One of the greatest seasons in the history of FHS football ended last Friday night, as the Panthers fell to Burns, 28-14, in the third round of the state playoffs. It was a packed house in the Panther Pit, not an empty seat on either side of the stadium, as #1 Franklin hosted the #2 Burns Bulldogs. The Panthers fell behind early, trailing 21-0 until late in the second quarter, and could never quite catch up to the Bulldogs, concluding what has been a memorable fall sports season for Franklin High School athletics.
Head coach Josh Brooks knew his team had to be able to score if they were going to beat the Bulldogs. Burns’ offense was averaging just over 42 points per game since their only loss against South Point in September. Their defense has been stingy as well, holding opponents to just 12 points per game during that same time period.
“I’m not disappointed in how our season ended,” said Brooks. “I think the better team did win and I’m proud with how we fought. We got beat by a very good team. I would have liked to have seen what would have happened if a few more plays would have went our way, not saying it would have changed the outcome, but we did fail to capitalize on a few key plays,” he said.
Franklin’s defense, anchored by lineman Thomas Evans and linebacker Jeremiah Young, contained the Bulldogs for the majority of the game, giving up just one touchdown in the second half. Unfortunately, Burns scored quickly and frequently in the early going. By the time the Panthers settled down to play football, they were already down by three touchdowns.
The Panthers’ offense did not help themselves out in the first half either, committing costly penalties on key plays. After Austin Gibson ran for ten yards to set up a fourth and one at midfield on Franklin’s first possession, an illegal procedure penalty set the Panthers back five yards, forcing a Jacob Young punt.
The Panthers’ defense refused to break, even after Burns completed a fake-punt attempt on their second possession of the game for a first down. When the Bulldogs went for it again on fourth and short, Franklin’s defense stood tall and gave their offense the ball at the 50-yard line.
To Burns’ credit, their defensive line managed to get a considerable amount of penetration throughout the game, causing problems for Franklin’s running game. After a bubble screen to wide-out Jeb Brewer fell incomplete on third and long, the Panthers were forced to punt again.
The Bulldogs were able to move the ball downfield on their next possession, reaching the red-zone for the first time of the game. While Franklin’s defense bent, they did not break. The Panthers forced Burns to kick a 30-yard field goal that missed wide right. After the missed field goal, Franklin still failed to move the ball on offense. For the first time all season, Franklin was forced to punt on their first four possessions.
Burns tailback Darius Ramsey made the Panthers pay in the second quarter, scoring on a 33-yard touchdown run with 8:26 minutes left to play in the first half. The Bulldogs scored on their next possession after Ramsey’s score, when quarterback Brandon Littlejohn completed an eight yard touchdown pass to Elijah Brown that made it 21-0. It was the largest deficit Franklin has faced all season.
The Panthers did not go down without a fight. Senior wide-receiver Jeb Brewer brought the Panthers back to life on their last possession of the first half. Brewer caught a nine yard pass to open up the drive, and followed that up by catching three more passes to put the Panthers in the red-zone for the first time of the game. On this drive alone, Brewer would catch four passes for 43 yards. To top it off, the senior receiver threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Parrish Young on a fake reverse pass, giving Franklin some much needed momentum going into the second half.
The third quarter was a trench battle, resulting in static offenses from both teams. The Panthers came up a few inches short on fourth and one on their first possession of the second half, giving the ball back to the Bulldogs. Burns tried to break the back of the Panthers in the third quarter, but Franklin’s defense forced two turnovers to end Burns’ third quarter threats.
To end the third quarter, tailback Jacob Young carried four Bulldog defenders on his back to get a first down. Yet Franklin could not capitalize on the big run play, and after a fake punt pass fell incomplete, Burns got the ball back and scored to put the game out of reach.
The Panthers accomplished a lot this season, winning 13 consecutive games for the first time in school history. They secured an outright WNCAC championship, and went to the third round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2005. Head coach Josh Brooks also broke Franklin’s all-times wins record against North Henderson. Undoubtedly, this Franklin team will leave behind a legacy that will be hard for any future team to equal, let alone surpass.
“I’m proud of these kids and our community,” said Brooks. “The atmosphere last Friday night and the turnout was tremendous, something you dream about playing in. I think this season will be remembered for a long time. A lot of records were broken and we won a lot of games. I’m really proud of this football team. It has been a fun year,” concluded Brooks.
Brooks emphasized the play of the team’s senior class, the first group to have an undefeated season in the program’s history. Seniors Nathan Raby, Jacob and Parrish Young, and Thomas Evans played on the varsity level for four years, winning a total of 35 games. “To put that in perspective, Franklin only won 34 games in the 90s,” said Brooks.
Quarterback Austin Gibson had a solid senior campaign, completing 104 of 137 passes for 1,119 yards, with 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Franklin’s running backs, an integral part of the Panthers’ offense, put up some big numbers as well. Senior Nathan Raby rushed 141 times for 1,089 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jacob Young came close to breaking the 1,000 yards mark, rushing 128 times for 934 yards and 15 td’s. Twin brother Parrish Young carried 121 times for 775 yards and 13 td’s. Sophomore Marquel Manning, who missed several games because of a knee injury, carried 75 times for 571 yards and 7 td’s. Freshman Jeremiah Young had 22 attempts for 167 yards and 5 td’s. We will probably see a lot more from Manning and Jeremiah in the next several years.
Senior wide-out Jeb Brewer led the team in receiving yards, catching 43 passes for 501 yards and 5 td’s. Parrish and Jacob Young combined for 30 catches for 438 yards and 5 td’s.
On defense, freshman Jeremiah Young led the team with 72 tackles to go along with his three interceptions. Thomas Evans led the team with eight sacks to compliment his 58 tackles. Cody Lindley had two sacks to go along with his 64 tackles.
Jacob Young accumulated 64 tackles and four sacks, while Parrish Young totaled 60 tackles and 5 int’s.