FRANKLIN — It all started with a shed, a combination lock and a pandemic.
During the depths of the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, Franklin quarterback Jared Arone and wide receiver Shane Kindred were regulars down at Pisini Stadium, where they would unlock the shed and run routes on their own.
The fruits of those labors have been seen all season as the Panthers won their first nine games and reached the Division 1 state semifinals. But it was never more evident than on Thanksgiving morning as the seniors combined for 160 yards and three touchdowns to lead Franklin past King Philip 27-20, snapping a 10-game losing streak on Thanksgiving and 18-game losing streak overall to the Warriors. The win also earned Franklin the Hockomock League’s Kelley-Rex Division crown.
“It’s incredibly satisfying,” Franklin coach Eian Bain said. “Obviously, I’m proud as the coach. I’m just happy for our kids and the town, too. The last couple of years these games have been really good.”
Before Arone and Kindred’s connection ramped up, King Philip (9-2) opened the game with a shot across the bow. Taking advantage of an early Franklin fumble, the Warriors built a 14-0 lead six minutes into the game on touchdowns from Charlie Grant and Andrew Danson.
“It’s hard to keep getting hit in the mouth, " Bain said. “You’re down 14 and you have to ask yourself if you want to keep getting hit in the face over and over again. Our guys didn’t back down.”
On the last play of the first quarter, the Panthers (10-1) ran a flea flicker and Arone dropped a deep ball to Kindred down the right sideline for an 85-yard touchdown that sparked a 19-0 Franklin run to end the first half.
“We started slow. They’re a zone team and we played a lot of man [coverage] last weekend, so a lot of different looks,” Arone said. “It took a couple of drives, but once we started clicking it’s really hard to stop us.”
That it was. Arone connected with Kindred for a 17-yard touchdown pass on Franklin’s next possession, then the two hooked up on a 37-yard scoring strike late in the half. Kindred finished with five catches for 160 yards and three touchdowns and was named MVP of the game. Arone was 11-of-17 passing for 232 yards and three scores.
“They have a close relationship off the field, as a lot of our guys do,” Bain said. “There’s a mutual respect for the amount of work they do, even during the pandemic. ... I know they never stopped working, even though the rest of the world seemed to stop turning for a year or so there.”
Arone and Kindred first started playing together at the age of 7, when Kindred was Arone’s center.
“We’ve been at it a long time. I love this kid,” Arone said. “I have the best targets in the state, I think. They can compete with anyone out there.”
That feeling is mutual.
“I think I have the best quarterback in the state,” Kindred echoed. “I’ve been playing with him my whole life and it’s just something that builds over the years and it shows. He knows I’m going to be there and he trusts me to catch the ball. It’s just a great connection.”
Franklin’s 19-14 halftime lead didn’t last long as KP drove 70 yards on the opening possession of the second half. A 6-yard touchdown by Crawford Cantave was followed by a failed two-point pass as the Warriors regained the lead 20-19.
Late in the third quarter Kindred made an incredible one-handed catch for 19 yards to set Franklin up on KP’s 11-yard line. Two plays later, Mack Gulla (17 carries, 107 yards) plunged in from 5 yards out for the winning score.
With six minutes left, KP got the ball and started driving, but on fourth and 1 near midfield Franklin linebacker Jack Marino stuffed Ryan Gately (12 carries, 161 yards) for a loss.
“Jack, first of all, he’s one of the savviest athletes,” Bain said. “Coach [Zach] Brown would say the same with baseball. Look back at any big win and there’s a moment where Jack Marino turned the tide.”
Two minutes later, the Panthers celebrated with their 32nd victory in the all-time series (32-28-1), but first since 2009.
“It’s awesome,” Arone said. “That was the goal when we set out. Obviously, everyone has the goal of winning the state championship, and we’re sad we didn’t get there, but this was our Super Bowl to finish it off and send the seniors off on a good note. Couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
KP will play unbeaten Catholic Memorial (12-0) in the Division 2 Super Bowl Thursday at Gillette Stadium (8 p.m.).