The Panthers lost their starting quarterback in the first game of the season en route to a 2-10 campaign.
The Whitman-Hanson Regional High football team came out strong in it its season opener, putting up 21 points in the first half against Concord-Carlisle.
Then, the Panthers lost their starting quarterback, sophomore Conor Meehan, later in the game to a season-ending injury, throwing an immediate wrench into their plans.
“That was huge,” said ninth-year head coach Mike Driscoll. “We come out in that first game on fire and played exceptional, so now when he goes down, we had to move receivers to running back and a running back to quarterback. It was a challenge.”
It was the second straight year Driscoll lost his starting signal-caller.
“We had the eye in the system, so it definitely helped us a little bit,” Driscoll explained.
The injury to Meehan thrust junior Jason Murphy under center, a position he had experience playing, but he came into the season prepared to be W-H’s lead running back.
“Jason is a runner type, which we’ve had, we’ve had runners at quarterbacks recently, and Conor was a passer who could also run,” Driscoll said. “Conor was more of a dual threat, so teams started playing us a little different. We had to change our style back for a running quarterback and completing some short stuff.”
The Panthers dropped their opener and following two games, before the offense finally clicked, as they routed Silver Lake, 34-14, and ran past Plymouth North, 35-14. However, those were their only two wins, as they finished the year 2-10.
“We prepared every week — the will to win was there every week,” Driscoll said. “They prepared like they wanted to win and sometimes it’s tough — you got to maintain the mental side of things. It just wasn’t one of those seasons where things went our way.”
Murphy ended up being tabbed a league all-star for his play at safety and on offense.
“Jason is a great player,” Driscoll said. “He knows how to play the game, he’s physical and he’s a great student — which is huge for us.”
Behind Murphy, senior captain C.J. Giuliani rushed for a team-high 689 yards. Also a starting linebacker, he recorded 65 tackles and five sacks en route to league all-star status.
“C.J. was the heart and soul of our football team — both sides of the ball,” Driscoll said. “He’s a great player, student of the game, and a tough, hard-nose, gritty football player.”
Another two-way player, senior Devin Coulstring was named a league all-star. The Panthers starting fullback, Coulstring helped pave the way for a rushing attack than ran for 141 yards a game. At cornerback, he tallied 12 pass breakups.
“I talked to him about how impressed I was with him,” Driscoll said. “He worked hard and waited his time out behind some really good players he had a great year for us.”
Starting center Declan Meehan was also key in the run game. The senior started on the defensive line as well and was named a Patriot League All-Star.
“I’m so happy for him,” Driscoll said. “He’s someone who works really hard and linemen don’t always get recognized, but he’s in there playing both ways for us and really grinding it out for us every week.”
With Meehan and Murphy keying the Panthers’ returnees next fall, they also return a steady diet out of the backfield, which includes the likes of: sophomore Will Stafford and junior Nik Dolan.
“It’s a great core coming back,” said the coach. “We have up to seven or eight guys that started on that defense this year and that’s same on offense. The kids are already in the weight room.”