FRANKLIN, Mass - The fans as Pisini Field were treated to more than warm sunshine on Saturday afternoon as the Franklin Panthers and Attleboro Bombardiers put on an amazing display of offensive football. The hosts pulled out a 44-41 win thanks to a 41-yard field goal by senior kicker Mike Carden.
With the game tied at 41 and a little over a minute remaining, Franklin got the ball back at its own 44-yard line. Junior quarterback Nick Zucco (23-40, 3 TD’s, INT, 1 rushing TD) went to work moving the ball 30 yards and positioning it dead center for Carden’s kick.
There was no doubt from the quarterback or coach what the result would be.
“Mike Carden has nerves of steel. I knew it was good the second he stepped up to take it,” said Zucco.
Franklin coach Brad Sidwell agreed, “I think he’s a Division 1A kicker. I actually thought he was going to win a game or two for us.”
But for Carden’s game-winning field goal, the story would have been Attleboro running back Malique Clark who rushed for 294 yards on 28 carries (204 yards in the second half alone) and scored five touchdowns (4 in the second half).
After a relatively quiet first half, Clark took the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter 62 yards for a game-tying score. After a Kyle Finamore touchdown gave the Panthers back the lead, Clark returned the kick 39 yards then took two carries the remaining 46 yards to make it 35-27 Bombardiers.
Two possessions later, following a Ryan Bowen interception that was returned to the Franklin 1-yard line. Clark punched it home for his third score of the quarter.
“What a great back he is,” marveled Sidwell. “We knew we were going to have trouble with him. We couldn’t tackle him and that’s what I was worried about, but our offense stepped up today.”
The Franklin offense responded immediately with a 7-play, 57-yard drive that ended on a Zucco 9-yard touchdown pass to Dellorco. The point conversion was no good. Attleboro still had momentum, but Tom Burns’ indecision on whether to kneel on the kick-off backed the Bombardiers inside the 10. While converting a third down, Burns tried to pitch back to Clark on what appeared to be a hook and ladder attempt, but turned into a costly turnover.
Franklin got the ball back at the Attleboro 18 and just three plays later Zucco raced in to give the Panthers the lead. He also tacked on the two-point conversion to make it 41-35.
Attleboro coach Kevin Deschenes lamented his team’s mistakes after the game including three turnovers that led to Franklin touchdowns, “We gave up the points on offense and you can’t do that. We’ve got to get better at that.”
With 1:22 remaining and third and short at the Franklin 15, Attleboro almost lost the game on a Walsh fumble, but Clark hustled to recover and get back to the line of scrimmage. On fourth down, Clark took it 15 yards through a couple of tacklers to tie the game at 41.
Attleboro ‘s extra point was blocked but it did not matter as Carden stepped up and won the game for Franklin.
This is the third consecutive close defeat for Attleboro. The Bombardiers have lost the past three games by a total of eight points, although the team’s competitiveness was not consolation for its coach.
“There’s no such thing as moral victories,” said Deschenes. “It’s something that we need to work on. We’ve got to take some good things out of here and some things to work on. We’ve just got to keep on working.”
Franklin knows that if they win out, they will be Hockomock League champions and there was an air of belief around the field following the win. Zucco, however, is not looking too far ahead.
When asked if he thought the team could win the title, Zucco replied, “A game at a time. Next week, we’ve got to beat Taunton.”
Both teams will be in action again next Friday. Franklin travels to Taunton and Attleboro hosts King Philip.