By Ken Severson
For the Daily Journal
Preseason polls are an indicator of how a team could do during the season, often based on the previous year’s results.
In short, it’s more like reading a palm, breaking open a fortune cookie or looking into a crystal ball. They usually don’t mean anything as actual field play is the true test.
Danville passed that test, but not convincingly. The visiting Warriors upended Franklin 20-13 in the season opener to, at least on paper, live up to their No. 1 ranking in Class 3A.
But last season’s 3A runner-up didn’t really look like a team destined to return to Lucas Oil Stadium in November.
Maybe the Grizzly Cubs, themselves part of the state’s football forecast (they received votes in the 5A poll) were a better match, but whatever the cause, the Warriors did not look like world beaters.
And until the second half, neither did Franklin.
Except for an electrifying 55-yard punt return by Beau Baker and John Shepard’s 5-yard score, both in the third quarter, there really wasn’t much doing offensively for the Cubs.
“We weren’t consistent enough throughout,” Franklin coach Chris Coll said. “We had a lot of young guys out there playing and that was their first varsity experience.
“I feel good about the way we competed.”
A little more experience, and it might have been Franklin getting the win.
Danville looked impressive on its opening drive, getting to the Cubs’ 9, but on fourth down, the Cubs rushed quarterback Kale Payne and Baker stepped in front of the Warriors’ Tyler Dostin for the interception.
Franklin couldn’t get anything started either, and after a scoreless first, Danville did put up two scores on the board — one on a pick-six when junior defensive back Brian Wuest picked off sophomore Clay Pinnick’s pass and raced untouched 55 yards for the score. Danville put up its first offensive points when Payne scored on a 2-yard run.
Franklin did stop another potential touchdown when Wuest caught a 35-yard pass and was on his way for another touchdown, but he was hit from behind and fumbled. Jacob King picked up the fumble and the Cubs denied the Warriors a second seemingly sure score.
“Our defense played well, and they did a lot of good things,” Coll said. “I think we have a very physical defense, and I think they did a very good job and they are going to get better.”
Danville’s eventual game-winner came on a blown coverage. Payne hit Braxton Fulwinder, who raced in untouched for a 29-yard pass play with 8:17 left in the fourth.
Franklin had two more chances to even it up, but Danville came up big, stopping Titus Phillips a yard short of a first down at the Warrior 23.
Pinnick was 9-for-23 for 73 yards and an interception; Franklin added 94 yards rushing.
“I’m proud of the way we competed in the second half,” Coll said. “There’s some things we can build on. We just have to get better. We’ll go back to work tomorrow and get ready for next week.”
The experience won’t get any easier for the Cubs next week, as they travel to Fortville to take on Class 4A No. 3 Mt. Vernon.