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LYNN — KIPP football coach Jim Rabbitt was clear about his team’s main objective this season- qualifying for the postseason. The Panthers fell a win short of the Division 8 North sectional last fall. This year, they’re fighting for a different outcome.
After a 1-2 start to the season, KIPP has found its rhythm with consecutive wins over Minuteman (36-10) and Mystic Valley (38-0).
“Our loss to Nashoba Valley three weeks ago was a wake-up call for us,” Rabbitt said. “We went back, watched the film and we realized that we shot ourselves in the foot way too many times. We realized that we were beating ourselves. We’ve played better since then. We’ve gone back to the fundamentals and we’ve fixed some alignment issues. We’re putting together more efficient drives. I’m really happy with how fast we’re playing.”
At 3-2, KIPP feels good about its standing in contending for a postseason bid. But there’s still work to be done with two games remaining in the regular season.
“We’re certainly not done yet,” Rabbitt said. “We’re happy to be in the position we’re at. We learned a lot from our two losses. We’ve talked about getting to the playoffs and being there. We don’t want to limp in. We want to get there after winning these next two games. But it’s one game at a time and one play at a time. Losing and mediocrity, we’re not content with that. We want to win.”
KIPP’s defense has come around during the past two wins. Rabbitt points to his defensive linemen for leading the unit.
“It starts with the front three,” Rabbitt said. “It’s Mike Brice, it’s Jose Castillo and it’s Kenneth Beato. When you disrupt what other teams try to do up front, it makes things easier for the linebackers. Those three have gotten after it. They’re winning the one-on-one matchups and in the case of Brice, he’s getting double teamed. D-linemen don’t get much credit but you can certainly tell the difference.”
Linebacker Dave Filias leads the Panthers in tackles with 42.
“We move him around because we feel he’s our best athlete all around,” Rabbitt said. “He’s kind of like a Tim Tebow type, where we can put him anywhere on the field and he’ll be successful. He’s played offensive line, tight end, fullback. He moves around week to week and he has excelled on all spots. He can close in on 100 tackles and that’d be a great number for him if he can get to that point by the end of the year.”
Running back Daniel Oluwausyi has carried the offense with 436 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
“When he hits the ground running, he’s hard to bring down,” Rabbitt said. “He’s gotten physically stronger in the weight room. It’s unbelievable. We’re still working on it. But when he hits the gap, he’s so hard to bring down. The linemen have done a great job. They’re getting that push up front and that helps out.”
Quarterback Piero Canales continues to improve as a dual threat signal caller. Canales has thrown for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while scoring four touchdowns on the ground.
“Piero’s feet have really become his weapon this year,” Rabbitt said. “We haven’t had the opportunity to get the passing game going this year, for one reason or another. You want to get the passing game going but the past two weeks, the running game has been effective. Most quarterbacks might want to throw the ball a little more but Piero can do it with his feet too. It’s tough to take him down, he’s very slippery.”
Kicker/punter Chris Merino has emerged as a reliable weapon on special teams. Merino’s punts deep into Mystic Valley territory were a crucial part of the Panthers’ shutout win.
“He’s been key with the kicking game,” Rabbitt said. “Hopefully he’ll be getting some looks with some colleges. He put one to the 10-yard line into the wind last Thursday. He’s consistently helping us with field position, pinning teams a long way back. Mystic Valley didn’t run any plays over the 40-yard line.”
This week, KIPP turns its attention toward preparing for Saturday’s (11) bout at Keefe Tech.
“Keefe Tech is a tough tech team,” Rabbitt said. “We snuck by them by a touchdown last year. It was a very even match up. They have a good offense with a spread and a little wing-t thrown in there. Our defense is going to prepare for their attack. I actually played college football with their coach, Harry Lesage so it’s pretty cool to have that second-year matchup with them.”