FOXBORO – When the current crop of seniors on the Hull High football team stepped on the gridiron four years ago, the Pirates had gone nearly a decade without a winning record.
The Class of 2023 wanted to change that, so they did.
The 14 seniors led the Pirates to a dramatic turnaround over the last three years, and Saturday was the cherry on top of a championship sundae. John Gianibas starred offensively while Hull's defense forced three turnovers and didn’t allow a second-half point in a 27-6 win over KIPP Academy at Gillette Stadium in the Division 8 Super Bowl.
“This is one of the best groups to ever come out of Hull, and that’s not overstating it,” said Hull coach Mike O’Donnell.
"We came in here our freshman year and our team was not good at all,” said Austin Bongo, one of the Pirates' five senior captains. “We knew if we wanted to change the program around, we had to take it upon ourselves to do that.”
Gianibas, who is listed at a 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, was a workhorse back in the win, rushing 33 times for 188 yards and three touchdowns. He also had an interception on defense. All five of the game’s touchdowns were scored in the first half.
Hull’s defense had the unenviable task of trying to slow down KIPP senior quarterback Juan Setalsingh. Although he threw for 222 yards and a TD, his completion percentage was below 50% (17 for 38) and the Pirates picked off three passes.
Hull’s defensive gameplan started with defensive ends Sean Reilly and Tyler Sordillo. Sordillo and Ethan Campbell combined for a quarterback sack while senior Ethan Williams had one to himself.
"We wanted to keep him in the pocket,” said O’Donnell of Setalsingh. “He’s too good to let outside the pocket and once we contain him, now he’s got to move around, he’s got to find receivers. We dropped eight (players into coverage), we dropped nine at times, just trying to change things up and they still made plays. He’s a stud.”
Hull’s defense forced two three-and-outs to open the second half. Sophomore Luke Dunham and Gianibas intercepted passes on the Panthers' next two drives. KIPP’s best chance at a scoring drive in the second half ended on its 17th play when Reilly nearly sacked Setalsingh on fourth down.
Dunham intercepted two passes in the win. His first derailed a promising Panthers drive when he picked off a fourth-down pass inside Hull’s 5-yard line and returned it 50 yards to the KIPP 46. Gianibas finished the ensuing five-play, 54-yard drive when he pushed his way through a pair of Panther tacklers en route to an 8-yard TD to put Hull up 13-0.
“It takes the pressure off the seniors,” said Bongo of Dunham’s interceptions. “Luke Dunham, he came up huge this game. He had a great game.”
“He’s learned, he’s gotten better,” said O’Donnell of Dunham. “He’s going to be my quarterback next year.”
Aidan Murphy, a senior captain, was also a key factor in Hull’s defensive gem.
“Aidan Murphy, he’s a dog,” said Gianibas. “(He’s) 6' 1", 240. You can’t ask better for anything from him. He does everything for us − offense, defense, anything you ask of him.
“It’s going to be emotional not playing with him anymore.”
Hull scored on each of its first four drives in the first half.
The Pirates marched nine plays for 73 yards on the opening drive. Hull started the game with four consecutive Gianibas outside-zone runs and he picked up gains of 13, 10, 3 and 14 yards. The drive looked to stall when Gianibas was stuffed for a loss of one on two consecutive runs, but senior captain Luke Richardson completed a 19-yard TD pass up the seam to Campbell. Logan Chenette’s point-after kick put the Pirates up 7-0.
The Pirates defense forced a turnover on downs near midfield on the final play of the first quarter. Hull took advantage with a heavy dose of Gianibas (he had runs on four of the drive’s six plays). On a third-and-7, Gianibas capped the drive with a 19-yard TD run to push Hull’s lead to 20-0.
The Pirates converted a pair of fourth downs on a 13-play drive late in the first half. On the third play of the drive, junior Nick Tiani gained 10 yards to put the Pirates into a fourth-and-3 at the KIPP 43. Gianibas picked up the first down with an 11-yard run. Three plays later, Gianibas recovered a Campbell fumble at the Panther 14 to keep the drive alive. On a fourth-and-goal from the 1, Gianibas scored his third TD of the half and Chenette’s kick put Hull up 27-0.
The Panthers showed off their offensive explosiveness by getting on the scoreboard with a seven-play, 72-yard drive. On third down, Setalsingh completed a 15-yard TD pass to Morenel Castro. Vic Mafo, who entered the game with over 1,800 yards receiving, finished the game with six catches for 97 yards.
“We knew they’d make plays, they’re too athletic not to,” O’Donnell said of KIPP. “We tried to keep the game in front of us. They made plays, which we knew they would, but we wanted to contain them inside the hashmarks, not outside.”
The title is the third for Hull and the first since 1996. The Pirates lost to South Shore League foe Randolph in last year’s state final.
“I was very happy for Randolph last year, they beat us,” said O’Donnell. “We played the best we could and they beat us. This year we played our A-game, we beat a very talented team, a big team, but it’s a completely different feeling. I’m so happy for the kids.”
"It feels amazing,” said Bongo. “Last year when we got to this point of the season, we played a hard game but we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted. We made sure that our main goal would be to get back here and win it and we did it. It feels amazing.”
The Pirates' senior class includes Bongo, Tommy Burke, Campbell, Chenette, Gianibas, Richardson, Sean Angellis, Brennan Minucci, Patrick Dwyer, Williams, Murphy, Bryan Kennedy, Leo Bergen and Sordillo. Between 2012 and 2019, Hull posted a 31-46 record. Over the last three seasons, the Pirates have nearly matched that win total with a 27-6 mark.
“Hard works pays off,” said O’Donnell. “When these kids started as freshmen, 14 of them, they stayed together as a family. They worked extremely hard, they’re good students, they contribute to the community.”
“It means everything. It can’t get better than this,” said Gianibas. “I might cry a little bit because it’s my last time playing.”
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Hull High football defeats KIPP Academy in Division 8 Super Bowl