Story By JAKE DONOVAN Photos by STEVE WHEELER
It was just three weeks ago the Franklin Rebels opened the 2016 season with a heartbreaking loss to cross-town rival Centennial.
The memories of that win fading away in the closing seconds resonated with the Rebels in their first game back at home since that night, as they stampeded the Brentwood Bruins 41-7.
Highly-touted wideout Alex Gaca was virtually untouchable, with five receptions for 164 yards, including separate touchdown passes from the Rebels two-headed quarterback tandem of Wes Patterson and Carter Hendry.
“We really had the deep ball working, obviously with an amazing talent like Alex Gaca,” Hendry (2-4, 82 yards, 1 TD, 17 rush yds) noted. “When you have the protection we get from our awesome offensive line, you have so much time to set up and put the ball in the air, and let Alex, JP (Batarseh, 1 rec., 29 yds, TD) and the rest of the offense just do the rest.”
It was truly a team effort from the Rebels’ offense, with 193 yards in the air and a staggering 273 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Mitch Rossi led the way in the backfield, carrying the rock nine times for 95 yards and a pivotal touchdown to permanently put Franklin ahead.
However, the lopsided win and well-balanced attack also carried a few scares. The Rebels’ offense turned the ball over on fumbles on each of its first three possessions. That the Bruins could only amass seven points from the turnovers spoke volumes of Franklin’s stellar defense.
“They kept us in it early for sure, until our offense was able to get going,” acknowledged Franklin head coach Donnie Webb. “I don’t know what was going on early, we just couldn’t hold onto the ball.”
Franklin’s defense produced three-and outs on two of the of three possessions, one of which ended with Brentwood kicker Tucker Day going wide left on a 35-yard field goal attempt.
The lone score of the game from the Bruins came on its second possession. Junior quarterback Carson Shacklett capped an impressive 59-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown completion to Parker Bullion to give Brentwood the early lead.
Two possessions later, it was as if an entirely new game had begun.
“We just gathered the players and told them, ‘Look, right now we’re losing to Franklin.’ We were beating ourselves for the first eight or nine minutes of the first quarter,” noted Webb. “We didn’t get on them, we just reminded them of the type of football we’re capable of playing. The players really stepped up from there.”
The Rebels first score of the night came on its first drive that didn’t result in a turnover. A 76-yard march down the field was aided by Gaca’s run-after-catch ability, breaking Brentwood’s secondary and racing to the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown reception from Gentry to tie the game with 0:36 left in the 1st quarter.
From there, the bleeding never stopped on either side of the football for the Bruins.
“We had three shots to run away with the game and only came up with seven points,” Brentwood offensive coordinator Clint Finch bluntly stated. “When you play a big rival like Franklin – and as good a team as they are – you can’t squander golden opportunities like that.”
As much was proven on a stellar 92-yard drive to take the lead, 79 of which came from Mitch Rossi (9 carries, 95 yards, 1 TD).
Pinned on its own 8-yard line, the Rebels rode the back of the senior running back, who provided much needed daylight on a 68-yard sprint down the visitors’ sideline to put his team in the red zone. He then scored on a 3-yard run two plays later to give Franklin its first lead of the night.
The next possession saw the Rebels’ defense collect its first of two turnovers on the night. Junior two-way starter Gentry Neese killed a Bruins’ drive with an interception near midfield, breaking away for another 20 yards to the Brentwood 29-yard line. Senior wide receiver JP Batarseh scored on the first play from scrimmage, going end around on a 29-yard pitch pass to put the Rebels up 21-7.
Brentwood fumbled on its next possession, although a strong effort from the defense held the Rebels to just three points off the turnover, as Christopher Miller-Hill (2 FGs, 5 PATs) connected on a 38-yard field goal to give the Rebels a 24-7 lead at the half.
Franklin (3-1, 1-0 Region 6-3A) was near flawless in the second half, with Brentwood’s offense at one point going for negative yardage on six straight plays.
“The defense was incredible tonight,” Patterson (111 pass yds, 2 TDS; 28 rush yds) pointed out of a defense that held the Bruins offense to just 163 yards. “We made it tough on them in the beginning, giving up the ball as we played through nerves with this being a big rivalry game. But the defense did its job all night and we were happy to contribute.”
Three more scores were tacked on for good measure, including lengthy hauls by Gaca on a 68-yard TD reception from Patterson, and Neese scrambling for an 83-yard touchdown run on the night’s longest play from scrimmage.
“Once our offense gets going, it’s really tough to stop us,” said Webb of a Rebels squad that has racked up 69 points and nearly 1,000 yards in total offense over their last two games.
A similar effort will be required for its next rivalry game, as Franklin travels to battle Ravenwood next Friday.
Brentwood (1-3) has a longer road trip, traveling to Dickson County in an effort to snap a two-game losing streak.
“All we can do is learn from this, and work hard all week in practice before our next game,” Finch surmised.
Even with a lopsided win, don’t expect the Rebels to get caught up in its own press clippings.
“The Bruins put up a fight for as long as they were on the field,” insisted Webb. “They beat us a couple of times in the air, and we know Ravenwood will look to attack us the same way. So that’s one of the many things we have to work on in practice heading into that game.
“The other, of course, is holding on to the ball!”