There’s something familiar about this year’s King Philip team for coach Brian Lee, now in his 17th season.
It’s not just that the father of second-year starting quarterback Charlie Grant — Chuck Grant, once played for, coached with, and eventually took over for Brian’s father, the legendary John Lee, at Walpole High.
Nor is it that one of his cornerbacks grew up across the street from his house.
Or even the returning starters and senior leadership sprinkled across the field.
No, the source of Lee’s familiarity is the Warriors’ kicking game.
In the not-too distant past, King Philip won back-to-back state championships and reached three consecutive Super Bowls from 2016-18 with a lift from the leg of Cole Baker, who drilled a game-winning 30-yard field goal to capture the Division 2 state title in 2017.
For a high school coach, the luxury of a reliable kicker is a rare treat. For Lee, it’s becoming commonplace.
Junior Matthew Kelley, who also happens to be the corner who grew up across the street from Lee, is offering the same red-zone safety blanket and field position edge that Baker once provided.
On Friday, Kelley connected on a winning 28-yard field goal with two seconds remaining as KP knocked off undefeated and ninth-ranked Milford, 17-14. Two weeks prior, Kelley kicked three field goals, including a 41-yarder, and scored 12 points in a 30-21 win over Taunton.
“That’s got to be a KP record,” Lee said, adding: “I don’t think it’s an accident we have success when we have a good kicker.”
But Kelley, who played for Bishop Feehan as a freshman before transferring, is far from the only reason the Warriors are off to a 5-1 start and just re-entered the Globe’s Top 20 at No. 14.
There’s Grant, the Fall II starter who began this season splitting time between quarterback and wide receiver before taking over full time when sophomore Tommy McLeish broke his collarbone.
“Charlie took on an even bigger role and the passing game got even better,” said senior Jonathan Joseph, who caught six passes for 40 yards against Milford. In that game, Grant scored touchdowns with his arm and his legs and completed 12 passes for 114 yards.
“Charlie is a great athlete and he’s very fast, but what’s been really nice to see has been his progressions and getting the ball out on time,” Lee said. “He still has the ability, when things break down, he can improvise and make things happen.”
There’s also undersized junior Ryan “Rudy” Gately, who has emerged in the backfield alongside senior Crawford Cantave. Gately ran for 110 yards against Milford after piling up 242 against Taunton.
“He doesn’t look like much, but he’s all heart,” Lee said of his 5-foot-8-inch back. “He’s used to being in pressure situations. He wants the ball in crucial situations. He’s really stepped up.”
“Rudy is one of the toughest kids I know,” echoed Grant. “We knew coming into this year he would be quite the talent and he’s been showing that all season.”
Then there’s the offensive line, which returned 6-3, 220-pound senior Hunter Hastings at left tackle and 6-6 260-pound junior Chris Sesay at right tackle.
There’s also a little bit of an underdog factor at play. After finishing 4-3 in the Fall II and falling, 20-19, to North Attleborough in Week 3, King Philip was able to fly under the radar in the Hockomock League’s rugged Kelley-Rex Division.
“To be honest, I think we like playing as the underdogs,” Grant said. “Going into [Friday], I don’t think there were many people who expected us to win that game, or even keep it close. We knew the only people who had to believe in ourselves are us.”
According to the new state power rankings, the six-team Kelley-Rex is home not only to the top Division 1 team (Franklin), but also the second- (Milford), fifth- (Mansfield), and seventh-best (King Philip) Division 2 teams. Even Taunton, a talented team languishing in fifth place, is 10th in the D1 power rankings. The division is 16-2 against nonconference opponents.
“It’s an animal,” Lee said of the Hockomock League. “You can’t sleep. You have to be ready to play each week.”
Coming off its biggest win of the season, King Philip will enjoy a bye week before hosting Mansfield (4-2) on Oct. 29. Then the Division 2 playoffs await.
“I wasn’t sure what we’d be football-wise, and I still don’t really know, but they’re great kids who work hard and they’re a pleasure to be around and coach,” said Lee. “Whatever happens football-wise is a bonus.”
▪ Catholic Memorial has a commodity that every other team wants: Speed. The quickness and athleticism of the Knights was on full display Friday night in a Super Bowl rematch at St. John’s Prep. Carson Harwood racked up 172 rushing yards, Datrell Jones tallied 92 yards, and fullback Kyle King powered for 25 yards — on just 18 carries. The Knights averaged 16 yards per carry against an excellent Prep defense and required just three plays to score on their first two possessions. Jones and Harwood were both able to gain the edge with regularity thanks to excellent blocking from a young and talented offensive line. Once they got a step, they were able to rip off chunk plays. The speed of the Catholic Memorial’s defense was also on display, with King, Devon Marshall, Boubacar Traore, Brady McGowan, and others making it difficult for Eagles quarterback Jack Perry to run read-option, or find time to take shots down the field.
▪ Shawsheen dedicated its 44-6 win over Lowell Catholic on Saturday to wrestling coach Mark Donovan, who passed away Oct. 10 after battling cancer. The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, where Donovan worked, honored him with an honorary color guard carrying the flag for the national anthem . . . After not playing at home since Thanksgiving 2019, Fairhaven enjoyed some home cooking on its new turf field at Alumni Stadium, beating Bourne. 42-7 . . . File under things you don’t see much: North Attleborough led Foxborough at halftime, 2-0, on a safety by Tyler Bannon . . . Out in Western Mass, Taconic beat Chicopee, 20-14, on a 100-plus yard interception return with no time left by Dez Merced.
▪ In a Merrimack Valley tilt at Lawrence Veterans Memorial Stadium, the visiting Red Raiders of Lowell scored their first win in dramatic fashion. Down 27-21 with 3:10 remaining, Lowell received a 3-yard touchdown run from Jaedyn Sim to jockey ahead. After Andy Medina put Lawrence in good position, the Lancers jockeyed back ahead on a 64-yard screen pass from Jayden Abreu to Medina. Senior quarterback Evan Seng led Lowell down the field again, hitting Travis VanDinter for a key 47-yard pickup, and Blake Ramos ran in the go-ahead score from 6 yards out with 1:04 remaining. Seng added a 2-point conversion to make it 36-33 and the Red Raiders (1-6) held on.
▪ Through six weeks, there are 19 undefeated teams remaining in the state: Franklin, Everett, Catholic Memorial, Lincoln-Sudbury, Reading, Marblehead, Grafton, Ashland, Swampscott, Norton, St. Mary’s, Stoneham, Wahconah, Blue Hills, Latin Academy, Ware, Manchester Essex, Quaboag, and Narragansett.
(Correspondent Nate Weitzer contributed to this story.)