SHREWSBURY — The Springfield Central football team didn’t just punt on its first possession of the Division 1 state semifinal against Franklin, it actually lost yardage.
Not that the series ended up being much of a cause for concern for the Golden Eagles, who scored touchdowns on each of their next eight possessions in a 60-49 win over the Panthers at Central One Federal Credit Union Stadium to advance to the Division 1 state final at Gillette Stadium.
Springfield Central (9-2) amassed 455 yards of offense, quarterback Will Watson (19 for 22, five touchdown passes) accounting for 397 through the air.
“I throw the ball and let my wide receivers make their plays,” said Watson, a junior who has thus far received interest from UMass, Boston College, Arizona, Michigan and Kentucky. “Everybody’s out there doing their part and we excel every week.”
Senior Joseph Griffin, a BC recruit, had 9 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the win for the Golden Eagles, and junior Tykarryon Daniels produced 9 catches for 98 yards and two more touchdown grabs.
The difference in the game for Franklin (9-1) was two turnovers, including one on just its second play on offense following the initial Springfield Central punt. Cory Coward forced a Panthers fumble and recovered it himself, running the ball back to the Franklin 7-yard line.
Two plays later, Tariq Thomas found the end zone from 5 yards out for the Golden Eagles and the track meet was on.
Franklin actually outgained Springfield Central, totaling 498 yards of offense. But after taking an early 7-6 lead on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Jared Arone to Shane Kindred and eventually matching the Golden Eagles at 14-all on a 41-yard touchdown run from Mack Gulla (18 carries, 131 yards), the Panthers were perpetually playing catch-up.
“Their offense was rock and rolling,” Springfield Central coach Valdamar Brower said. “You’ve got to give a shoutout to their crew.”
Arone, who completed 37 of 50 passes, totaled 315 yards through the air and four touchdown passes of his own; Kindred had 11 catches for 135 yards and Will Tracey had 16 receptions for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Franklin, which fell behind by as many as 19 points, got back within 44-41 on a 16-yard touchdown run for Gulla with 10:32 left in the fourth.
Springfield Central pulled back in front by 11, 52-41, on a 33-yard touchdown catch from Daniels with 8:46 remaining, before Franklin lost a fumble for a second time, a gaffe that proved costly when Griffin hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass on the next play for the Golden Eagles.
The Panthers scored once more, a 6-yard touchdown catch by Tracey with 4:12 left, but Springfield Central was able to run out the clock and kneel down — its first series not scoring since its opening possession.
“We knew we were playing an undefeated team, so the way we practiced all week, we knew what we were going against,” Brower said of Franklin. “We adjusted and respected them making plays.”
Springfield Central, which does not play on Thanksgiving, can shift its entire focus onto Central Catholic for the championship. The extra time can only serve to help the Golden Eagles, who dropped their season opener to the Raiders, 67-52, in Springfield.