By JAKE DONOVAN
“We will never lose another game ever again.”
The statement was made by senior running back Mitch Rossi, but was the mindset of the Franklin Rebels as they stepped on their home field for Senior Night at Howard Gamble Stadium.
It was a true team effort by Franklin, as five different Rebels found their way into the end zone in a 45-0 rout of the Lebanon Blue Devils in the final regular season game for both teams.
Rossi (56 yards rushing, 1 TD; 20 yards receiving – all in 1st half) scored on the first play from scrimmage, a 3-yard run that followed an 87-yard kickoff return by Matthew Burns at the game’s start.
Carter Hendry (2 TD runs), Alex Gaca, Collin Saulters and third-string quarterback Jackson Jarvis also hit paydirt in a game that meant little to Franklin High School in the way of standings or playoff scenario, but where a win was the only acceptable outcome.
“After what we went through last week, there was no way were going to ever allow Lebanon to think they had a shot at beating us,” Rossi commented, speaking to Franklin’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Mt. Juliet one week ago in a game that decided Region3-6A top honors. “Our plan was just to come out here tonight and play hard on both sides of the football, and do the same throughout the playoffs.”
There was a touch of complacency despite the high scoring affair. An emotional pre-game tribute to select seniors on the team and other school functions appeared to create a somber mood in the early going.
“It was weird,” admitted senior quarterback Wes Patterson, who connected with Gaca on a 33-yard touchdown strike for the game’s lone touchdown pass. “We didn’t carry that same intensity we always have. We were flat at times; I’m not sure any of us even thought about it until afterward, but between last week and the ceremony before the game, it might’ve thrown us out of rhythm.”
Fortunately, it was a night where Franklin’s potent offense could get away with not going at full speed, as well as making the occasional mistake. Lebanon’s defense put its best foot forward, preventing an early rout when a Hendry pass to the end zone found its way to Blue Devils sophomore two-way starter Reggie Morris for a touchback in the first quarter.
It was the lone mistake of the game by Franklin on either side of the football, pitching its first shutout of the season and creating a scenario where its reserves saw significant playing time throughout the second half of the game.
For most of the senior starters, it meant spending the back 24 minutes cheering on their teammates while resting up for next week’s opening-round home playoff game versus Germantown High School.
“We needed a big win this week, so regardless of how we got it, mission accomplished,” noted Patterson. “I will say, Coach (Donnie) Webb will ramp up the intensity during every practice. It’s playoff football and we plan to win every game and take home that state championship.
“That would mean everything to this football team, especially all of us seniors who won’t get to come back next year.”
Despite the theme of the evening, Patterson still split playing time with Hendry in a two-quarterback system that has worked all year. Hendry scored on separate runs of 15 and 9 yards, the latter giving Franklin a 31-0 lead heading into halftime.
A 15-yard touchdown run by Saulters less than three minutes into the second half permanently put the game out of reach. Jarvis contributed the final score of the game, finding the end zone on a 2-yard run, a drive enabled by seldom-used sophomore running back Tucker Smith, a 5’9” 155 lb. reserve who racked up 35 yards in putting the Rebels in the red zone.
Lebanon’s last chance at getting on the scorecard ended with an interception by junior linebacker Gavin King with less than two minutes to go.
Franklin ends its regular season with an 8-2 record, including a 6-1 record in region play, good for second place and a guaranteed home game next Friday. Their fate was sealed well before game time as Mt. Juliet clinched top honors in the league with a 49-10 win over McGavock on Thursday evening.
All that means for Franklin is having to seek out its revenge on the road – although they have to win every time out in order to get there.
“We can’t take anything for granted, can’t leave anything to chance,” Rossi insisted. “Not just for the seniors but for everyone wearing (Rebels) uniforms – we’re never losing again.”