A lot has changed since Franklin High School’s football team last saw the New Richmond Lions in person.
The Wildcats hosted a quad scrimmage in August that included New Richmond, Northmont and Minster. For Franklin, that was more than a few injuries ago.
“It was a good scrimmage,” fourth-year Wildcats coach Brad Childers recalled. “I knew then they were pretty good, and here we are.”
The Lions (8-2), averaging 38.1 points per game, will be back at Atrium Stadium on Friday night to face Franklin (8-2) in a Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal.
Childers knows his squad has been transformed by the injuries throughout the year, but the Wildcats are still winning and have reached the playoffs for the 11th time.
“Our kids are still showing a lot of relentlessness,” Childers said. “A lot of young guys have stepped up to help these seniors as they complete their legacy here in this 2017 season in terms of how they want to be remembered.”
New Richmond, which finished in a three-way tie with Goshen and Clinton-Massie for the Southern Buckeye Athletic & Academic Conference American Division title, is making its seventh postseason appearance.
Patrick Burke was the Lions’ defensive coordinator last season. He’s now their head coach.
“The expectations for this program coming into this year were very high,” Burke said. “We’ve won four straight SBAAC titles, and this will be our third year in a row in the playoffs. Our kids have been working toward those goals all year, and their efforts and their determination have gotten them here.
“I’m a positive guy. I’m always looking toward the positive side. We just talk about being the very best we can be every play. Because of that, good things have happened to this program.”
Burke said his team’s spread offense operates with a smashmouth mentality.
Junior quarterback Josh Anderson (5-8, 165) has completed 112 of 191 passes for 1,845 yards and 21 touchdowns while running 156 times for 1,007 yards and 11 TDs. Senior tailback T.J. Gelter (5-7, 155) has 1,101 yards and 14 scores on 134 carries, while senior Chandler Kinhalt (5-10, 180) tops the receiving corps with 45 receptions for 842 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He’s a special player,” Burke said of Anderson, who also starts at safety. “He’s a shifty kid. When he gets in the open field, he’s very hard to tackle. But at the same time, he’ll lower his shoulder pads and run you over as well.
“I would classify us as a very physical team. We’re not overly big, although our two offensive tackles are good-sized kids. We’re going to focus on the run before the pass and allow the run to open up the pass for us.”
Gelter is a starting cornerback in the Lions’ 3-3 stack defense. Sophomore middle linebacker Mitchell Williamson (5-6, 165), the SBAAC’s leader in tackles with 110, heads that unit, and senior end Nick Sanchez (6-2, 250), senior linebacker Devin Milton (6-2, 215) and outside linebacker Kinhalt are also standouts.
“They’re one of the most fundamentally sound teams I’ve seen on film in a little while,” Childers said. “They move guys around a lot on defense. They roll coverages. They like to bring pressure. They pinch their tackles a lot and bring backs off the edge to create mismatches at the line of scrimmage.”
Said Burke, “We preach fundamentals, so our defensive scheme isn’t very complicated.”
The majority of New Richmond’s starters go both ways, though that’s not a major concern for Burke.
“We take pride in being in shape,” he said. “One of the differences between what we do and I think some other schools is we’re lifting heavy in season. We’re running all the time, but my quarterback was dead lifting 475 and squatting 450 (on Monday). We’re not doing a large amount of reps, but they’re getting their heavy weight in. I think it helps to keep them healthy.”
Sophomore quarterback Braden Woods is 100 of 165 for 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns with one interception for Franklin. Junior linebacker Matt Centers has 15 tackles for loss.
“Defensively, you can’t stop a kid like Anderson,” Childers said. “But if we can block and keep him a little bit under control, we’ve got a great chance to win the football game.”
Friday’s winner will advance to a second-round matchup against either Alter or Chaminade Julienne.
What: Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal, New Richmond (8-2) at Franklin (8-2), 7:30 p.m.
Where: Veterans Memorial Field at Atrium Stadium, 301 E. Sixth St., Franklin
New Richmond playoff history: 4-6 in six appearances (1999, 2000, 2001, 2009, 2015, 2016)
Franklin playoff history: 5-10 in 10 appearances (1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1993, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016)