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Franklin’s running attack was dynamic against East Henderson. The team rushed for 447 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior Nathan Raby also eclipsed 1,000 yards for this season. Photo by Tom TomlinsonFHS blitzkriegs East Henderson to advance to third round, will take on high powered Burns

If you thought Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints last year in the first round of the NFL playoffs was unbelievable, then you would have appreciated Parrish Young’s score in the third quarter of Franklin’s game against East Henderson last Friday night in the second round of the state playoffs.

Amazingly, the senior hurled over an Eagle defender, juked another, and pummeled over two more Eagles simultaneously en route to his third touchdown of the night. “It was the best touchdown run I’ve ever seen,” said Young’s head coach Josh Brooks. Witnesses in the stands can attest to Brooks’ statement. The run is posted on youtube for any unbeliever to view.

The latter description was not hyperbole, as the clip will prove.

His 33 yard score was one of many on the night for the Panthers, as the undefeated squad matched their total point production against Hunter Huss in just two quarters against East Henderson. Coach Brooks stated that he would have liked to put more points on the board against Hunter Huss, but his team more than made up for their lack of point production in the first round, scoring 35 points in the first half and 21 in the last two quarters to demolish the Eagles for the second time this season. Franklin racked up 537 total yards on offense.

Indeed, it was a great night to be a Panther fan, as #1 Franklin ran away from the #6 Eagles, 56-28, to claim their 13th consecutive victory of the season and advancing to the third round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2005. Their historic run continues.

East Henderson came out focused, hoping to avenge their regular season loss to the Panthers back in October. When the Eagles returned the opening kickoff to Franklin’s 24 yard-line to begin the game, East Henderson fans shouted their approval. Their initial excitement would be short-lived, however.

The Eagles made an attempt to open up their passing game from the get-go, but freshman linebacker Jeremiah Young intercepted an Eagles pass on the second play of the game, giving Franklin the ball at their own 16, after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty went against the Panthers. “They ran that play a lot in our first game and we planned on seeing the same play this time around, so we were ready for it,” said Coach Brooks.

Quarterback Austin Gibson proceeded to showcase his accuracy on Franklin’s first possession, completing two consecutive passes to Jacob Young and Jeb Brewer for first downs. Following a personal foul penalty, Franklin was in Eagles territory on the 34. Senior Jacob Young received a right toss from Gibson and sprinted to the two yard line for a 32-yard gain, and twin brother Parrish finished the drive off with a two yard touchdown run with 8:44 remaining in the first quarter. Franklin capitalized on an East Henderson turnover to go up 7-0. Takeaways would be a huge story early in this game.

The Eagles did manage to put up a fight in the first half, answering Franklin’s first score with a huge pass play. East Henderson’s Steffon Hill was chased down after taking the ball to Franklin’s goal-line and the Eagles scored on their next play to tie the game at 7-7.

Franklin threatened, but came up short on their second possession after a Gibson pass to Brewer fell just shy of the first down marker. East Henderson failed to materialize anything offensively to take advantage of the turnover on downs. Instead, the Panthers defense forced another turnover, and in true fashion, Franklin made the most of their second takeaway and scored on a 33 yard touchdown run by senior Parrish Young, his second touchdown of the game.

East Henderson attempted to answer Franklin’s second score, but the Panthers’ defense would not allow it. The Eagles were forced to punt for the first time, and after the kick fell short and hit a Panther, making it a live ball, Tyler Rodgers recovered the football at Franklin’s 38 yard-line to set-up another successful drive.

Parrish Young began the quarter with a jaw dropping run, which would not be his last, as the senior managed to escape Eagles defenders for an 18 yard gain, turning what should have been a huge loss into a big gain. “Their coach said that was one of the big stories of the game,” said head coach Josh Brooks. “Yards after contact was really big for us,” he said. On the following play, senior Nathan Raby torched the Eagles defense, rushing for a 32-yard touchdown. Parrish Young completed the two-point conversion with a one handed reception from Gibson, making it 21-7.

If the Panthers were going to advance to the third round, they needed Austin Gibson to continue to play well. Gibson did so, completing 11-of-11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.The Eagles refused to go away quietly, however, utilizing the speed and playmaking ability of Steffon Hill to score on a quick pass play to make it 21-14.

The experience of Franklin’s roster was readily apparent in this playoff game, as the senior class did not let their team get complacent, and responded stoically to each East Henderson touchdown. When Franklin got the ball back after Hill’s big reception, they did what they do best, which is score.

