For much of the first half, it looked as if No. 20 Aurora might literally run away with its game against Franklin College.
Aurora senior running back Jhe’Quay Chretin had touchdown runs of 91, 36, 25 and 33 yards to lead to a 35-17 halftime lead. The Grizzlies closed the deficit to 35-30 early in the fourth quarter Saturday before the visitors from Illinois pulled away for a 45-30 victory.
“Obviously we didn’t get off to a great start in the first half, but really proud of the way they battled back and to be down five in the fourth quarter with the ball driving, that’s the opportunity that we asked for,” Grizzlies Alan Hensell said. “I just wish we could have capitalized a little bit better, but hats off to Aurora. That’s a really good team, and they made more plays than us today.”
Chretin finished with 241 yards on 11 carries before being forced to leave in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury. He had 203 yards in the first half.
“Going into the game, we knew (Chretin) was going to be a handful,” Hensell said. “He’s a hard runner. He’s strong. He’s powerful and fast. And, you know, when you don’t tackle very well, or get off blocks very well, a guy like that can really hurt you.”
Aurora quarterback Ian Luyando rushed for 127 yards, 96 coming in the first half, and threw for 192 yards for the Spartans (2-0).
Hensell said the Grizzlies (0-2) made some defensive adjustments which helped slow the Spartans’ running game.
“I think our guys did a better job of tackling and getting off blocks better in the second half, and generating a couple of turnovers,” Hensell said. “I felt a night and day difference in the second half.”
Grizzlies junior running back Garrett Cora’s 4-yard touchdown run closed the deficit to 35-30 with 11:19 left in the fourth quarter.
After Aurora’s Matthew Hylek kicked a 35-yard field goal to make it 38-30 with 6:17 to go, defensive lineman Otis Watts stripped the ball from Franklin quarterback Kai Ross to give the Spartans the ball on the Franklin 32. Jonathan Alstott scored on a 10-yard TD run to push the lead to 45-30 with 2:02 left.
The Grizzlies then drove to Aurora 11 before Ross was intercepted by Robbie Peterson in the end zone with 36 seconds left.
Ross completed 23 of 43 passes for 326 yards.
“I was not happy with his decision at the end there, but I felt he made better decisions with the ball today,” Hensell said of Ross. “For the most part, he was pretty accurate.”
Grizzlies senior receiver Dylan McKinney caught seven passes for 153 yards, including TD receptions of 58 yards in the first quarter and 9 yards in the third quarter.
“I’m really proud of Dylan McKinney,” Hensell said. “He’s a guy that’s played a lot football for us over the last couple years. He did a great job of tracking the ball and and made a lot of big plays today. We’re going to need him to keep coming.”
Cora gained 114 yards on 20 carries, including a 68-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Aurora had a 629-493 edge in total offensive yards.
Hensell said he talked to the team afterwards about being so close to a ranked team that had reached the NCAA Division III quarterfinals last year.
“I hope our guys can build off of that and learn from that as well,” he said. “We need to, especially going into another tough team in Trine.”
The Grizzlies travel to Angola to face Trine Saturday in their final nonconference game this season.