A missed extra point by Franklin College in the first quarter and a Rose-Hulman fumble recovery and touchdown with 21 seconds left proved to be the difference, lifting the Fightin’ Engineers to a 23-22 upset win against the defending Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference champion Grizzlies on Saturday.
The win puts Rose-Hulman, Franklin, Mt. St. Joseph and Bluffton in a four-way tie for the league lead with two games left.
For Franklin, it was the first conference loss at home since 2009.
There were four lead changes in the much-anticipated game, with Franklin jumping out an early 9-0 lead. However, Rose-Hulman (6-2, 5-1), riding the arm of senior quarterback Austin Swenson, went to halftime with a 17-16 advantage.
By game’s end, Swenson had completed 45 of 71 attempts for 362 yards and two touchdowns.
Franklin’s defense stifled a Rose-Hulman drive on the 1-yard line in the third quarter, and the Grizzlies then went on a 12-play, 95-yard drive — but a 23-yard field goal try by sophomore Tanner Anderson was blocked following a bad snap.
Franklin (5-2, 4-1) regained the lead at 22-17 with 10:59 left on a six-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Chase Burton to junior wingback Lee Wroblewski.
With time running out, Rose-Hulman moved the football all the way down to the Grizzlies’ 5-yard line, but on fourth down a key tackle by junior linebacker Jared Wesley stopped the drive.
With 2:31 remaining, the Engineers came up with the play they needed — a fumble recovery at the Grizzlies 29-yard line. Seven plays later, they were in the end zone on a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Stanley Hagan.
Hagan ran for 121 yards on 33 carries.
Franklin ran out of options after getting the ball to its 44-yard line as time expired.
After the game, Franklin coach Mike Leonard gave credit to the Engineers, saying he knew it would be a dogfight.
“They’re so hungry to climb that mountain that we’ve been on the top of, and to beat the champion, it’s a thrilling feeling. It makes me think back to 2007, when we beat Mt. St. Joe. It’s sweet.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board to a degree and figure out what are the little things that we really need to focus in on and do better.”
Burton, who leads the league in passing, completed 26 of 50 for 421 yards and three touchdowns.
Franklin had three receivers with more than 100 yards each: Deontez Alexander (117), Lee Wroblewski (104) and Darrell Crenshaw (102).
Despite the loss, Burton remains upbeat.
“Whenever you’re the champion in the conference, you’re going to get everyone’s best game, and we wouldn’t expect any less than that,” he said.
“We’ve been here before. We’ve got to forget about it and not let it carry over to our next game.”