All Franklin junior quarterback Sean McGuire wanted was one more chance on offense.
As he looked up and saw Kenosha Bradford’s game-winning field goal veer wide left, he got his chance. Franklin scored on its first drive in overtime on a 35-yard strike to Bryan Oates to win 27-21 on Thursday night at Indian Trail High School.
“I knew we kind of needed a lot of yards there on third down,” said McGuire. “We had a few mistakes before that. I just looked up and saw Bryan and he made one heck of a catch.”
Franklin (1-1, 1-0 Southeast) was breathing a huge sigh of relief after Eric Wittkowske missed a potential go-ahead 40-yard field goal with 9.5 seconds to play.
“Once I knew he missed it I knew we were going to win,” said McGuire who finished with 255 yards passing.
The first few plays of overtime were forgettable for a young Sabers team. After back-to-back false start penalties on third down pushed Franklin back to the 35-yard line, things were looking bleak until McGuire saw Oates open.
"Sean is a pretty special kid,” said Franklin coach Louis Brown. "He's got a great arm. Give him credit, he made an unbelievable throw to pull us out of the fire, because it didn't look good. It didn't look good at all."
Franklin ended the game when its defense forced a turnover on downs on Bradford’s possession in overtime. The defending state champion Red Devils (0-2, 0-1) racked up 220 yards on the ground, but the Sabers defense stiffened up forcing two plays that ended in negative yardage.
“We really saw a lot of improvement on defense when we moved a linebacker (Erik Wimmer) up a few feet in the second half,” said Brown. “Erik is a really good player with great speed and he helped our front line out a lot late.”
The Sabers saw their slim 14-7 lead vanish in three plays when Bradford senior Steve Carter drove past the Franklin defense on fourth down on the 4-yard line, tying the game with just more than a minute left to play in the third quarter.
On Franklin’s ensuing possession, Adam Conley was guilty of a false start, and on the next play, McGuire was intercepted by senior Mitch Keesey, who returned it 37 yards to give Bradford the lead and all the momentum.
“Give a lot of credit to Bradford,” said Brown. “They seemed like they were more fired about this game than we were. We got to do a better job of mentally preparing for big games like this. I tried to emphasize the importance of this game as it’s been a critical one in determining the conference champion the last few seasons.”
In a game that figured to have a huge impact on the Southeast Conference title chase, Franklin remained calm and behind McGuire’s strong right arm, drove 56 yards in eight plays late in the fourth quarter to tie the game. McGuire made big throw after big throw, but his luckiest one may have been the biggest.
McGuire’s pass was grazed by Bradford corner Chris Baratta and still caught by Sabers wide receiver Shaun Quirk for a gain of 26 yards. Two plays later, McGuire scored from four yards out on a designed run up the middle.
“This group of guys loves to play for one another,” said McGuire. “I would take a bullet for them.”
Franklin senior Ben Smith helped the Sabers stay balanced with 29 tough rushing yards. Oates finished with 109 yards receiving on four catches. McGuire had three touchdowns while completing 12 of his 23 attempts.
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