KPHS_Milford Football

King Philip Regional High’s Crawford Cantave (2) and quarterback Charlie Grant celebrate Cantave’s 70-yard touchdown run in Friday night’s MIAA Div. 2 state semifinal playoff win over Milford High in Brockton.

WRENTHAM — Their MIAA Division 2 state semifinal victory over Milford High was less than an hour old when the King Philip Regional High football Instagram and Twitter accounts posted a message.

“Congrats to our Warriors and Warrior coaches, on to D2 Super Bowl!!” it read. “But first, another epic battle with Franklin on Thanksgiving.”

With the Hockomock League Kelley-Rex Division title at stake, a rivalry that dates back to 1960 will resume at 10 a.m. Thursday when the Warriors, 9-1 overall and 4-0 in the Kelley-Rex, make the trip to Franklin’s Pisini Field to play the Panthers, also 9-1 overall and 4-0 in the Kelley-Rex.

“It feels awesome,” King Philip head coach Brian Lee said after Friday night’s 31-16 win over Milford had booked his team a Super Bowl date with 11-0 Catholic Memorial at Gillette Stadium. “I love that we have a humungous Thanksgiving Day game against, you know, the third-best team in the state. We can’t enjoy (the win over the Scarlet Hawks) for long.”

Their postseason run having come to an end with Saturday’s 60-49 loss to Springfield Central, there is no doubt that the Panthers would love to wrap up their season with a Kelley-Rex crown. On the flip side, there is the school of thought that says the Warriors might be better served by sitting their regulars rather than risking injury with the opportunity to win a state title in the near future.

But, channeling his inner Herm Edwards, Lee said, “you play to win the game.”

“I would assume they’re licking their chops to lay it on us,” Lee added of the Panthers. “My thought process always is (if) you have games to play you play to win them. I don’t really know any other way.”

While Franklin won the teams’ first meeting, 14-8, 51 years ago, KP has dominated of late, winning 18 straight — 10 on Thanksgiving and another eight on non-holidays — to take a 36-31-1 series lead.

Quarterback Charlie Grant’s 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Dan Clancy with 1:08 to play earned the Warriors a 14-10 win over the Panthers in the teams’ most recent meeting on April 23 of this year, the teams’ Fall II season finale in Wrentham.

Seven months later, both KP and Franklin are that much better than the teams that finished the abbreviated spring season with records of 4-3 and 3-4, respectively, but once again the Warriors are staring into the eyes of the likes of Panthers quarterback Jared Arone (seven touchdown passes in three playoff games) and running back-linebacker Mack Gulla (seven TD runs in the playoffs).

Defensively, the Panthers have been stout for most of the year (just 87 points allowed in their first nine games), but they were no match for Springfield Central’s potent offense in their state semifinal loss to the Golden Eagles.

The Warriors’ resume is impressive as well. They’ve outscored their opponents by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 (27.2 points scored per game; 14.1 allowed). Grant is a steady game manager who can run (four TDs), throw (eight TD passes) and even catch (two touchdown receptions). Rudy Gately (1,194 yards and 12 TDs rushing) and Crawford Cantave (seven TDs) are the leading ground gainers. Jonathan Joseph and Clancy are the leading receivers. The line (Dan Nineve at center, Amro Ismail and Sean King at the guards, Hunter Hastings and Chris Sesay at the tackles) can be overpowering.

Defensively, it’s often a pick-your-poison proposition for opponents. On the back end, Tom Brewster intercepted a pass on Chelmsford’s first play from scrimmage setting the tone in the Warriors’ 35-0 rout of the Lions in the opening round of the playoffs. Joseph picked off two fourth-quarter passes as the Warriors secured a 21-14 win over Mansfield the following week. Cantave intercepted a third-quarter pass in the win over Milford. Nick Viscusi is a sure tackler who wreaks havoc. In front of them, there are the likes of Hastings, Sesay, Jake Sullivan, Nathan Kearney and Will Astorino, the latter two doubling up as blue-collar fullbacks on offense.

Special teams play a major role for KP as well. Strong-legged Matt Kelley is a legitimate weapon who has connected on eight field goals this year, his longest a 41-yarder, his most clutch a 31-yarder with two seconds to go that allowed the Warriors to walk away with a 17-14 regular-season win over Milford on Oct. 15.

“They just work,” Lee said of his team. “They just have a great work ethic, and they’re good kids. They’ve stuck together. They’re accountable to each other. They’re accountable to me. They’re accountable to this program. They’ve had a lot of success.”

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