For the first time in the history of the program, the Franklin College football team played a game in March, opening up the 2021 spring season on Saturday against the Anderson Ravens on a picturesque day at Faught Stadium.
In the first game under new head coach Alan Hensell, the Grizzlies (1-0) and Ravens (0-1) put on an offensive spectacle with more than 1,300 yards of combined offense between the two clubs. Franklin would use six Anderson turnovers to their advantage, taking the opener 55-48.
The Grizzlies got the ice-breaker with back-to-back touchdown passes from Dane Andrews, one to Jarrett Gibson and one to Dylan McKinney just 3:14 apart in the first quarter. The Grizzlies got another score right before the end of the period with junior cornerback Michael Heading picking off a pass in the end zone and returning it 102 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-0 Franklin after 15 minutes.
McKinney hauled in a 71-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to make it a four-score game before back-to-back Anderson touchdowns cut into the deficit. With under a minute to go in the first half, Gibson struck again, hauling in a pass from Andrews at the goal line and breaking the plane for his second touchdown of the game to make it 34-14 Grizzlies at the break.
The Grizzlies forced an Anderson turnover on the first play of the second half and freshman quarterback Spencer Wright added to the lead with a 26-yard scramble that found the end zone. Freshman running back Derek Thompson found pay dirt with 3:54 to go in the third quarter, scoring his first career touchdown that made it 48-14 Grizzlies.
But the Ravens refuse to go without a fight, scoring three of the next four times they touched the ball to get within a touchdown. In search of response, the Grizzlies got one when Andrews connected with Gibson late in the game and the sophomore raced 55 yards for his third touchdown of the afternoon, restoring a two-score lead at 55-41.
Anderson scored late to get within a score, but Franklin was able to gain a first down in the final minute and subsequently run out the clock.
It was an incredible career debut for Andrews, who went 24-for-33 for 463 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Gibson was his favorite target all day, with the sophomore hauling in 10 passes for 214 yards and three scores. McKinney also had a huge career debut, catching seven passes for 135 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Thompson led the Grizzlies’ rushing attack with 62 yards and a score. Defensively, the Grizzlies were paced by 12 tackles each from Aaron Black and Charlie Moore. Along with Heading, Jackson Ailstock, Evan Stambaugh and Tanner Swindle recorded interceptions. Freshmen Shay McRath and Jireh Ojata forced a pair of Anderson fumbles that resulted in turnovers.
Head Coach Alan Hensell on freshmen quarterbacks Andrews and Wright:
“Dane has the tools to succeed and I was proud how he handled the game. We liked what we saw from Spencer when he got on the field as well. We’re really proud of both those guys and our team as a whole for how they fought through some tough situations.”
On the game:
“We had a lot of guys that played in their first college football game or playing meaningful snaps for the first times in their careers. We were really happy with the way our guys made plays all day and especially down the stretch.”
Franklin is on the road Saturday (Mar. 13), traveling north to take on the Manchester Spartans. Kick-off for the HCAC contest is set for 1:30 p.m.