Division IV Football Championship
Winnisquam 19, Franklin 14
This is the game we wanted and what a game it was. Both of these teams languished in Division III the past few years with little success. The newly created Division IV breathed fresh life into their programs. Winnisquam beat every team in the division – Raymond and Franklin twice – to claim their first state championship. The Bears were prohibitive favorites after crushing the Franklin Golden Tornadoes in the regular season finale. Franklin was fresh off a hard-fought 12-6 win over Newfound in the semi-finals while Winnisquam cruised to an easy 40-0 win over Raymond. It was a prefect night for football with temps in the high 30s, the wind and rain from earlier in the day had subsided and the fans for both teams had packed the stands.
The game opened with strong defensive showing from both sides, until Winnisquam was able to win the field position game and crash in to take a 7-0 lead at the 5:56 mark of the first quarter.
At the start of the second quarter, Franklin put together a nice drive that included a 35-yard pitch-and-catch from Harrison Clark to Taryn Larramie on a key 3rd down conversion to set up Franklin deep in Bear territory. They cashed in on a Caleb Vigue 2-yard touchdown plunge and suddenly we had a game. They missed the 2-point conversion and trailed by one point. The ensuing kickoff was fumbled and the Golden Tornadoes pounced on it but failed to take the lead.
The score stood at 7-6 at the half. Each team knew the championship was within their grasp. Winnisquam was dominating the stat sheet and moving up and down the field while Franklin saw an opportunity to take the crown despite being the underdog. An awesome second half was set up but no one could have written this script.
Winnisquam opened the half with the ball but was again stymied by the Franklin defense and kicked the ball away. Franklin did the same. One of the adjustments that had to be made at the half was to limit the carries of the Bears' bruising running back, Angelo Glover. Franklin’s game plan appeared to be to clog up the middle and make others on the Winnisquam offense beat them. The Bears countered with the read option and Nichols getting to the edge. He ran for about 60 yards in the first half and if it was not Glover it was going to have to be Nichols or Bycen Wiles making yards.
With just under 6 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Nichols found the edge again, made a cut back inside and wove his way for 83 yards to the Franklin 1 yard line. Devin Savage nearly stopped the run at the 40 but Nichols slipped by. Savage gave chase and eventually pulled Nichols down within feet of the end zone. Glover finished the drive for the Bears and, after coming up short on a conversion attempt, Winnisquam was up by 7.
Franklin turned to the passing game in the next possession, moving the ball with short passes punctuated by some tough runs by Vigue. The drive died by the pass, too, as Clark telegraphed his plan to hit a receiver in the right seam. Winnisquam's Phil Nichols, playing safety when he's not taking snaps on the other side of the ball, read the quarterback's eyes and cut in front of the perfect spiral. Franklin's defense jumped back on the field, though, and forced the Bears to give the ball back for the start of the final quarter of the season.
The Franklin offense kept the momentum of their previous drive and marched down the field and into the end zone. Vigue shouldered most of the load for the drive, including a 1-yard TD dive. Franklin was within one and decided to go for the lead with a 2-point conversion. Vigue again plowed his way over the goal line, giving Franklin the lead with 9:10 remaining. The Winnisquam fans were stunned, Franklin’s faithful erupted.
Down by one but with the ball and time on the clock, Winnisquam began their final drive with good field position. They drove to the 20 and stalled, facing a fourth and 12 with 5:46 left to play. Nichols took the snap and rolled to his left. He found his favorite target in the corner of the endzone and didn’t miss him. Gunnar Horman snagged it, sending the Winnisquam sideline into a frenzy. The 2-point conversion again failed and Winnisquam’s lead was only 5. Franklin would get the ball and fail on a 4th down play to turn the ball over.
Everyone thought that was it, including our broadcast team. Winnisquam took a couple of knees but there was still some time left. On a 4th down play from midfield and 8.8 seconds to go, the Bears inexplicably took another knee instead of taking a penalty and punting. That turned the ball over to Franklin with a chance for a Hail Mary from midfield. Winnisquam Coach Pat Riberty said that was not the plan. “We were yelling from the sideline to NOT take a knee. Phil heard us say the opposite.” Fortunately for the Bears both attempted passes fell incomplete and the celebration began for Winnisquam.
Phil Nichols finished with over 300 yards from scrimmage. He had the game of his life, throwing 7-9 for 133 yards and 2 TDs, rushing 10 times for 185 yards and he had an interception on defense. Horman caught 5 balls for 73 yards and 2 TDs. For Franklin Vigue was big, rushing for 78 yards on 19 carries. Travis Perry ran for 55 yards on 12 rushes. Clark was 3-10 for 64 yards and an interception. Following the game, Coach Riberty talked about his sophomore quarterback. “Yeah, Phil had a great game. He came to play and showed his maturity. He really seized the moment. Our staff is very proud of him and our whole team.” He talked about the game itself and how his team played. “We knew it was going to be a hard fought game. Whoever made the fewest mistakes and made plays would win. We committed more mistakes than we were used to. Turnovers and stupid penalties but we made the play in the end when it mattered and here we are!” Congratulation to both teams on great seasons and a great game.
Hear Keith Murray’s Local Sports Updates everyday on 101.5 WEEI Sports Radio. Reach Keith by email: Sports@1015WEEI.com