The Franklin-Simpson Wildcats football team moved one step closer in accomplishing one of their season goals.
But the step to that point wasn’t easy as they had to use a second half comeback to defeat a much-improved Warren Central Dragons football team 35-20 on Friday night at Dragons Stadium at Joe Hood Field.
“No excuses but we came out flat. No school today took the boys out of their normal routine,” Wildcats head coach Max Chaney said. “Plus, Warren Central has a very nice facility and the crowd is so far away from the players, so it is like a dead environment and we played like that, especially in the first half, and it showed. We had a very animated and spirited halftime talk led by coach (Robert) McDougal.
“He did a great job with the defense and made some adjustments but more of getting the kids to play the way they are supposed to play. Once we got back to playing team ball, I thought we played very well. Proud of how the way the team responded.”
The Wildcat defense got things started in the first quarter as it recovered a fumble on a backwards pass from Kayumba Aime. Four plays later from the Dragons’ 20-yard line, Gavin Dickerson ran for a 7-yard touchdown for an early 7-0 lead.
The Dragons responded quickly. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Kayumba Aime completed a 57-yard touchdown pass and run to Kangakole Aime. They converted their 2-point conversion for an 8-7 lead.
Warren Central added another touchdown at the end of the quarter. The Dragons drove 72 yards in seven plays as Devonta Patterson, who had three carries for 31 yards on the drive, ran for a 7-yard touchdown. The 2-point conversion failed as they led 14-7 at the end of the first.
Franklin-Simpson took their opening drive in the second quarter and marched 75 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. They got help by a Dragons’ roughing the passer penalty that kept their drive alive. Mathias Dickerson’s 19-yard pass to Hatcher Link and Lane Alford’s 14-yard run set up Gavin Dickerson’s 3-yard touchdown run — his second of the game — that made it 14-14.
Warren Central got a great kickoff return that put them in outstanding field position at the Wildcats’ 31-yard line. From the 25-yard line, Kaymba Aime’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Omari Glover got them out of a fourth down and long situation. The 2-point conversion failed as they regained the lead 20-14 with 5:18 remaining in the half. At that point, the Dragons had 168 yards of total offense.
Trailing 20-14, the Wildcats came out in the second half re-energized as they played smash mouth football on their opening drive. with Isaac Callis’ 27-yard run and a 25 and 19-yard runs by Blake McPherson. Gavin Dickerson ran for 1 3-yard touchdown, his third of the game. The extra point was blocked and the game was tied at 20-20.
Franklin-Simpson’s defense made plays as it forced back-to-back turnovers on Warren Central’s possessions with interceptions by Mathias Dickerson and Hunter Jones. The Wildcats used a 50-yard pass and run from Brady Delk to Daniel Klingman that set up Alford’s 7-yard touchdown run to take the lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Dickerson then completed a short pass to Alford for the 2-point conversion for a 28-20 lead.
The Wildcats’ defense held the Dragons on their next two possessions and put the game away late in the quarter. Alford’s 21-yard run along with Hayden Satterly’s 14-yard run set up Alford’s 22-yard touchdown run — his second of the quarter — as Franklin-Simpson won the game 35-20. The Cats’ defense held Warren Central to 44 yards of offense in the second half, including five sacks — four by Tytius Brown.
“We were warned that this is not the same Warren Central team and it wasn’t,” Alford said. “Defense played great in the second half, and we found something that was working on offense and we went with it. Our drive in the third quarter was huge, as we had the energy that we should have come out with from the start of the game.”
“At halftime, the coaches said that we had to bring it and I did what I could do to help the team,” Brown said. “We didn’t do any adjusting. We just played harder and smarter. I thought that we were slow and lethargic in the first half, but in the second half, we came out and played like we wanted it more. We got on ourselves more than the coaches did on us. We talked to each other, pumped ourselves up and came out in the second half ready to go.”
With the win, the Wildcats assured themselves of being no less than the No. 2 seed and hosting the opening round game in the upcoming Class 4-A Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl Football playoffs on Nov. 4. But their main goal is still in play as they are one win away from winning the district championship.
“The environment will be much better and energetic as it is for a district championship, and Warren East is really good,” Chaney said. “They are very athletic and it will be a great, loud environment. I hope that we can rise up to that for the kids to thrive in. We’re going to have to come out with all guns blazing, because (Warren) East is athletic and a really good team.”
Franklin-Simpson outgained Warren Central 394-211 in total yards of offense. Alford had 10 carries for 88 yards with two touchdowns as McPherson had 77 yards on nine carries and Dickerson had 13 carries for 50 yards for three touchdowns.
“It was a big win for us and now, we got to come out ready to play next Thursday night,” Dickerson said. “We didn’t play up to our potential in the first half, but in the second half, the offensive line held up and we ran the football at them. We underestimated Warren Central. We will not underestimate Warren East. It’s going to be a dog battle. We can’t have any mental mistakes, no flags and come out like dawgs. Be hungry for a win and a championship.”
“The second half showed how the guys can play. That’s what you can do if you set your mind to it,” Chaney said. “Zeke Eberhart filled in for Diego Salvador and did a good job coming in for his role. We did some pull plays, and he’s a smart kid. We also had a plethora of guys running the ball hard. The effort was there and there was more effort, exponentially in the second half. I can’t complain about how they played in the second half, but there are plenty of things to coach up from what we did in the first half.”
Franklin-Simpson will play at Warren East on Thursday night for Region 1 District 2 regular season championship . Kickoff time from Jim Ross Field is at 7 p.m.