The fifth-seeded W-H football team (5-2) will visit fourth-seeded North Attleboro (5-2) Friday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Div. 3 South playoffs.
The Whitman-Hanson Regional High football team will attempt to do something Friday it hasn’t done in 17 years. That’s win a playoff game.
It’s been since the 2001 Super Bowl that W-H has found itself on the winning end of a postseason tilt.
It there ever was an opportunity for the Panthers to halt that trend, it would appear this is the one. The senior-laden Panthers (5-2) earned the No. 5 seed in Div. 3 South, drawing No. 4 North Attleboro (5-2) in the process. The two will square off at 7 p.m. at North Attleboro on Friday.
The last meeting between the two teams was two years ago when the Red Rocketeers knocked the Panthers out in the first round, 33-8. Then-sophomores Mike Connors, Jacob Nixon, Ethan Phelps, Rian Schwede and Quinn Sweeney played pivotal roles on that 2016 Panthers team.
That unit then brought the Panthers back to the playoffs last season, where they were ousted in the first round by Stoughton, 30-21.
W-H head coach Mike Driscoll believes it’s time where all that experience pays off.
“I don’t think they’re going to be overwhelmed by the situation,” Driscoll said. “We’ve already played a game at North Attleboro, so that field doesn’t intimidate our kids. They know what to expect. We know when we play the Hockomock we’re going to have to strap it up, and we’re going to have to play a physical game so these kids know what it’s like.”
Driscoll said if he’s learned anything over the past three seasons, all of which featured first-round playoff exits, it’s to not blow the postseason out of proportion.
“We are going to treat it like any other game and prepare the same way we normally prepare as opposed to making a big deal about it,” the eight-year head coach said. “It’s a regular game for us right now. It’s our eighth game on the schedule. That’s the way we’ve approached every week and we’re going to continue the same approach.”
The Red Rocketeers are no stranger to the spotlight, having advanced all the way to the Div. 3 Super Bowl last season, falling just short to St. John’s (Shrewsbury), 35-33. North Attleboro, allowing just a tick under 14 points a game, owns signature victories over King Philip (14-7), Foxboro (34-0) and Canton (14-10); Bishop Feehan (23-19) and Stoughton (21-10) account for its two losses. Senior quarterback Nick Raneri (seven passing and four rushing TDs), senior running back Brendan McHugh (10 rushing TDs) and senior WR Ryan Gaumond (six receiving TDs) power North Attleboro on offense.
“They’re very similar to us,” Driscoll said. “They got a great kicker, they play great ‘D’ and they grind it out on offense.”
The Panthers, allowing just over 10 points a game, have held opponents to 13 points or less in all five of their wins. They’ve posted shutouts twice, including last week against Plymouth North in a 21-0 victory. The Eagles mustered up just 18 yards against the Panthers.
“It was a game where we had the same records (4-2) and we knew that they were physical and we wanted to be physical and we certainty dominated the line of scrimmage and dominated on defense,” Driscoll said.
With a victory Friday, W-H would face the winner of No. 8 Stoughton (3-4) at No. 1 Duxbury (7-0) in the semis.
“We feel like we got a pretty good team and we told the kids after the game the other day we feel like we can beat anybody right now, so whoever’s in our way, we’re going to give it our all,” Driscoll said.