Last season Mansfield handed King Philip its only loss, keeping the Warriors out of the postseason.
This year, the two are at it again.
The No. 10 Warriors welcome No. 3 Mansfield Friday with sole possession of first place in the Hockomock Kelley-Rex on the line. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
The Hornets (5-0, 3-0) can clinch the league title with a win. King Philip (5-0, 3-0) could clinch with a win and either an Attleboro loss at Taunton on Friday, or a win over Attleboro in the final week of the regular season. And unlike last year, when KP finished 10-1 but didn’t make the postseason, the MIAA’s new playoff system means the loser of Friday’s showdown still has a shot at the postseason.
Even without the winner-take-all feel, Mansfield coach Mike Redding said winning the league is priority No. 1 going into every season.
“I think everybody in the league takes a lot of pride in winning the league title,” he said.
Friday’s matchup features one of the best offenses in the state against one of the top defensive units. The Hornets, with their plethora of weapons, average just north of 35 points per game, and the Warriors have surrendered just 7.6 per contest.
Mansfield senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski leads the group with senior Miguel Villar-Perez in the backfield. Junior Brendan Hill is one of the state’s top receivers with a combination of size and great ball skills, while senior Mike Hershman can stretch a defense down the field.
Redding said the key on Friday is to find balance.
“You can’t show up and run the ball down their throat, you also can’t go back and throw it around because they’re gonna blitz you and cover you,” he said. “You’ve have to find a way to create balance and run the ball, throw the ball, and do some things to kind of keep some of their aggressiveness away.
“If they know what you want to do, they’re not going to let you do it.”
King Philip coach Brian Lee is fully aware of how potent the Hornets’ attack is, saying his Warriors “haven’t faced the threats we’re going to be seeing this week.”
“They look like a college football team,” Lee said of Mansfield’s offense. “They really have that kind of intimidating look on offense and they are feeling it as well. It’s kind of a scary thing to look out there and see those kind of dudes on the other side.”
But the Warriors could have the means to stop the Hornets, not only with its defense, but also its rushing attack.
King Philip boasts a three-headed backfield of Joey Johnston, Christian Flaherty, and Mark Glebus that can churn out yardage and take time off the clock, keeping the Hornet offense on the sidelines.
Glebus has emerged in recent weeks, starting the season primarily on the defensive side, but providing a burst out of the backfield that complements the powerful runners Johnston and Flaherty.
Although Lee knows he’s lucky to have three reliable backs, he couldn’t be more pleased with the offensive line.
“It was supposed to be the weak part of our team this year,” Lee said, “and they’ve done a nice job of getting after people.”
Redding knows just how important it is to stop the King Philip running game.
“If they can run it effectively and move the chains, chew up the clock, and have long drives, it’s gonna play into their favor,” he said. “We need to play outstanding run defense to have a chance to win the game.”
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First place in the Middlesex Liberty is up for grabs as well, with unbeatens Arlington and Woburn clashing Friday at 7 p.m. at Arlington. The No. 13 Spy Ponders (5-0, 3-0) squeaked out a 28-26 win at Winchester last week, while Woburn (5-0, 3-0) topped Belmont, 34-21, with three touchdowns from junior Chris Jewett. Arlington would clinch the league title with a win, while the Tanners would also need a Reading loss to clinch. The Tanners face Reading next week . . . No. 5 Bridgewater-Raynham (4-1, 1-0) hosts No. 8 Barnstable (4-1, 0-0) Friday at 7 p.m. in an Old Colony clash. B-R can clinch with a win . . . No. 6 St. John’s Prep (4-2, 2-0) closes out its regular season Friday at 7 p.m. with a Catholic Conference clash at No. 16 BC High (3-2, 1-0), which is riding a two-game winning streak.