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Franklin's defense sparkling in mud and muck

Nov. 1, 2013

They call it "The Swamp" down at Franklin.

The much-abused, overworked, rain-sodden and cleat-torn home field that the Southeast Conference champion Sabers football team was used to great effect this fall.

It will probably get replaced by a shiny new artificial field turf surface in a few years, but in the minds of players like seniors Sean McGure, Jake Fernandes and Erik Wimmer, the memories of the mud and torn grass surface will be as beautiful as the field itself is in high summer, before anyone has laid a foot on it.

Especially after Friday night, when two days of rain left "The Swamp" in a soft and mucky condition.

It was the perfect consistency to help a revved-up Sabers' defense slow the high-octane offense of Southeast Conference rival Kenosha Indian Trail to a crawl in an emotional 17-14 WIAA Division 1, Level 2 victory.

"It's called 'The Swamp' for a reason. We love it," said the quarterback McGuire, who gave Franklin the lead for good at the 2:16 mark of the fourth quarter when he closed out a 55-yard drive by squirming in from a yard out on a fourth and goal play.

"Getting a win like this means the world to us."

McGuire got help from his defense, which limited a Hawks team that all over Oak Creek the week before to the tune of 52 points on their fast home field turf set-up.

The Sabers held the dangerous Indian Trail team to just 208 total yards and forced two critical turnovers.

"We came prepared for 'The Swamp'," said the senior linebacker Fernandes. "We knew it would be raining and muddy, and our scout team gave us a great look."

With the win, the Sabers (10-1) will get to set a mucky trap for one more unsuspecting opponent next weekend when Greater Metro Conference champion Marquette (9-2) visits in Level 3.

Even coach Louis Brown couldn't help but crack a joke about the field.

"We finally beat it up a little," he said afterward.

Then he got serious about the team, its cohesive 28-man senior class and how they all found their way into the state's final batch of eight teams.

"That was a hard-nosed, hard-fought game," he told them. "I'm unbelievably proud of you and we get one more here. I watched you guys jumping around and hugging afterward. We don't do that very often. It was because we worked our butts off to beat a great team.

"...These are the kinds of things we (the coaches) enjoy, because you guys know we don't do it for the money. We do it to watch you guys get excited and enjoy moments like this. It's a great addiction (victory)."

Franklin had forged a 10-7 lead in the third quarter on a 16-yard McGuire-to-Cal Wrobel TD pass, and a 37-yard Austin Manning field goal.

It became very hard to keep after a botched punt snap early in the fourth quarter put the Hawks in prime position at the Sabers 5. Two plays later, dangerous Indian Trail quarterback Zach Gianakos was in the end zone and the Sabers were suddenly behind 14-10 with 10:50 remaining.

Brown was not about to panic.

"I just tried to stay as positive as I could, " said Brown. "... I knew I had 28 seniors out there. Let them figure it out."

They did, though it was not easy.

The offense couldn't get anywhere initially, but the defense got another stop. All-purpose back Chad Walton made a great return on the subsequent punt to the Indian Trail 28, but the Hawks' defense then got tough, too, stopping a McGuire scramble two yards short of a first down on a fourth-down play.

With the clock winding down, the teams exchanged punts once again with the Sabers finally taking over on their 45 with 5:04 remaining  Three plays in, McGure hit senior Nick Plath on a 32-yard out pattern. Plath broke a couple of tackles and was not stopped until Franklin had a first and goal at the Indian Trail nine.

But three plays later, the Sabers were still a yard and a half away from the goal line. A time-out was called and in the end, McGuire called his own number, burrowing in behind his stout offensive line for the go-ahead score.

"All credit to the O-line," said McGuire. "A fourth down play like that, it's the greatest test of all their hard work this season. It was the game, our season on the line and everyone just busted their butts on that one."

"If I need a yard, I'll trust my line to get it done."

It still wasn't over as Indian Trail took over on its 31, but a block in the back penalty, a pass defended by senior defensive end Chad Kanugh and then an interception in the flat by the linebacker Wimmer with just about 1:30 to play finally laid things to rest.

This victory had a collective feel to it, said Fernandes.

"This all goes back to the pre-season captain's practices," he said. "This is a team. This is a unit. We react to things as a team. ....I couldn't be any happier about this. We got a lot of satisfaction out of this."

You could almost hear the field chuckling through all the cleat marks and gouges as it too knew that it had done its part.

"We needed everyone to contruibute," said Wimmer. "Our philosophy is that everyone knows their jobs and they trust everyone else to know their jobs too.

"...This is big. We didn't make it past round two last year. We just want to keep it going."

And give "The Swamp" one more week to do its stuff.

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