FRANKLIN, Mass. -– For the first time in the King Philip football program’s 51-year history, the Warriors are playoff-bound.
Senior running back Charles Ruffin carried the load for No. 12 KP (9-1, 3-1) on Turkey Day, rushing 24 times for 196 yards and a touchdown as the Warriors routed rival Franklin, 42-21, on Thursday at Pisini Field. This, coupled with North Attleboro’s victory over Attleboro, created a three-way tie for the Hockomock League title, and gave KP the necessary tiebreaker to earn the league’s postseason berth.
Franklin (4-7, 0-4) actually struck first in the contest, with sophomore quarterback Nick Zucco hitting senior Rhett Davis for a 64-yard score on the Panthers’ second play from scrimmage.
“[The same situation] happened to us a couple of weeks ago with Canton, too,” Ruffin said. “We don’t get nervous about it, we’re just going to stay with the game plan. So it didn’t really bother us, we just knew we had to make some corrections.”
The advantage would not last long, however, as the Warriors received the ensuing kickoff and began hammering away at the Franklin defense with a combination of Ruffin and senior fullback Ryan Dunn.
Ruffin broke runs of nine, seven and 23 yards on KP’s opening drive before Dunn plowed in from a yard out. Holder Sam McDonald bobbled the snap on the extra point, but corralled the ball and ran it in for the two-point conversion to give KP an 8-7 lead.
Dunn finished with 46 rushing yards on 13 carries, and also kicked five extra points.
That would become the theme for the day, as the Warriors employed Ruffin’s speed and Dunn’s power running to control the clock and keep Franklin’s potent spread offense off the field.
After a Franklin missed field goal, KP drove down the field again with a steady dose of Ruffin, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown sneak by quarterback John Dillon.
The sophomore did not need to do much with his arm, but was efficient when he did. Dillon completed 3 of 4 passes for 80 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown strike to Joe Cochrane in the second quarter to stretch the Warriors’ lead to 21-7.
“We didn’t even have to throw if we didn’t want to, we could have just handed it off,” KP head coach Brian Lee said. “But when we asked [Dillon] to make a play, he’s so smart, so calm and collected that he can execute and he does a great job. He really has a lot of upside to him.
KP struck once more 46 seconds before intermission (a 19-yard dash by Ruffin), then again immediately out of the locker room as Cochrane took the opening kickoff of the second half 80 yards untouched into the end zone.
Down 35-7 at this point, the Panthers did not pack it in, as Zucco hit Davis again for 33-yard touchdown on Franklin’s next drive.
The passing game was the one bright spot for the Panthers in this contest, as Zucco -- who took over for injured starter Nick Canesi midway through the season -- was able to pick apart the KP secondary. The sophomore completed 7 of 12 passes for 215 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
With the Warriors already having scored on the ground, through the air and via kick return, the defense joined in on the fun in the third quarter. Zucco was stripped in his own end zone and defensive tackle Brian Jones dove on the ball for a KP touchdown and a 42-14 lead.
With that, Ruffin, Dillon and several other starters were relieved for second-teamers and KP milked the clock for much of the fourth quarter.
Franklin managed one final score, a 64-yard bomb from Zucco to junior Brandon Eccher, before KP recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
After the game, players lingered on the field anxiously awaiting the final score of the Attleboro-North Attleborough game, and erupted into cheers at the announcement of North’s 14-7 victory.
The wins create a three-way tie atop the Hockomock between KP, North and Mansfield, with the Warriors earning the tiebreaker by virtue of having the highest point total in matchups amongst the three teams.
“When you look around, the Hock has been dominated by a few programs for a long time,” Lee said, “And to be part of … a tradition that’s coming up, it’s been exciting. A lot of hard work has been done in taking a program that didn’t have a lot of pride in itself and getting them to believe.”
The Warriors will play in the Division 2 semifinals against undefeated No. 2 Duxbury on Tuesday, at a site that has yet to be determined.
KING PHILIP 42, FRANKLIN 21
KP (9-1, 3-1)820140 42
FR (4-7, 0-4)7077 21
F – Rhett Davis 65 pass from Nick Zucco (Mike Carden kick)
KP – Ryan Dunn 1 run (Sam McDonald run)
KP – John Dillon 1 run (kick failed)
KP – Joe Cochrane 25 from Dillon (Dunn kick)
KP – Charles Ruffin 3 run (Dunn kick)
KP – Cochrane 80 kickoff return (Dunn kick)
F – Davis 33 pass from Zucco (Carden kick)
KP – Brian Jones fumble recovery in endzone (Dunn kick)
F – Brandon Eccher 64 pass from Zucco (Carden kick)