Extreme Escape Games Game of the Week
By JAKE DONOVAN Photos by STEVE WHEELER
Wes Patterson waited nearly a full year for redemption versus Wilson Central, having come up short on the final drive of the Franklin Rebels’ playoff loss to the Wildcats last November.
He gained it and then some, delivering a career-best effort in leading the Rebels to a thrilling 42-35 home win Thursday.
The senior quarterback threw three touchdowns and capped a game-winning drive with a 14-yard draw play for the game’s final score with 24 seconds left to play. Mitch Rossi added 154 yards of total offense and two touchdowns – one each in the air and on the ground – while Alex Gaca racked up 118 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions.
In a game where both teams combined for 77 points and 930 yards of total offense, the Franklin Rebels defense – nonexistent for the most part – came up big with three fourth-quarter stops to help preserve the win.
“Neither team could figure out a way to keep the other out of the end zone, but man our guys really stepped up when we needed them the most,” Franklin head coach Donnie Webb said. “We knew Wilson Central was tough from what we’ve seen this year, and of course what they did to us last year. But as many points as we let up, our defense kicked in with turnovers and key stops.”
Turnovers led to Franklin’s first two scores. Harrison Brown was responsible for perhaps the one mistake made all evening by Tyler Bowes (182 rush yds, 2 TDs; 32 receiving yards, 1 TD). His night began, however, with a fumble on 3rd down of Wilson Central’s opening drive, recovered by Brown at the Wildcats’ 35-yard line.
Patterson connected with Gaca one play later on a 35-yard touchdown pass to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead just two minutes into the game. Wilson Central responded with a 70-yard drive that ended with Blake Meadors (24-32, 299 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INT) finding Devon High on a 25-yard pass.
Franklin’s lone turnover didn’t prove costly, although quarterback Carter Hendry (7-10, 76 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 55 rushing yards) would love to have back an errant pass that landed in the hands of Ray Coggins. The Rebels’ defense immediately responded, with Conner Palk hauling an interception all the way down to the 2-yard line. Rossi barreled into the end zone one play later, giving Franklin a 14-7 lead.
Hendry redeemed himself on the next Rebels’ drive. The junior quarterback launched a 36-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor, giving Franklin 21 points on just seven plays from scrimmage.
A second touchdown pass from Patterson to Gaca gave the Rebels a 28-14 lead less than 13 minutes into the game. The defense couldn’t stop the bleeding, however, as the Wildcats rattled off 14 unanswered points to end the first half tied at 28.
After amassing a combined 56 points and 565 total yards in the first 24 minutes, both offensive powerhouses struggled a bit in the second half. They racked up yards, but repeatedly came up short on risky fourth-down conversion attempts.
The Rebels reclaimed the lead late in the 3rd quarter, converting a Christian Moolman interception into seven more points as Patterson found Rossi on a 50-yard pass to give his team a 35-28 lead.
From there came two big stops by Franklin’s defense, only to have to get out of its own way. What could’ve been a rare three-and-out instead resulted in a costly 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as Zach Polisky – who was shook up after providing a huge stop on third-and long – slammed his helmet to the ground as he was taken out of the game for one play.
“I’ve said it all season, once we can get past Franklin, we’re a darn good football team,” quipped Webb, commenting on his team being its own worst enemy far too often.
A 35-yard run by Bowes put the Wildcats at the Rebels’ one, but Franklin produced a goal-line stand that ended with a fumble recovery in the end zone on fourth down to start at its own 20.
The drive didn’t go far, nor did the lone punt of the game, as a flubbed kick gave the Wildcats the ball at midfield with 6:15 to go. A 10-yard penalty pushed them back to their own 40-yard line, but still managed to drive 60 yards in just over a minute, with Meadors finding Bowes on a 32-yard touchdown reception to pull even at 35 with 5:11 to go.
It was all the time that Franklin needed, particularly one half of the Rebels’ two-headed quarterback tandem.
“This game has been on my mind ever since we were knocked out of the playoffs last year,” noted Patterson, who was involved in the final drive of their heartbreaking 21-20 loss last November. “Honestly, nobody cared which Rebel would score last, as long as we got the win.”
It was Patterson and Rossi grinding out the game-winning drive, responsible for all 90 yards over the stretch. Rossi powered for gains of 11 and 23 yards on consecutive first-down runs. Once past midfield, Patterson did the rest, converting on two straight third downs before hitting paydirt on a 14-yard run with 0:24 to go.
One final gasp by the Wildcats’ offense ended with an interception by Jonathan Giles as time expired to advance Franklin to 7-1, including a 4-0 record in region play .
Wilson Central falls to 6-2 (3-2 district) heading into a bye week, but most believe that these two teams will meet again in this year’s playoffs. That scenario is not even yet on the Rebels’ radar.
“We waited 10 ½ months to get these guys,” stated Webb. “Right now, the only thing on my mind is next week’s game versus McGavock.”