Blindsided by bad luck in recent weeks, Franklin High School’s dream football season hit a nightmarish snag last week with the loss of senior running back Ryan Montgomery.
Already down a standout senior with quarterback Braden White sidelined, the Wildcats were searching for answers and an identity Friday.
They found both — and a win.
Led by a still-stout defense, Franklin edged Bellbrook 21-16 on homecoming in a pivotal game featuring Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division heavyweights and Division III, Region 12 playoff contenders at Atrium Stadium.
Franklin improved to 6-1, 2-1, and solidified its No. 2 spot in the regional computer rankings.
Bellbrook, which dropped its second straight and falls to 4-3, 2-2, is likely knocked out of postseason play. The Golden Eagles were fourth in Region 12 computer points entering Friday. Win out and there’s a slim chance Bellbrook still earns a bid.
Franklin’s win was fueled by four-second half turnovers, including a third-quarter pick-six by Jared Kinzer that broke a 7-7 halftime tie and gave the hosts the lead for good. It was one of two second-half interceptions for Kinzer.
“As a former defensive coordinator, I told our coaches that defense wins championships,” Franklin coach Brad Childers said. “We’ve played great defense at Franklin for years, and we’re going to continue to do that. The defense put our offense in great position to score all night and got seven points themselves. What a program win.”
Said Kinzer: “This whole week we talked about the next-man-up mentality. It’s tough having both those guys out, but Coach Childers said someone had to step up, and I said ‘Why not?’ ”
Kinzer’s second interception set up sophomore quarterback Braden Woods’ 9-yard touchdown run with 3:31 to play. A huge reception by Kinzer from Woods help set up Franklin’s first score — a 12-yard pass from Woods to John Harris — with less than a minute to go in the second quarter.
Said Kinzer: “Our team handled adversity well tonight.”
Considered one of the state’s top teams —regardless of division — after three weeks, Franklin’s high hopes dissipated some with the losses of White and Montgomery.
White was lost for the season with a knee injury in a Week 3 win over Piqua. Montgomery went down with a season-ending knee injury last week in a win over Waynesville. One of the state’s top prospects, Montgomery committed to Cincinnati on Wednesday.
In Franklin’s last 18 games, White and Montgomery produced 77 touchdowns combined. Overcoming their absence was no small feat.
“We have a really good group of kids and coaches,” Childers said. “We told them to trust the process. We just told them to focus on the next play and they did that. The kids were dialed in.”
Bellbrook cut the deficit to five on a 10-yard touchdown run by Brendan Labensky with 1:26 to play and then recovered the ensuing onside kick. After two plays advanced the ball to the Franklin 32, Bellbrook suffered its fourth turnover of the half when Franklin’s Kyle Rickard corralled a deflection off a Golden Eagles receiver with 40 seconds to play.
Bellbrook fumbled on Franklin’s 6 in the third quarter.
“Turnovers have been the main cause of our three losses,” Bellbrook coach Jeff Jenkins said. “Defensively, I thought both teams played a good game. Offensively, you just can’t give the ball away.”
Next Friday, the Wildcats will travel to Monroe, while the Golden Eagles visit Northridge.
B: Jack Campbell 24 pass from Brendan Labensky (Caden Kooken kick)
F: John Harris 12 pass from Braden Woods (Matt Schneider kick)
F: Jared Kinzer 35 interception retrun (Schneider kick)
B: Kooken 28 field goal
F: Woods 9 run (Schneider kick)
B: Labensky 10 run (Run failed)