FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -– It didn’t take long for the visiting Whitman-Hanson Panthers to put points on the board –- just 12 seconds, in fact –- and set the tone.
Sophomore Mike Lenane took the opening kick off 70 yards, almost untouched, to give the Panthers their second consecutive game with a score on the first play.
Senior quarterback Thomas Sapienza threw two first-half touchdown passes to classmate Dondre James, as the Panthers defense withheld a late rally, beating Foxborough, 21-20.
“We preach fast starts,” Whitman-Hanson head coach Mike Driscoll said. “These guys know that and they responded big time tonight. They came ready to play.”
The Panthers were able to get scores at key times. Besides the opening kick off, they scored on their very first drive -– only two plays –- as Sapienza found James for a 37-yard strike to make it 14-0 with less than four minutes played.
“He’s just a great athlete, period,” Driscoll said of James. “I’d match him up against anyone. Dondre makes those plays every week and he continues to make them.”
With less than a handful of plays run from scrimmage, and a 14-0 lead, it looked as though the Panthers might runaway with the game, but the Warriors were able to respond their next possession. A combination of runs from Kiivone Howard and Luc Valenza was finished with a Howard sweep to the right for a 24 yard touchdown run, cutting the Panther’s lead in half.
Both teams traded possessions for most of the remainder of the first half, including a blocked field goal by Foxborough. But with less than a minute in the half, Whitman-Hanson came out firing.
Sapienza’s first and second passes went incomplete. Jake Walkins then grinded out five yards. And then, the dagger.
“He’s a gamer,” Driscoll said of his quarterback. “He hung in there. He threw that ball at the end of the half and that was the difference in the game.”
Sapienza found a streaking James for a 32 yard strike, giving the Panthers a 21-7 lead with just 1.5 seconds left in the half.
“I saw one on one back coverage and Tom just got me the ball,” James said. “It was a really good play.”
Foxborough coach Jack Martinelli said his team didn’t make too many adjustments in the second half, but rather just did what they were capable of.
Adjustments or not, something changed in the second half. The Foxborough defense clamped down, and on their second offensive series of the half, crutched by a unsportsmanlike penalty and a 31-yard run from Valenza, Howard punched it in from 1 yard out for his second touchdown of the game, bringing his team within one score.
As the Panther offense stalled, the Warriors defense seized their opportunity, forcing a fumble and recovering it with 9:18 left to play.
What had looked like a possible rout was now a touchdown away from a possible overtime thriller.
Foxborough’s next possession went 10 plays, but ran out of gas and they were forced to punt with just over five minutes in the game remaining.
But again, the Warrior defense came through, stopping the Panthers and forcing a turnover on downs.
Seven plays later, Howard had a little déjà vu with another one-yard touchdown, this team leaping over the pile to bring it to 21-20 with just 1:18 left. Unfortunately for the Warriors, the extra point sailed wide right.
The Panthers recovered the onside kick attempt from the Warriors, and Luke Laubacher’s long run sealed the deal for the now 3-0 Panthers. Foxborough drops to 2-1.
Howard Shines in Loss: After two games this season, a lot of people were starting to keep track of Foxborough’s star running back. Through three games, Howard has amassed over 400 yards and nine touchdowns.
Friday night’s 25-carry, 107-yard, three-touchdown performance helped spark the Foxborough comeback, which was impressive given the focus Whitman-Hanson put on him defensively.
“To me, he’s one of the best around,” Martinelli said. “Whitman[-Hanson] did a good job on him early on I thought. It was tough for us to get outside and that open up some things inside for him.”
Redemption for Panther Special Teams: Despite beating Marshfield 39-24 last week, there were some mistakes that stood out on the Panther special teams.
Against Marshfield, they missed three extra points – something that would have cost them the game against Franklin on Friday night, who saw their winning chances vanish with a missed attempt.
And even more special, was Lenane, who fumbled a kick last week, was able to turn in a kick return for a score this week.
“Chris Ryan was 3-3 in the extra points, he’s a great kicker,” Driscoll said. “We told Mike this week they’re going to kick to you and to be ready. He stepped up big time.”
WHITMAN-HANSON 21, FOXBOROUGH 20
Whitman-Hanson (3-0) 14 – 7 – 0 -0 – 21
Foxborough (2-1) 7 – 0 – 7 – 6 – 20
W – Mike Lenane 70 kick return (Chris Ryan kick)
W – Dondre James 37 pass from Thomas Sapienza (Ryan kick)
F – Kiivone Howard 24 run (Kyle Will kick)
W – James 32 pass from Sapienza (Ryan kick)
F – Howard 1 run (Will kick)
F – Howard 1 run (Kick failed)