Ohio Northern overcame a 16-0 halftime deficit to defeat host Franklin College 27-22 in Saturday’s opening round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs.
With a steady dose of running, especially in the second half, the Polar Bears (9-2) never abandoned their game plan. Their ground game eventually flourished on a wet and snowy afternoon at Faught Stadium, while their defense stiffened.
The Polar Bears were led by senior Justin Magazine, who finished with a game-high 153 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries.
“I thought our guys showed tremendous resolve,” Ohio Northern coach Dean Paul said. “We have been down before this season and our guys knew how to respond. We just kept fighting and got on a roll in the second half to beat a very good football team.”
The Grizzlies marched to a 16-0 halftime lead on a 20-yard field goal by Stephen Colligan and touchdown passes of 89 and 20 yards from sophomore quarterback Chase Burton to senior split end Mason Deal.
With time running out in the first half, the Grizzlies prevented the Polar Bears from scoring after driving to the Franklin 11-yard line that resulted in a missed field goal by Matt Chaney.
The Grizzlies (8-3) rolled up 287 yards of total offense in the first half compared to Ohio Northern’s 147. But in the second half, Franklin was held to 108 yards while the Polar Bears erupted for 288 yards, with 169 of on the ground.
After falling behind in the fourth quarter 21-16, the Grizzlies retook the lead 22-21 with 10:20 to play on an 8-play, 61-yard drive capped by a 21-yard touchdown run by junior Ty’Ronte Files.
However, the Polar Bears answered with an 11-play, 72-yard drive, resulting in the winning touchdown on a 3-yard run by quarterback Ricardo Johnson.
“We never give up,” Magazine said. “No matter what the score is, we will not give up.”
The Grizzlies would get one more chance, but on a fourth-and-five, Burton was sacked by defensive ends Scott Rapps and Mark Aguilar, allowing Ohio Northern to run out the clock.
Burton, who was named the Most Valuable Offensive Player of the Year of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, threw for 290 yards, completing 21 of 44 passes.
“They’ve got a good defense. They play physical. They’re sound and they don’t make many mistakes,” Burton said. “Obviously there are a few throws I wish I could have back, but we just missed a few plays that could have gone our way and changed the game.”
Deal, the Grizzlies’ second leading receiver this season, had seven catches for 153 yards.
Despite the loss, 13th-year Franklin coach Mike Leonard applauded the Grizzlies for winning a sixth straight HCAC championship and advancing to the Div. III playoff for the sixth straight year.
“I’m very proud of this team,” said Leonard, whose Grizzlies were 8-0 in the HCAC. “It’s so rewarding to hang out with guys like this on a daily basis in the fall and in the offseason. We learned some great lessons, too. We found ourselves down 21-0 against Rose-Hulman. You’ve got to keep a great attitude and believe in one another.
“We didn’t get that done (Saturday), but Ohio Northern did. We give credit to them for a great comeback, which is a testament to their team.”