ATTLEBORO — Junior Justin Daniels returned four kickoffs for 93 yards.
Isaac Gudiel and Keigan Conley came off of the bench to rush for 27 and 21 yards, respectively, during the second half.
Sophomore Kaiden Murray recovered a botched Franklin punt return at the Panthers’ 43-yard line in the third quarter.
Sophomore Kaiden Murray also pounced upon a loose Panther pigskin after yet another botched punt return at the Franklin 22-yard line with four minutes left in that third quarter.
Those were some of the highlights from a most humbling setback experienced by the Attleboro High School football team at Tozier-Cassidy Field, a gut-checking 37-7 loss to the Panthers of Franklin High.
With a possible home field for the MIAA playoffs at stake, with a potential share of the Kelley-Rex Division title in the Hockomock League available with Mansfield High coming to town next weekend, with destiny in their own hands, the Bombardiers were their own worst enemies.
Forget the fact that Franklin High senior quarterback Tom Gasbarro threw for 264 yards — completing passes to six different receivers — for three TDs.
“At the end of the day, they beat us up front,” AHS coach Mike Strachan said of the Panthers’ ability to protect Gasbarro, while Owen Palmieri rushed for 76 yards as well.
But the damage the Bombardiers inflicted upon themselves was mind-boggling, as an endless array of missteps, including a safety, resulted in a 23-0 halftime deficit.
On AHS’s very first drive of the game, a four-minute venture, the Bombardiers had a bad snap at the Panthers’ 35-yard line, resulting in a 10-yard loss.
On AHS’s third series, with a first down at its 30-yard line, the Bombardiers were dropped for eight yards of losses on first- and second-down rushing plays.
After Adam Pearlstein had admirably recovered a Franklin fumble at the AHS 6-yard line, two plays later Panther defensive lineman Anthony Quintina dropped a Bombardier running back in the end zone for a two-point safety.
That was bad enough, but when Franklin regained possession of the ball on the free kick, Gasbarro completed 21- and 14-yard passes to set up a TD toss to Cole Lakatos.
AHS had possession of the ball for seven series in the first half but only once crossed midfield. All told, 19 Bombardier rushes went for gains of three yards or fewer — nine for zero or negative yards.
The Bombardiers reached the end zone on the final second of the “running time” fourth quarter, with Jason Weir completing a two-yard TD toss to Ethan Cameron.
AHS did not have a turnover and was assessed a season-low two penalties. But Weir was able to complete just five passes under heavy pressure, and was sacked three times for 26 yards of losses.
“They were more physical than us up front,” Strachan added. “That snap kills the drive,” the AHS mentor added of the potential go-ahead TD. And that’s not forgetting a Bombardier pass-interference penalty on a third-and-10 play that presented the Panthers with possession of the ball at the AHS 32-yard line for their go-ahead TD in the first quarter.
“We needed to calm down, and it just didn’t get better,” Strachan added. “I didn’t see this coming — I was disappointed in our effort.”