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Prep football: Franklin bringing pieces together after 0-3 start

Franklin High School’s football season has taken a turn for the much better in the last month.

The Wildcats may or may not have a Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division championship or a Division III playoff berth to show for their efforts, but they’ve executed a strong about-face since starting 0-3.

They’re won three of their last four games to move to 3-4. They had a 17-7 halftime lead against unbeaten Bellbrook in Week 5, but lost 21-17.

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“We’re literally one, two, three plays away from a completely different record,” Franklin coach Brad Childers said. “We know we have some really good players. We just weren’t able to put the right pieces in the right places for whatever reason. These last few weeks, we’ve seemed to be able to do that.”

The Wildcats thumped Valley View 31-10 last weekend and will head to winless Eaton on Friday night. Franklin is 2-1 in Southwestern play and trails only Bellbrook and Brookville, who are both 3-0 and play each other this week.

“I think to start the season we were kind of still getting the feel of things — the beginning of a new year, new kids playing different positions,” Wildcats junior Gage Johnson said. “As it went on, I feel like everybody’s starting to play more together as a unit. I think we’re coming together pretty nice. I think we’re going to rattle off three more.”

A trip to Brookville in Week 9 and a Senior Night home game against Oakwood in Week 10 are looming for the Wildcats.

Franklin High School junior tailback/outside linebacker Gage Johnson talks about the 2018 season during an interview at the school this seek.

Childers said there was enough blame to go around, players and coaches alike, for Franklin’s early-season woes. Part of the revival was a change in the team’s routine during the week. It was a switch to shorter — but more intense — practices.

“We’ve focused on good quality, not quantity,” Childers said.

The game plans have been altered as well. The changes have included a few personnel moves, adjusting two-way guys’ playing time and general simplification.

“We’ve looked from top to bottom at what we’re doing, and I really appreciate how hard these kids have continued to work,” Childers said. “So many teams in our situation could’ve just quit. I can honestly say in all seven games our kids have never laid down.

“There’s kids heartbroken in the locker room when we lose … that means they care. And as long as they care and keep working, we’ve got a chance to really finish strong and have a meaningful end to the season.”

Johnson has been one of the catalysts for the Wildcats’ turnaround. He started at outside linebacker and played some tailback in the early part of the year. Now he’s focusing on tailback and a playing a little bit of defense.

A JV running back for Franklin in 2017, Johnson gained 51 yards on 18 carries in the first three games this season. Since then, he’s totaled 406 yards on 62 carries.

“I think it’s more of us just trying to come together as a whole on offense,” said Johnson, who’s scored seven touchdowns. “I’d say I’m more of a power runner. I don’t make any cuts or moves. I just run.”

Senior linebacker Matt Centers has rushed for 303 yards on 52 attempts. He only played defense against Valley View (and piled up 18 tackles), but Childers said he was a bit under the weather.

The plan is to keep using both Centers and Johnson at tailback.

“They’re just bangers,” Childers said. “They’re just football kids you love having on your team. What separates kids like Matt Centers and Gage Johnson — and this is my 24th year — is they practice like they play every day. They’re both warriors.”

Junior quarterback Braden Woods has struggled with his passing accuracy (49-of-115, 595 yards, three TDS) this year, but his legs have been valuable to the offense. He’s rushed 81 times for 266 yards.

Senior Jake Bowermaster (21-of-36, 246 yards) has seen some action at quarterback, but Childers said Woods has maintained his spot as the starter.

“We’re working on the accuracy in the throwing game,” Childers said. “But the offense seems to be clicking a little bit better running the football, which you have to do at any level.”

He said last week was a four-game sweep in the program, the varsity and reserves against Valley View and the seventh- and eighth-grade teams against Monroe. Franklin’s JV squad is undefeated.

Friday’s game

What: Franklin (3-4, 2-1 SWBL Southwestern) at Eaton (0-7, 0-4 SWBL Southwestern), 7 p.m.

Where: Eaton Athletic & Wellness Stadium, 600 Hillcrest Dr., Eaton

Last meeting: Franklin won 45-6 last year and has a seven-game winning streak in the series

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