Some would say that the KIPP Academy football team’s inaugural season has been a success and it’s hard to argue against that.
The Panthers won their season opener, stumbled into a six-game losing streak, but won their last two games to stand at 3-6 on the year. Now they have one final objective to reach: finish the season with a win on Thanksgiving at Milford.
“Our goal is to leave it all on the field on Thanksgiving,” Panthers coach Jim Rabbitt said. “We’re looking to play our best game and our seniors want to leave a legacy of hard-work behind. If we can give it our all and end on that note, that’ll be a success for us on Thanksgiving.”
Getting that win is easier said than done as Milford, 4-6, is a Division 3 team that made the state tournament before bowing out in the South sectional quarterfinals after a 9-7 loss to Duxbury.
“Milford plays a tough schedule,” Rabbitt said. “To me, their record means nothing. We watched them on film. They’re a double-tight, double-wing team. They’re big up front and they’re aggressive. They’re well-coached. I’m sure they’ll have a lot of fans and alumni there so we’re going up to the lion’s den to compete.”
On the bright side, KIPP comes into Thursday’s game playing some of its best football. The Panthers went to South Boston and fought for a 22-18 win over the Knights on Nov. 3. They followed that with a 24-16 win over Burke last Thursday night.
“Including the loss to Chelsea, we’ve played our three best games of the season back to back to back,” Rabbitt said. “The kids have developed better practice habits and the kids are really building their confidence as the season closes.”
Leading KIPP’s offense this year are quarterback Kymani Morrison, running backs Tomi Oladunjoye and Keury Rodriguez and linemen Olivier Pyram, Dionne Rodriguez and Mike Bryce.
“These guys have all stepped up,” Rabbit said. “That has allowed us to establish a consistent running game.”
Defensively, the Panthers are led by linebacker Rodney Laventure, safety Andrew Puati and cornerback Aris Luna. That trio, along with linebacker Morrison and defensive tackle Pyram, will look to limit the Hawks’ go-to double-tight, double-wing formations.
“The double-tight, double-wing is tough,” Rabbitt said. “We have to know where to be and play fundamental football. Our guys will have to worry about doing their jobs. We’re going to have to make good tackles, stay low and that’s what we’re working on in practice.”
Kickoff for Thursday’s game at Milford is scheduled for 10:00 a.m.
“We talked about it all year and especially now, Thanksgiving football isn’t played around the whole country and we didn’t think we’d have a game prior to starting the program,” Rabbitt said. “Our guys are excited. We have football experience now but the new experience for them will be playing football on Thanksgiving.”