KIPP falls to Minuteman as Panthers’ playoff hopes dashed

Aris Luna from KIPP Academy tries to avoid Thomas O'Connell (34) and Cameron Cox (30) of Minuteman. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — There was plenty to look forward to Saturday afternoon when the KIPP Academy football team battled Commonwealth Athletic Conference opponent Minuteman in its regular season finale.

The Panthers, celebrating their senior day, were riding a 2-game winning streak. But the 12-6 loss to the Mustangs at Manning Field wasn’t the result KIPP hoped for.

“We had a game plan and we just weren’t able to execute the things we wanted to execute,” KIPP coach Jim Rabbitt said. “We should’ve been able to execute those things. One or two guys missed assignments, it felt like every play somebody missed something. That happens in football.”

With the loss, the Panthers (3-4) fell short of a state tournament berth in Division 8 North.

“The message in the locker room is that it was a hard pill to swallow,” Rabbitt said. “We knew what we had to do, win and you’re in mentality. We had a feeling in the locker room. We want to make sure we remember this feeling and that we grow from this experience because we’re a good football team, we’re a growing football team. We’re going to get there, we just have to make sure we learn from these experiences.”
The Panthers stumbled out of the gate offensively and couldn’t gain their rhythm in the first half, which ended with the Mustangs holding a 12-0 lead. After a scoreless first quarter, Minuteman found the end zone twice in the second period with trickery leading the way on both drives. A double-pass play brought the Mustangs to KIPP’s 4-yard line and quarterback Danny Johansen punched in the game’s first score on a 5-yard pass to tight end Jack O’Keefe (conversion failed). The Mustangs struck again in the closing seconds of the half when Johansen, playing his best Nick Foles impression, caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from running back Ngor Manyang (conversion failed).

“It took them a couple trick plays to get on the board,” Rabbitt said. “Our defense played great. Manyang’s a great running back, one of the better running backs in Division 8. We bottled him up pretty well. It took a couple trick plays to get them going. I wish that offensively we were able to match the intensity we had on defense. The game was definitely winnable, we just let it slip out of our grasp.”

Things looked to turn in KIPP’s favor at the start of the third quarter when Aris Luna returned a kickoff to Minuteman’s 33-yard line. The hopeful drive ended quickly, however, as the Panthers fumbled on a botched option play and Minuteman recovered.

“We were the beneficiary of the turnover ratio over the past couple weeks,” Rabbitt said. “This week we weren’t.

We didn’t take care of the football like we wanted to. As we know, the No. 1 indicator of wins and losses is the turnover ratio and we lost that battle (Saturday).”

KIPP freshman Pierro Canales intercepted a Johansen pass midway through the quarter and ran it back near midfield but the Panthers offense, again, couldn’t move the chains.

Facing a 2-touchdown deficit with the clock working against them, the Panthers finally reached the end zone in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. A 30-yard pass from quarterback Canales (7-of-15, 70 yards) to receiver Jarred Christian brought KIPP to the red zone and Daniel Oluwasuyi scored on a 3-yard carry (conversion failed).

Minuteman recovered the ensuing squib kick and ran out the clock to seal its 12-6 win.

The Panthers will play at Brighton later this week at a time and date to be announced.


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