The Franklin-Simpson Wildcats' football team will begin their quest of becoming the second team in Class 4-A football history to win a third straight state football championship. Step one of the quest begins by hosting the Russell County Lakers in the district portion of the playoffs this Friday night at James "Shadetree" Mathews Stadium at Hugh Crowdus Field.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. and 1220 WFKN Franklin radio will broadcast the game beginning with the Wildcats' Scouting Report at 6:30 p.m. followed by the Wildcats' starting lineups at 6:40 p.m. followed by the kickoff.
The Wildcats won the "mythical" regular season district championship by winning all four games in the district while the Lakers finished district play with a record of 1-3. Overall, Franklin-Simpson is 5-5 on the season as Russell County is at 6-4.
"Everybody should be excited at this stage of the season," Wildcats head coach Doug Preston said. "They were explosive with the Wildcat package they were running offensively. We did not see that on film when we played them, which showed some of our deficiencies. But we are pretty healthy now. Chase (Gooch) didn't play much. Connor (Rogers) missed about a quarter and a half and we got Cooper (Gregory) and Dalton (Hunter) didn't play but they are now. I think we're a much better football team than where we were at that time."
"We're pleased at where we are at. It's the first winning record we have had since 2013," Lakers head coach Ryan Richardson said. "In the district, we let one get away from us. We felt like the game against Allen County-Scottsville. We could have been a number two seed instead of a number four seed."
Franklin-Simpson won 35-21 at Russell County on Oct. 4. They scored two touchdowns early in the 1st quarter and took a 21-7 at halftime. Russell County pulled to within a touchdown on two different occasions in the 2nd half but Franklin-Simpson responded with two touchdowns for the 14-point victory.
The Wildcats gained 360 yards rushing senior Leandre Stutzman had a game high of 144 yards rushing with two rushing touchdowns by senior Tedric Partinger and junior Malik Carter and one by sophomore Omar Harrison.
The Lakers had a pair of 100-yard rushers as Dylan Bland had 19 carries for 126 yards for two touchdowns and Collin Darnell had 16 carries for 100 yards. C.J. Vonfumetti had the other rushing touchdown in the game.
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Franklin-Simpson gained 3,066 yards of total offense as Stutzman leads the team with 678 yards rushing and 335 yards receiving with a total of 10 touchdowns. Plus he also has two kickoff returns for a touchdown. Partinger leads the team with six rushing touchdowns with five rushing touchdowns from senior Chase Gooch. Sophomore Luke Richardson has completed 36 of his 82 passes for 64- yards for right touchdowns with five interceptions.
Defensively, the Wildcats have forced 17 turnovers with 11 interceptions with three each by Partinger and Stutzman and six fumbles with two by senior Riley Brownlee who recovered one for a touchdown. Senior Conner Rogers leads the team in tackles with senior A.J. Burr leading the team with 14 tackles for loss of yards and six sacks.
Russell County gained 3,779 yards of total offense. They have two 1,000-yard running backs in Dylan Bland, who has 1,452 yards on 161 carries for 18 touchdowns, and Collin Darnall, who has 168 carries for 1,270 yards for 13 touchdowns. Gavin Gossage has completed 46 of his 82 passes for 644 yards for five touchdowns with three interceptions. C.J. Vonfumetti leads the team with 18 receptions for 218 yards for two touchdowns.
"They are fast with two players that can really run the football," Preston said. "They can and possibly do some unorthodox things. They caught us with some things the last time that we haven't seen. Their offensive line is really good and our defense was ok but did not do a tremendous job in our game back in October."
"It's no secret in what we do. We run the football through (Dylan) Bland and (Collin) Darnall, who are probably the most unknown pair of 1,000 yard running backs in the state," Richardson said. "We have an identity and so does Franklin-Simpson. They are well coached. They know what they want to do as do we so you have to prepare for that."
The Lakers has forced 22 turnovers with 13 fumble recoveries, two each from: Samuel Ellis, Devonte Grayson and Zachary Keen, and nine interceptions with Mason Hinkle, who leads the team with 121 total tackles and interceptions with three as he, Bland and Vonfumetti had each returned one for a touchdown.
It's the second season with no room for error as Franklin-Simpson will look to extend their playoff winning streak to 11 games and have won 14 of their last 15 playoff games and Russell County will look for their first playoff win since 2013.
"The basics in what we preach on everyday: block, tackle and execute," Preston said. "Try not to give up big yardage on trick plays. Definitely need to bottle up Bland and Darnall the best we can. Execute offensively. I feel like we are doing that fairly well and get the game off to a good start like we did the last time we played them."
"When you go into the playoffs, we van not dig ourselves in a hole and get behind early like we did in our first game with Franklin-Simpson," Richardson said. "We need to come out and execute. We know it will be a dogfight so we cannot beat ourselves. We must limit pour mistakes, play more disciplined football than we have played at a time or two this season. If we do that, we'll be in it with a chance and the team that makes the most plays will win."