Although Franklin College had used its two freshman quarterbacks all season, Dane Andrews had been getting the majority of the snaps.
That changed in the season finale Saturday as Spencer Wright threw for three touchdowns in the Grizzlies’ 31-18 victory over visiting Defiance in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference action.
The Grizzlies finished the spring with a 4-3 record, all in conference games.
“Spencer stepped in and did a great job,” Grizzlies coach Alan Hensell said. “We went with the hot hand and we rode with Spencer.”
Wright, who had just 12 completions entering the game, was 7 of 12 passing for 129 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Andrews completed 5 of 14 passes for 76 yards with one TD and two interceptions.
All three of junior receiver Ryan Poole’s catches went for touchdowns.
Andrews was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage. Defiance (2-5) then went 38 yards in nine plays, capped by Tyshaun Freeman’s 5-yard TD run, to take a 6-0 lead. The Yellow Jackets failed on all three of their two-point conversions during the game.
The Grizzlies went ahead for good at 7-6 on a 20-yard TD pass from Wright to Poole with 31 seconds gone in the second quarter. Andrews’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Poole made it 14-6 before Defiance scored on the final play of the half on a 21-yard pass from Daylon Lange to Anthony Amison.
With Franklin College ahead 14-12, junior defensive back Nick Winders blocked his first career punt and the Grizzlies took over on the Defiance 9-yard-line. Following a holding penalty, Wright connected with Jarrett Gibson to put the Grizzlies up 21-12 with 6:29 left in the third quarter.
“The huge blocked punt changed the momentum to our favor,” Hensell said.
The Yellow Jackets closed the deficit to 21-18 with 14 minutes when Lange connected with Machari Bighams, but Wright connected with Poole on a 57-yard TD pass less than a minute later to regain control. Carter Brown added a 25-yard field goal for the Grizzlies.
Lange finished with 307 passing yards, but suffered an interception and was sacked seven times. The Yellow Jackets also lost two fumbles.
Hensell said the Grizzlies’ defense limiting the Yellow Jackets to 80 rushing yards on 48 attempts was tremendous.
“We did a great job on third down getting off the field,” Hensell said of Defiance converting just 5 of 20 third-down attempts.
Grizzlies sophomore linebacker Kody Wilkerson delivered a team-high 12 tackles. Junior defensive lineman Dante Darden and freshman defensive linemen Jireh Ojata each had a career-high 10 tackles. Darden delivered 3.5 tackles for loss, including a sack.
“Dante played extremely hard and caused a lot of havoc in their backfield,” Hensell said.
Sophomore Cameron Johnson led the Grizzlies with 92 rushing yards on 26 carries.
“Cam ran the ball hard and did a great job with ball security,” Hensell said. “He got us some tough yards on the ground.
Hensell said freshman running back Derek Thompson, the team’s leading rusher, was unavailable to play.
“For us to win today is going to give us some momentum going into the offseason and training camp (in the fall),” Hensell said. “We played a lot of freshmen and sophomores on this team and playing these seven games was important for us. We got a lot of experience and games under our belt going into next season.”
Hensell said the Grizzlies continue to jell together.
“Our team camaraderie really improved and we showed grit,” Hensell said. “We went through some tough times and that’s going do nothing but help us. We give them time to rejuvenate, same with the staff, and get ready to rock and roll in August.”