Marquel Manning is not known for his power, but the sophomore showed East Henderson his physicality once the Panthers got the ball back. The sophomore running- back turned the corner on an off-tackle play, stayed behind lead blocker Jacob Young, and ran over an East Henderson defensive back right in front of the Eagles sideline for a 20 yard pick-up. This particular play, like many this year, was a recurring nightmare to opposing defenses. Jacob Young ended up putting the finishing touches on the drive for the Panthers, scoring from five yards out with five minutes left to play in the first half to give the Panthers a 27-14 lead. An Eric Olvera field goal made it 28-14.

Yet again, East Henderson responded promptly, getting Hill into the open field and spreading the Panthers out. The Eagles were able to score on a fake-sweep play up the middle from the shotgun formation to make it a one possession game. Unfortunately for East Henderson, it was as close as they would ever get.

East Henderson’s crowd was elated late in the second quarter after their third touchdown. Their Eagles had seemingly captured the momentum going into the second half. Senior Nathan Raby, who has played incredibly well down the stretch, decided to take matters into his own hands. Raby returned the kickoff 67 yards, with 15 more added on in response to a personal foul penalty.

After a few grinding run plays, head coach Josh Brooks and East Henderson head coach Brett Chappell tried to one up the other. Chappell called two timeouts to play chess with Brooks in the waning seconds of the first half. After timeout number two, Brooks decided to dial one up for quarterback Austin Gibson and wideout Jeb Brewer. “We worked on that route all week,” said head coach Josh Brooks. “I knew we would probably have one-on-one coverage on the outside, and Austin’s shortrange accuracy is great, so I thought it would work for us,” said Brooks. Brooks was right. Gibson’s eightyard touchdown pass to Jeb Brewer on a quick-out pattern was executed superbly, giving the Panthers a 35-21 lead with three seconds left in the first half, shifting the momentum back in favor of the Panthers. “I really think that changed the outlook of the game,” said Brooks.

The second half was dominated by Franklin. The Panthers made a few changes on defense, choosing to spy the Eagles quarterback in an effort to contain their offensive output. The adjustment worked, and when Franklin senior Parrish Young scored on a miraculous touchdown run early in the third quarter, in a play that is sure to become legendary, it clipped the wings of the Eagles. “That was the icing on the cake,” said Brooks. The score gave the Panthers a three touchdown lead.

Senior Nathan Raby eventually broke loose for two enormous touchdown runs, illustrating his 4.5 second 40-yard dash speed to spectators on several occasions in the second half. The playmaker blazed for a 58-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. The senior running back was not through either. Raby capped off another astonishing performance, 15 carries for 216 yards, with a 60-yard touchdown run that closed the doors on conference rival East Henderson late in the fourth quarter.

Parrish Young and Nathan Raby had monumental games for the Panthers, combining for six touchdowns in Franklin’s 56-28 win. The two backs combined for 326 rushing yards, or 62 percent of Franklin’s offense. Jacob Young contributed another rushing touchdown and 99 rushing yards on nine carries, while senior wide-receiver Jeb Brewer caught six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. Senior quarterback Austin Gibson executed flawlessly, completing all 11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Next up for Franklin is the two seeded Burns Bulldogs, a 12-1 team from Cleveland County. Burns defeated #3 seed Hickory last Friday night, 44-14. According to head coach Josh Brooks, the bulldogs are extremely talented. “They will be the best team we’ve played all season,” said coach Brooks. “But if you get this far you know you are going to have to play a really good team,” he said.

The Burns Bulldogs have the ability to throw and pass exceptionally well. Burns quarterback Brandon Littlejohn broke Cleveland County’s high school football record last week against Hickory, throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Littlejohn has 7,354 career passing yards, leading his team to eight straight wins coming into Friday night.

Franklin’s defense, especially the secondary, will be tested. “I know we will be ready to play. They have a very talented team, and probably have one of the best backfields in the state of North Carolina. But they do have to come here and I think that means a lot,” said Coach Brooks. “I think if we can contain their offense, put some points on the board to take some of the pressure off of our defense, then I think we can do well.”

One thing can be guaranteed. Thomas Evans, the Young brothers, Nathan Raby, Austin Gibson, and the Panthers will not be intimidated. Burns hopes to bring more than 1,500 fans to the Panther Pit Friday night. Franklin fans should coalesce around this year’s record breaking team, demonstrating why the stadium has the reputation it does. Expect a very hard hitting, fast football game this Friday night in the Pit.


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