There was enough excitement for two nights worth of homecoming fun for the Franklin football program Friday night, anchored by a 28-17 victory over Kenosha Tremper.
Before the game, the Sabers honored the 2006 state champions, who received a long and well-deserved ovation. Then the homecoming court was introduced, and only then did the game finally begin.
But distracting everyone from that thought was this little thing called baseball's National League Divisional Series, for which the crowd got updates every five minutes from the public adddress anouncer.
And even before it was broadcast that Nyjer Morgan had knocked in the game-winning run sending the Brewers to the National League Championship Series, the side judge knew something good had happened because he saw the chain gang jump up and wave their arms in the air.
"I know you're asking me how I know this," he said with a laugh.
Only then was everyone able to concentrate on the game itself, but not without just one more little distraction.
After taking a 14-10 first half lead, the Sabers, along with the Trojans, tried to get started with their second-half warm-ups only to be shooed downfield by the officials. The halftime fireworks launched from the north end zone were almost a little too thrilling.
The Sabers tried to contribute to the Friday night fun in their own way as they improved to 4-2 in Southeast play and 6-2 overall.
The win earned still another WIAA state playoff bid for Franklin, while the Trojans lost their last chance at a playoff berth by falling to 2-4 and 4-4, respectively.
"That's a heck of a team that we beat, and it's really too bad that they're not going," said Franklin coach Louis Brown to his excited squad.
He then waited a few seconds before adding this.
"Ah heck, I'm searching for words guys. Hey, we're in (the playoffs). We're in. We're one of the lucky ones, and I'll tell you something else, it'll make the (homecoming) dance a lot more fun tomorrow night (laughs)."
Despite the heavy graduation losses from last season, Franklin is moving on to the playoffs that will start Oct. 21 and 22.
'This is amazing for us seniors," said defensive lineman and co-captain Mike Tomasino, who led the charge on the decisive fourth-down sack of Tremper quarterback Connor Patty that ended the Trojans last serious threat late in the fourth quarter.
"Because this is an amazing team now. We lost to a couple of really good teams (Kenosha Bradford and Muskego), but we're on a roll right now. We've really learned a lot."
"It's like we tell the kids," added Brown. "We're a program, and programs don't take years off."
Or games off or halves off as the Sabers needed almost every last second and every contribution it could get in holding off Tremper.
It overcame mistakes like sophomore quarterback Sean McQuire taking a sack in the end zone for a safety on the first series, only to have him come back and have a career night with 20 of 24 passing for 208 yards and a touchown.
It also helped to give the ball to senior back Ben Miller a lot, as he rumbled for an impressive 129 yards on 27 carries and two two TDs.
Miller plowed in from two yards out early in the second quarter close out a 13-play drive that saw McGuire complete five of six plasses for 64 yards. Franklin led 7-2 at that point.
"Ben runs really well between the tackles, and that's the result of a lot of work in the weightroom," said Brown, "and when he runs with his pads directly over his feet, he can be pretty tough to stop."
But the Trojans followed that with their own drive, going 71 yards on 14 plays as back Toneo Gulley took a direct snap and weaved his way for four yards and the go ahead score. Tremper also converted the two-point conversion for a 10-7 advantage with just over 4 minutes to go in the half.
However, the Sabers were not going to get caught flat-footed on their own homecoming as they took advantage of a 15-yard facemask penalty to score in nine plays.
Junior tight Joe Falzon caught a first-down pass of 15 yards and then was the beneficiary of a heady scramble by McGuire, who went to his right but then found a wide open Falzon in the back of the end zone from eight yards out and a 14-10 lead just 40 seconds before the halftime whistle.
Falzon, who caught four passes for 49 yards, says it's all part of the maturation process for McGuire.
"Sean has gained a lot of confidence," said Falzon. "We didn't know what kind of player he would be coming into the season, but he's turned into a pretty good one. He's really learned a lot."
Which is something that the Sabers had to remember in bits and pieces early in the second half, as a penalty wiped out an excellent punt of their own and then another Tremper punt landed at the Franklin one.
"We were fighting our special team blunders quite a bit," said Brown. "We kept shooting ourselves in the foot."
That included a fumble on a punt return a short time later that the Trojans recovered at the Sabers 40. Just three plays later, Gulley burst 19 yards up the middle for the go-ahead TD at the 11:13 mark of the fourth quarter.
It was one of the few times that Gulley ("He's one of the real special ones," said Brown) was able to fly free.
"We spent the whole week focusing in on him," said Tomasino. "He's a heck of a player. We tried to stop him from getting outside. We knew that we'd be able to hold the lead if we didn't let him get away from us."
Almost as soon as Franklin lost the lead, it drove 57 yards in a little less than two minutes. Miller grounded out a tough nine-yard gain and then spun and picked his way in from 10 yards out to give the Sabers the lead for good at 21-17 with 8:20 left.
The defense first came up big when senior defensive back Zach Zaganczyk picked off a deep pass three plays after the score. Aafter a subsequent punt, the Trojans reached their own 31 yard line before Tomasino and friends buried Patty for the clinching sack.
Miller then went into the endzone from eight yards out with just under a minute to play to end any doubt.
Shaun Quirk had six catches for 69 yards to lead the Sabers, while Falzon's work included a critical 12-yard fourth down grab for a first down after the Trojans had burned all their timeouts and Franklin was trying to run out the clock leading into Miller's final score.
"I wasn't surprised we passed in that situation," Falzon said of the first down catch that ended all Tremper hopes. "We practice for that kind of situation all the time."
"And even though we were up 14-10 at the half, we had to act like it was 0-0. We all played as one, as a team. We played as brothers."
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