By ZACH HARMUTH
Last year, Franklin Road Academy had its best year, arguably, in the schools 40-year football history.
Unfortunately for Panthers fans, the team is still looking for its first win in 2016, as of week five.
But, man, oh, man. Last year was something special.
Among the teams followed by Williamsonians, FRA is often overlooked when 2015 is concerned. (Sure it might technically sit across the Davidson-Williamson County line, but for Pete’s sake it’s got Franklin in its name, and a significant portion of its students live down Williamson way.)
Ravenwood (Class 6A), Brentwood Academy (Division II-AA) and Independence (Class 5A) all won their respective Class’ state championships. CPA played, but lost, their (3A) championship.
But FRA (Division II-A) and Independence – one of the best teams in the country last year- were the only two to finish the regular season with a perfect record.
And so much was near perfect about their 10-0 regular season, that their quarterfinal playoff loss shouldn’t overshadow. They outscored opponents 389 to 174- an average win of 39-17. Heck, they scored more than 40 points in more than half their games (6 of 10).
It nearly ended before really started. On Aug. 28 last year, the Panthers in week two played their closest game of the season, a double-overtime nail-biter and 42-41 win against Columbia Academy, who got stuffed in the game’s final play while going for a two-point conversion. Names- many of whom graduated after the season- like Sam Harvin, Spence Jones and Thomas Fortune, played pivotal roles in the win, and the rest of the season.
Columbia Academy scored late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 28, and after both teams scored in the first OT period they moved to the second.
FRA got the first crack at scoring in the second overtime and senior running back Sam Harvin rushed for a 10-yard TD to put the Panthers up 42-35.
The Bulldogs answered with a Taylor Thompson 3-yard rushing score, and instead of going for a tying extra point, they lined up for a two-point conversion.
The Panthers held them, sealing the win.
Harvin finished with 14 rushes for 153 yards and two scores, and had 20 more yards on two catches. Senior running back Thomas Fortune added 64 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
Senior quarterback Spence Jones finished 6-of-15 passing for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Harvin, who is now a freshman cornerback playing for the Morehead State Eagles, Jones and Fortune, along with Larry Wilhoite – all seniors- played huge roles in the season to come, too. In fact, their top-five rushers last year were all seniors.
Harvin led the team in rushing (110 carries, 964 yards, 11 touchdowns) and receiving (17 catches, 384 yards, 7 touchdowns), while the Panthers ran over everyone they came across, averaging nearly 300 yards on the ground per game.
Wilhoite ran for 824 and 10 TDs, averaging almost 8 yards per carry; Fortune ran for (just shy of) 400 yards and 10 TDs; Woody Weicker ran for 382 yards and 6 TDs; and Jones added 342 yards and 6 TDs running, while throwing for more than 1000 yards and 13 TDs.
Those five ran through huge holes and have now left even bigger ones to fill.
In FRA’s loss last Friday to Mount Juliet Christian, a team they beat last year 37-0, little seemed to work by land or by air.
But Coach Bill Whittemore, in his fifth year as head coach, has always finished at least even, going 6-4 in 2012, 5-5 in 2013 and 6-6 in 2014.
“We just have to stay the course and preach details,” he said. “They are playing hard and getting better each week. If we are going to do this thing we are going to have to punch through it.”
Only five times in the 40 years since FRA football started has the team won less than four games in a season- their first year, 1977, when they went 1-9; in 1996 under longtime coach George Weicker (1984 to 2003) when they went 2-8; and in 2006 under David Tucker when they went 2-8 in the first of Tucker’s two seasons at the helm.
Almost halfway into this year, with only six games left, the Panthers need to turn things around quickly if they hope to not make make it six times.