BY CHIP CIRILLO
When Franklin Road Academy is running the ball well, it’s tough to beat.
Friday was one of those nights as the Panthers rolled to a 39-6 win over Grace Christian Academy-Knoxville in the first round of the Division II-AA playoffs on FRA’s The Hill.
Running backs Brogan Wilson and Jeffrey Vercher, who sometimes line up together in FRA’s Lightning package, both rushed for over 100 yards.
“Running has really been successful for us this year,” Wilson said. “It’s mainly been what we’ve done all year.”
Wilson, a senior, rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. Vercher, a freshman, added 105 yards and one TD on 12 carries.
FRA (7-4) visits defending state runner-up Notre Dame (9-1) in next week’s quarterfinals.
“Our guys up front are playing super well,” FRA coach Bill Whittemore said. “That’s kind of the heart and soul of our team. Brogan can make people miss and our backup, Vercher, is a dynamic runner as well.”
GCA (5-6) spoiled FRA’s shutout bid when Luke Kirby threw a 27-yard TD pass to Eli Nordhorn with 42 seconds left.
Kirby completed 27 of 37 passes for 221 yards with two interceptions, but the Panthers’ defense limited him to short completions most of the night and sacked him three times late in the first half.
“We made a lot of mistakes that we shouldn’t have that cost us some big plays,” Kirby said. “We made some dumb plays to end drives and calls didn’t go our way. It’s tough to come back when you get down early.”
FRA scored on its first two possessions to take a 13-0 lead in the first quarter and GCA kept falling further behind.
“Their pressure up front [was tough],” GCA coach Rusty Bradley said. “Obviously, with Tymon Mitchell — they moved him around and played him at both end positions and played him at nose guard. He was just a tough guy to handle. All three guys up front were tough.”
Mitchell, a 6-foot-3, 309-pound senior, has committed to Georgia.
“He’s a big body, but he’s athletic,” Bradley said. “For a guy his size, he bends well, moves well. He’s strong, but he also runs well. His athleticism for a guy that big is very rare.”
Whittemore calls Mitchell the Panthers’ “energy leader.”
Mitchell isn’t FRA’s only major-college prospect.
Wide receiver Lance Wilhoite, an 6-4 Oregon commit, caught six passes for 58 yards and his first TD of the season – a leaping 18-yard grab in the left corner of the end zone from quarterback Sean Casey with 6:26 left.
That was the Panthers’ final score of the night as they stretched their lead to 39-0.
“Lance Wilhoite, man, he a dynamic player,” Whittemore said. “If the ball is in his arena, he’s going to go make a play. A great leader, a great young man.”
Casey celebrated his 17th birthday by scoring on a 63-yard run to give FRA a 7-0 lead on their first possession.
FRA, which had lost two of its previous three games, built its lead to 27-0 by halftime.
Photo from previous 2018 game by Whitney Jarreld