Franklin College football wins wild opener

For the Daily Journal

Alan Hensell waited nearly 15 months for his first game as Franklin College’s head football coach. It’s not likely to be one he ever forgets.

In a game where his freshman quarterback Dane Andrews threw for 463 yards, it was a 15-yard rush by freshman running back Derek Thompson that sealed a 55-48 victory over Anderson University on Saturday in the Grizzlies’ Heartland Collegiate Conference opener. The Division III football season had been postponed from the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We got the first down and we got the big play when we needed it,” said Hensell, a 2005 Franklin College graduate. “I’m proud of the team for fighting through some tough situations.”

With the Grizzlies leading 48-21 with 3:54 left in the third quarter, the Ravens scored 20 unanswered points to close the deficit to 48-41. That rally was capped by a 91-yard TD pass by Tyson Harley to Zac Tallent.

Andrews connected with sophomore receiver Jarrett Gibson for a 55-yard TD to push the lead to 55-41 with 3:40 to go in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens weren’t finished, scoring again with 1:22 left. However, Thompson’s 15-yard run on second-and-9 from allowed the Grizzlies to run out the clock.

Anderson racked up 700 total yards, 83 more than the Grizzlies.

“Obviously, we have to do a better job of limiting their big plays,” Hensell said. “It was pretty evident neither team has played in a year and a half. There were a lot of missed tackles. That’s something we must correct and fix going into next week.”

One major advantage was the Ravens had six turnovers while the Grizzlies were turnover free. Harley completed 45 of 66 passes for 547 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Franklin College defensive back Michael Heading returned an interception 102 yards to make it 20-0 late in the first quarter.

Andrews completed 24 of 33 passes and threw for five touchdowns.

“Dane has the tools,” Hensell said. “I’m proud how he handled the game.”

Gibson caught 10 passes for 214 and three touchdowns. In added to the 55-yarder, he scored on 54- and 29-yard receptions.

“Gibson made some spectacular plays. Obviously the touchdown at the end of the game was really big,” Hensell said.

Freshman receiver Dylan McKinney caught seven passes for 135 yards, including TDs of 71 and 37 yards.

Spencer Wright, another freshman quarterback, played on a couple possessions and scored on a 26-yard TD run in the third quarter. Hensell said the plan was to play both quarterbacks.

Andrews completed 16 of 20 passes for 325 yards to help the Grizzlies to a 34-14 halftime lead. Franklin College scored the game’s first 27 points.

“It was practice repetition,” Andrews said of the early offensive rhythm. “It made it easier when the O-line was picking up all the blitzes and kept me off of my seat. Our O-line did everything perfect — credit to them, they won us the game.”

Andrews credited his receivers, too.

“Some of the balls I threw weren’t the best but receivers made plays,” he said.

Andrews said the Ravens didn’t do anything different defensively in the second half.

“We’ve just got to do a better job of keeping it rolling,” he said. “We have to keep that momentum going after halftime. That’s our fault, but we’ll fix for that next week (at Manchester).”

The Grizzlies have just seven seniors.

“A lot of guys played their first college football game or their first meaningful snaps,” Hensell said.