By JAKE DONOVAN
Wes Patterson accounted for every touchdown scored by Franklin, but it was a team effort as four different Rebels found the end zone in a 31-10 win over White Station in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs Friday.
The senior quarterback threw three touchdowns to three different targets and also ran for one more in the home victory. Gentry Neese, JP Batarseh and Max Page all caught touchdown passes, while Mitch Rossi racked up 171 rushing yards.
“I don’t like taking credit for anything, it’s a team effort and I can’t do half of what I’m able to do without my offensive line, without my receivers, my running backs and the defense always stepping up to the challenge,” Patterson (6-12, 83 yards, 3 TDs; 44 rushing yards, 1 TD) humbly stated of his performance. “It means a lot that I’m looked to help lead this team, but these guys do so much to create opportunities, not just for me but for everyone wearing this uniform.”
The tone was set in the opening drive for both teams. White Station marched down the field, only to turn the ball over as senior defensive lineman Barrett Brown forced and recovered a fumble near midfield.
From there, it was the Mitch Rossi show, racking up 42 rushing yards in less than two minutes. It would have been more – as well as a touchdown – if not for a holding call erasing a 25-yard dash to the house.
“It was frustrating at times, seeing big plays come back, but we just have to dust it off and get it back on the next play,” stated Neese, the junior wideout who scored two plays later on an 18-yard strike from Patterson. “We’re a team, we find ways to score, we find ways to prevent our opponents from scoring and it’s always done as a team effort.”
The sense of unity was felt hours before the game, as Howard Gamble Stadium was packed with student support despite the game falling on a day when schools were closed in honor of Veterans Day.
“I tell you, that student section of ours, they’re something else,” stated an exuberant coach Donnie Webb of the Franklin Rebels student body in attendance. “These kids can be doing anything else on a Friday and on a day off from school. Instead, they’re in the bleachers cheering on our boys. It really charged us up.”
It showed on the field, as a 14-yard reception by JP Batarseh in the end zone gave the Rebels a 14-0 lead just before the end of the 1st quarter. White Station would have its say in the 2nd quarter, first getting on the board with a 42-yard field goal from Micah Brekenridge that squeaked over the bottom crossbar.
Less than five minutes later came the Spartans’ lone touchdown of the night. Senior two-way starter Roland Williams converted dump pass to a 70-yard touchdown, dashing 65 yards down field after evading three defenders near the line of scrimmage.
“That was all they really got on us, that one big play,” Webb said of his defense’s lone hiccup. “Other than that, man did our boys step it up and keep them off the scoreboard. Even when we made mistakes on offense, it never translated into points.”
In addition to Brown’s early fumble recovery was John Critchlow recovering an onside kick, as well as interceptions by Neese and Khani Kelton.
“It’s what we’re here to do,” said Brown. “The offense makes it easy for us, putting up points and almost always giving us a lead to start the game. It felt good to be able to set the tone for the offense by recovering the fumble, and then continuing to come up with big plays to get the ball back in their hands.”
It was a near-perfect night for the Rebels’ offense, whose 31 points came on the strength of 386 total yards. There were a couple of mishaps – both in the 3rd quarter, as Rossi had a rare fumble while quarterback Carter Hendry (37 yards passing, 37 yards rushing) killed a lengthy 3rd quarter drive with an interception in an attempt to find Alex Gaca (1 reception, 11 yards) downfield.
Neither instance seemed to affect a Franklin team – especially its seniors – inspired by the thought of potentially playing its final home game of the season.
Franklin’s final touchdown came on the first play from scrimmage in the 4th quarter, as Patterson scrambled for 15 yards on third-and-5 to give the Rebels a 31-10 lead.
In obtaining its 10th win of the season, Franklin (10-2) will now head 200 miles west to Memphis for its next game. Awaiting the Rebels next Friday is Whitehaven, who was dominant in a 30-0 shutout of Overton HS to advance in the 6A bracket.
“They’re a big, physical team, a lot of speed, a lot of talent,” Webb observed of his next opponent. “We had Memphis teams in our house the past two weeks, now we have to go there to win on the road. The few mistakes we made didn’t hurt us tonight; every game from here on out, we gotta tighten it up.”
His squad is certainly up to the challenge.
“It’s just another road trip to us,” quipped Patterson. “Once that first whistle sounds to begin play, it’s two teams vying for the same goal – to make it to state. This team – this TEAM – intends to be the one to move on, no matter where we have to travel to get the win.”