Juan Setalsingh was in the midst of a shootout with Hull in the Division 8 state quarterfinals last November when he dislocated his shoulder, ending his season, and effectively dooming KIPP Academy’s chances to advance to the semifinals for the second time in just five years as a varsity program.
Now Setalsingh has the No. 7 Panthers (8-4) marching to Gillette Stadium for the program’s first Super Bowl appearance. The senior quarterback and free safety has made game-sealing plays throughout the playoffs and can now set his sights on a rematch with top-seeded Hull (12-0) Saturday at 10 a.m.
“Personally, I wouldn’t want to face any other team in the Super Bowl,” said Setalsingh, a co-MVP in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference last season. “That was heartbreaking [getting injured in a 27-20 loss to Hull]. It was a bad way to go out. I knew I left the team without a quarterback, and then I had to watch. That was the worst part.”
Setalsingh has been clutch at every turn this season, helping the Panthers bounce back from a 1-3 start to make the playoffs, and producing 2,101 passing yards, 32 total touchdowns, 44 tackles, and nine interceptions.
In a 44-12 win over Lee to open the playoffs, Setalsingh played through the flu to produce six total touchdowns. The following Friday, in a driving rain, he passed for three touchdowns and snagged a game-sealing interception to top No. 2 Lowell Catholic, 21-12, in the quarterfinals.
Last Friday in the semifinals, Setalsingh tossed five more touchdown passes — four to senior Morenel Castro — and produced the game-sealing pick again in a 34-33 win over third-seeded Oxford.
“[Setalsingh is] special on and off the field, and it’s not so much what he says, it’s an intangible, an aura, a presence, a confidence the team just gets when he’s on the field,” said KIPP coach Jim Rabbitt. “I’m proud of this group for fighting through adversity. We knocked on the door of Gillette a couple times, and finally we were able to break the door down.”
Setalsingh has received plenty of help, with fellow seniors Castro, Vic Mafo, and two-way lineman Kenneth Pleytez leading the way. But it’s clear who leads the Panthers.
“The thing about this senior group is they’ve been through it all,” Setalsingh said. “They’ve had multiple chances to win it all, but never got there. In 2020 we never got the chance, but we could’ve made it. So there’s so much motivation to not let this chance go.”
Hull’s seniors are also seeking redemption, having lost, 20-14, to Randolph in the D8 Super Bowl last December.
With quarterback Luke Richardson and reigning D8 Player of the Year John Gianibas leading the way, the Pirates went all out for a win on Thanksgiving and topped defending D7 state champion Cohasset, 24-10, for their first win in the rivalry since 2009.
“I think we can enjoy this win for a couple days, and then put it out of our minds, and use our momentum to go forward into the Super Bowl,” Richardson said after the win.
After resting his starters on Thanksgiving last year, sixth-year Hull coach Mike O’Donnell decided to play his core group this year, and the tight-knit team from a school of just 242 students came through with another impressive effort.
“We’re a small town, but we’ve got big hearts,” said Gianibas. “It’s a family. We fight together.”
When asked about the reason for Hull’s success over the past couple of years, each senior responded without hesitation that a renewed commitment to the weight room has provided the foundation.
Using that strength on both sides of the line, Aidan Murphy and fellow senior Tyler Sordillo have been immense this season. The pair combined for 27 tackles and two sacks in a 35-12 win over Old Colony to make the state finals, with Gianibas providing 270 rushing yards and four scores on offense.
Austin Bongo, Ethan Campbell, and Nick Tiani are also key contributors on both sides for Hull.
“We knew we were talented, but we lost some key players,” said O’Donnell. “We had guys step up, and we knew we had a stud quarterback and stud running back, so we knew we’d be competitive.
“We knew we had something special, but let’s be honest — you go through the season, you don’t expect this. You expect injuries and whatever, and then someone beats you. We knew we were going to be solid and strong, but this is special. This is really special.”