A mixture of a couple of strong drives and some big plays on defense and special teams gave the Franklin football team a 27-3 victory over Racine Horlick in a WIAA Division 1 playoff game on Friday.
The Sabers scored on marches of 65 and 66 yards and converted a blocked punt, fumble and interception into points in beating the Rebels.
The other factor in the victory was the Sabers’ defense, which held a potent Horlick attack led by multi-talented and athletic quarterback Rickey Neal Jr. to just 239 net yards.
“I thought the defense played pretty tough,” Franklin head coach Louis Brown said. “They kind of showed that they’re a playoff type of defense.”
Quarterback Sean McGuire added, “The defense really came to play. I give them all the credit in this game. They (the Rebels) obviously have a very special running quarterback who can destroy a team. I thought we came together as a team and stopped him real well.”
The Sabers, who improved to 7-2, did not wait long to make their first big play of the game against their Southeast Conference rivals.
After Horlick went three-and-out on its first series, the ensuing punt was blocked and recovered by Franklin at the Rebels’ 17-yard line. McGuire converted a fourth-and-one with a sneak to the Horlick 4, and on the next play, running back Ben Smith bulled over for the score. Joe Falzon’s point after was good and Franklin
was up 7-0 with 9 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first quarter.
Horlick answered with a nice drive, spearheaded by a 45-yard pass from quarterback Neal Jr. to Deion Jones to the Franklin 17.
The march stalled there and Horlick converted a 34-yard field goal to make it 7-3. Franklin then put together a 65-yard, 13-play drive featuring McGuire passes of 12 yards to wide receiver Shaun Quirk and 16 yards to tight end Falzon.
The Sabers were also helped by a pass interference penalty that pushed the ball to the Horlick 10. From there, Smith scored on a draw play to his left and Falzon’s kick made it 14-3 with 1:15 left in the first.
Horlick’s Neal came back with completions of 17 yards to Jordan Mundy and 11 yards to Sam McFarland, and Leon Reyes ran 12 yards to the Franklin 29.
After an incomplete pass, the Rebels fumbled and Franklin’s Colin Buck came out of the pack with the ball and rambled all the way to the Horlick 10.
Franklin could not move from there but Falzon hit a 25-yard field goal to build the lead to 17-3, which was also the margin at the half.
The Sabers, looking for further breathing room, opened the second half with a 66-yard, 14-play drive which included seven rushes and seven passes.
Smith ran another draw play for 17 yards to the Racine 29, then on 4th and 12, McGuire found wide receiver Nick Plath for 27 yards up the middle to the 4-yard line. Smith then plowed in for his third touchdown of the night.
Smith finished with 79 yards on the ground, plus the three scores.
“Ben Smith had a huge night, and I’m real happy for him,” McGuire said.
On Horlick’s next possession, Chad Walton intercepted a Neal pass at the Rebel 40, which led to a 38-yard field goal by Falzon to close the scoring at 27-3.
McGuire wound up 8-for-22 passing for 95 yards but hit some clutch throws, using five different receivers in Quirk, Austin Meyer, Falzon, Plath and wideout Bryan Oates.
“He showed off his arm and was really poised when he needed to be,” Brown said of McGuire.
Offense was hard to come by for both teams on the turf, made slick by fairly persistent rain in the past couple of days.
“It’s tough on this wet field,” Brown said. “It’s tough to make cuts, so you have to do a lot of north and south stuff. We’re not a team that typically runs over you.”
Horlick head coach Brian Fletcher felt the same way, saying, “We don’t pound up the middle; we need to get outside and make cuts.”
It wasn’t always easy, but behind an opportunistic offense and solid defense, Franklin prevailed and will now take on either Muskego or Lake Geneva Badger next weekend in the second round of the playoffs.
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