is still anyone’s. In a lot of the games we’ve played, the first half has been close. To start out the half with a huge play in a game that close is everything- it shifts the momentum completely.  

Jake McVicar: Starting out the half on a big play is important because it can really take the momentum out of the defensive and swing more momentum to the offense; it just helps get things rolling.

RM: That third-down pass to Will Tracey that was ruled incomplete at the end of the first half looked like a questionable call and certainly a great effort by Tracey. What did you see in that play? What’s the mood going into half after that call?

BP: I saw a catch on that play, and after watching the film, I’m convinced that Will caught the ball. When there’s a questionable call like that, it makes you feel like you’re not only planning against the opponent but the refs as well; it gives you that extra chip on your shoulder. 

OL Ben Papa (#72) gets ready to take the field for an offensive Franklin drive (via FHS Smug Mug)

JM: That ball thrown to Will was most definitely a catch at any angle; you watch it on film, and it’s clear as day. Going into the half after that shows, we can hit the big plays; we just need to keep doing the right things, which will help our team execute.

RM: You guys were able to dominate the time of possession, especially in the second half with the lead. Offensively, how important is it to win time of possession and play the game on your terms? How much easier is that having RB Mack Gulla in the backfield?

BP: It’s so important to win time of possession and keep the ball away from a great offense. Having Gulla to give the ball to continuously and run the clock makes it so much easier, especially since he never gets tired. 

JM: Having more time of possession over your opponent is so huge. You’re ultimately keeping their offense off the field and keeping yours on, which really helps to control the game. Having Mack in the backfield is amazing; he’s an all-around player who can run, block, and catch passes. Having him behind us running the ball makes us more confident because we all trust each other, and we know if we do our job, Mack will follow. He also never gets tired and is a guy you can give the ball to 30 times and without worrying if he’ll produce.

RM: The MIAA released this year’s playoff bracket, and as the #1 seed, you guys are hosting the #16 seed Braintree this Friday. Seeing as you haven’t played Braintree since 2017, how much more difficult is it to plan against an unfamiliar defense?

BP: Playing against an unfamiliar opponent is definitely more of a challenge, considering we don’t really know what to expect from them. But our coaches have always done a great job of getting the scouting reports down no matter who the opponent is.

JM: Hosting Braintree will be exciting. Having a home playoff game is awesome, but it’s not always good to be caught up in that. Planning for them is, of course, difficult, but that’s why we add film sessions to study their defense. We want to see how they play to get the looks at practice and keep re-watching them to get a full idea of what we’ll see Friday. If we do that, we’ll be ready to fire on all cylinders.

RM: And Luke, going off that, what is it like to prepare on the flip side against an unfamiliar offense?

LS: Braintree’s offense is definitely not the type of offense that we usually see, but we have had different fronts and packages prepared since the beginning of the season, ready for times just like these. We plan to use those to better defend against Braintree’s style of offense this Friday.

RM: Garrett, switching over to your impact on the game. Your first made field goal was the first 3 points scored, and your second make came when you guys were on top 10-3. Do you feel more pressured kicking when the score is so close, or is the pressure the same regardless of score?

Garrett Portesi: The pressure I always put on myself is pretty much the same; it doesn’t really bother me that much because we practice so much. 

K Garrett Portesi boots an Extra Point (via FHS Smug Mug)

RM: Like former FHS Kicker Parker Cheuvront, you came from a soccer background before switching to football. How do you think that soccer background and learning from Parker have prepared you for these moments?

GP: The soccer background, I feel like helped with me working out the same muscles that are used for kicking; the kicking aspect has kept me active, pretty much everything else about kicking Parker taught me. 

As alluded to, Franklin (#1 seed) will host Braintree (#16 seed) at Pisini Stadium in the first round of the D1 MIAA Playoffs this Friday at 7 PM; looking to keep their perfect season alive and embark on a deep playoff run.