The Franklin-Simpson Wildcats are set to host the Russellville Panthers, from Class 1-A, for one of their most anticipated home games of the year --Homecoming.
This year's theme for the Wildcats' Football Homecoming is "Different Eras...Same Results" as they will honor their 1979, 1980, 2017 and 2018 state championship football teams.
Kickoff at James "Shadetree" Mathews Stadium at Hugh Crowdus Field is at 7 p.m. 1220 WFKN Franklin will broadcast the game starting at 6:15 p.m. with all of the pre-game Homecoming festivities and pre-game shows. Plus the game is streamed on the internet by going to www.franklinfavorite.com and clicking on WFKN in the blue toolbar. Then click on the tab that says "WFKN Sports" and press the play button.
"It's always a big game regardless of record or what have you," Wildcats head coach Doug Preston said. "It's a good rivalry that has been going on for decades and it is really cool to have them here for Homecoming. We will have a lot of fans, former players come back for Homecoming and they will have their fans come over for this. I think this will be another good Homecoming like it always is for Franklin-Simpson."
"It's always a rivalry game between us and Franklin-Simpson," Panthers head coach Mikie Benton said. "Former players are friends with each other, but will talk smack about the game, which adds more fuel to the fire. It will be an atmosphere as both teams will bring a lot of fans to the game no matter where it is played."
Both Wildcats and Panthers are looking for their first win of the season. The Wildcats lost their first two home games of the season 28-14 to Greenwood and 26-21 to Meade County. They lost their next two road games: 41-14 to South Warren and last week, 35-16 to Battle Ground Academy. The combined overall record of their first four opponents this season is 14-1.
"The biggest improvement we have made since the start of the season is that we are not lining up incorrectly as much," Preston said. "Also offensively, we have three offensive linemen that are out so we are starting to improve a whole new offensive line. To compare where we are at in these areas since Week 1, we are understanding each other and starting to gel. Those are some of the things that don't show up in the stats book. Our inexperienced kids are not as nervous as they were when they come on the field. We're moving the ball but we are not putting the points on the board because of turnovers. We see the improvement but the strength of schedule of our opponents over the last four weeks grew and grew but we are getting better because of it."
Offensively, Franklin-Simpson has gained 1,120 yards of total offense. Senior Leandre Stutzman leads the team with 224 yards rushing with a touchdown on 34 carries and junior Malik Cater has 35 carries for 133 yards for a touchdown. Sophomore Omar Harrison has 110 yards on 17 carries and senior Tedric Partinger also has 17 carries for 106 yards for a touchdown.
Sophomore Luke Richardson, who leads the team with three rushing touchdowns, has completed 18 of his 49 passes for 307 yards for a touchdown with four interceptions.
Stutzman has five receptions for 180 yards for a touchdown with Partinger having four receptions for 37 yards. Senior Brandon Fisher has three receptions for 44 yards and Harrison also has three receptions for 41 yards.
Through three games defensively, they have forced four turnovers with three interceptions, two by Partinger and the other by Stutzman, and one fumble recovery by senior Connor Rogers. Rogers also leads the team in total tackles with 23 with Gooch and
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Partinger having 19 each. Harrison has 18 total tackles with Sutzman having 16 and senior A.J. Burr with 14.
Mikie Benton is the head coach for the Russellville Panthers. He is in his second season coaching at his alma mater and has an overall record of 5-11.
The Panthers were shutout in their first two games of the season: 45-0 to Warren East in the Kenway Concrete Bowl and 50-0 in the Linton-Wren Kickoff Classic. They followed that with back-to-back home losses to Butler County 20-15 and Logan County 55-28.
"Right now we have a young football team as we lost a big group of seniors," Benton said. "We have players that are grasping the concept of what we do. We have had some struggles but overall as a group, we are progressing and coming along. This is about more of the mental aspect of the game. You can't push fast forward on the mental clock. It is definitely a process for them to learn."
Sophomore Lennon Ries is the starting quarterback. He has completed 19 of his 54 passes for 309 yards for three touchdowns with three interceptions.
Sophomore Jovari Gamble leads the team with six receptions for 114 yards for a touchdown with junior Josh Allen having four receptions for 82 yards for a touchdown. Junior Xavier Coleman has two receptions for 523 yards and Jackson Hampton has a 25-yard touchdown reception.
Gamble also leads the team with 39 carries for 188 yards for a touchdown. Junior Chevis Elliott has 15 carries for 100 yards with Ries having 24 carries for 75 yards for a touchdown.
Defensively, the Panthers have forced one turnover on the season with Ries having a fumble recovery. Sophomore Landon Bollenbecker leads the team with 14 total tackles with Elliott having 13 total tackles. Junior Josh McMurry has 10 total tackles with sophomore Ben Allen and Ries each having eight total tackles.
Two teams looking for their first win of the season in an emotionally filled, rivalry game has both coaches with similar keys for a victory on Friday night.
"They look fundamentally better running the spread offense despite how young they are," Preston said. "Their quarterback (Ries) will throw it deep and that has been our Achilles' Heel and that concerns me because they will throw it over the top. They have speed at running back and a receiver at 6'1" and if he gets in between you and the ball, he will probably take it away from you. Limiting their big plays and for us, we need some consistency. Like we told the kids that if you want to see a big turnaround, stop committing the turnovers. We are used to being way ahead in the turnover margin, but this season we are way behind. So we need to force some and not make some. We are averaging about three per game."
"We must take care of the football and we need to make big plays but stop Franklin-Simpson from making big plays," Benton said. "Stop the run or pass for big yards. That's all part of the mental preparation. Missed assignments and tackles or lined up incorrectly, that's the mental aspect of the game that we need to improve on from week to week."