The senior-laden Panthers went 8-3 on the season.
When they were freshmen, Whitman-Hanson Regional High football head coach Mike Driscoll knew there was just something different about this season’s group of seniors.
“There were a bunch of them,” Driscoll said. “They started with like 40 kids and they were rolling people and playing good football.”
But the success isn’t what caught his immediate attention.
“You could tell the core of the kids really loved the game,” Driscoll said. “We kind of knew coming into their sophomore year that we were going to get something out a few of the kids. We knew early on that they were going to be a pretty good group.”
As sophomores they helped lead the team to a 7-4 season, as juniors they did the same, but in their final seasons the 16 of them helped Driscoll hit a mark he hadn’t since his first year as head coach. That’s the eight-win plateau.
“I told the seniors how proud we were of them for their four years in the program, and I told the younger guys to remember how it feels and do what those kids did and just continue on what they did,” said the eighth-year head coach.
The Panthers posted statement wins over Marshfield (41-13) in their opener, Quincy (39-0), Silver Lake (29-6) and Abington (16-0) on Thanksgiving.
“They were a hard-working group,” Driscoll said. “They were a resilient group and they were talented.”
With its offense working through some changes throughout the season, W-H’s defense was its one constant, as it recorded three shutouts and surrendered just 11.7 points per game. The unit was led by senior captain and league all-star Mike Connors. The middle linebacker racked up a team-leading 100 tackles.
“Mike is the quarterback in the middle and made our defense run,” Driscoll said. “He knows the game inside and out and it pays off. Mike is a student of the game.”
While Connors shored up the middle, senior Billy Martell was the rock in the secondary, recording 52 tackles and three interceptions from his safety position. On offense, he chipped in 518 rushing yards and three scores. The two-way threat was also a league all-star.
“He’s very dynamic in the backfield but his defense was really, really impressive at safety,” Driscoll said. “You didn’t have to worry about too much with him in the back.”
Senior captain Quinn Sweeney and classmate Ryan Trongone were also two-way stars for W-H on the line. Sweeney was second on the team with 85 tackles and led it with 24 tackles for loss and seven sacks en route to a league all-star selection. Trongone was second on the team with 17 tackles for loss to go with 65 tackles.
“They’re the heart and soul of the team,” Driscoll said. “[They’re] gritty, tough and hard-nosed football players. They played great, but they also practiced great.”
Senior Nate Beath, a transfer from Pembroke, was a three-way asset for W-H due to his punting (31.8 punt average), blocking, rushing (244 yards, two TDs) and tackling (58 tackles and 5.5 sacks).
“Nate can do it all, he’s a really, really good football player,” Driscoll said. “I wish we had him in our program for all four years because I think he’s a legit player. He’s as good as they come.”
On offense, senior captain Ethan Phelps rushed for 654 yards and 12 TDs and was tabbed a league all-star.
“He could see the field pretty well,” Driscoll said. “We knew he was a great runner so he stepped into that role and from Day 1 he moved forward and got better at it as the season went on.”
It’s tough to find one player who had a more immense impact on the offense than senior captain Rian Schwede, who switched from wide receiver to fill a void at quarterback early in the season. In an Oct. 15 win over Quincy, he ran for, caught and threw a TD.
“Without Rian, we don’t win eight games,” Driscoll said. “That’s a fact. Rian Schwede gave up being an allleague receiver to switch to quarterback to help the team and that shows a lot about him as a person and his character.”
Driscoll said that while he’s graduating significant talent off this season’s roster, he’s optimistic about what the future holds for his program that finished off the year with a combined freshman, JV and varsity record of 20-1.
“We won a lot of football games this fall,” he said. “These kids know how to win, they work hard. They’re already working hard. We think we’re in good shape. We’re not where we want to be yet but we’re going to get there.”