Nov. 22, 2008

 

WESTERVILLE, Ohio (Nov. 22) - What appeared to be a possible defensive struggle turned out to be anything but for the Franklin and Otterbein football teams in their NCAA Division III first-round playoff game today.

Especially for the Grizzlies, who ran away with a 62-45 victory and advanced to the second round for the first time ever. FC will travel to No. 1 seed North Central, a 44-23 winner over Thomas More today, in Naperville, Ill. on Nov. 29. Franklin's NCAA playoff win was the first for a Heartland Conference team since 1999.

Both teams scored a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to go into halftime tied, but that was only a warm-up for what would follow in the second half. Franklin, seeded fifth, exploded for 27 points and the fourth-seeded Cardinals put up 17 in a wild third period that entertained the crowd with five lead changes in the quarter.

The Grizzlies (No. 18 D3football.com Top 25 poll and No. 20 AFCA poll) didn’t relent in the fourth period, adding three more touchdowns to cap a 48-point second half onslaught. The verdict improved Franklin to 10-1 – a school record for most victories in a season – and ended Otterbein’s historic season at 9-2. The Cardinals (No. 10 D3football.com poll and No. 26 AFCA) were playing in their first playoff game.

Franklin senior quarterback Chad Rupp (Evansville, Ind./Memorial H.S.) was never better, completing 41 of 62 passes for 527 yards and 7 touchdowns, breaking former Grizzly quarterback Reece Mann’s Franklin career passing records in completions and passing yards, and tying the program’s single-game mark for TD passes with 7. The Heartland Conference MVP (offense) also rushed 13 times for a net 49 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown with 8:17 to play.

Senior wingback Logan Deffner (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) made 10 catches for 164 yards and 5 TDs and senior split end Kevin Lynch (Bloomington, Ind./Delta H.S.) had 10 receptions for 89 yards, picking up several first downs.

Rupp and Deffner combined for TD pass plays of 14, 3 and 23 (three times) yards, including Franklin’s first three scores of the contest. After the host Cardinals forged ahead 24-21 midway in the third quarter, Rupp answered with a 47-yard pass play to senior split end Tony Gregory (Indianapolis, Ind./Cardinal Ritter H.S.), which he caught after it was tipped and ran into the end zone. Rupp connected with Gregory for a second time before the third period ended on a 14-yard TD strike to give FC a 41-31 lead.

The Grizzlies’ final touchdown was scored by senior running back Jon-Erik Bennett (Martinsville, Ind./H.S.) on a 13-yard run with 2:42 to go. Bennett, who returned after a two-game absence because of injury, rushed six times for 81 yards. His 63-yard rumble in the fourth quarter set up Rupp’s TD run.

Franklin rolled up a whopping 657 total offensive yards to Otterbein’s 407.

The Grizzlie' defense was headed by senior inside linebacker Jamison Foley (Boonville, Ind./H.S.) with 7 tackles and senior defensive end Dan McManus (Cincinnati, Ohio/Roger Bacon H.S.) with 6-1/2 tackles, including 2 sacks (for 11 yards. McManus was named the HCAC's MVP for defense this week.

The Cardinals’ offense was led by quarterback Jack Rafferty, who completed 20 of 42 passes for 336 yards and 5 touchdowns and rushed for a 10-yard TD to put the hosts up 14-7 late in the second quarter.

Otterbein’s top pass catchers were junior wide receivers Ryan Rowley (5 catches for 108 yards), Tanner McCormick (5 receptions for 96 yards and 2 TDs) and Ray Welch (4 catches for 65 yards and a score). Sophomore running back Colton Coy had 3 catches for 20 yards and 2 touchdowns and junior running back Eric Yates led the host’s rushing attack with 49 yards on 14 carries. The Cardinals’ other points came from senior kicker B.J. Wanninger on a 21-yard field goal in the third quarer, plus six extra point kicks.

Franklin’s second-round game at North Central will be a much-anticipated rematch of their NCAA first-round clash at Franklin a year ago. NC’s Cardinals edged the Grizzlies 44-42 on a touchdown pass play as time expired.