No one on the Franklin College football team was scoreboard-watching Saturday.
But it was visibly obvious — the Grizzlies faithful fans definitely were.
The Grizzlies entered Saturday’s Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference game at Mount St. Joseph in a four-way battle for first place with the Lions, Bluffton and Rose-Hulman.
The Grizzlies had their ups and downs in the first half against the Lions, who were celebrating homecoming before a capacity crowd, but with a burst of offense in the second half, Franklin posted a 56-24 win Saturday to keep pace with Rose-Hulman, which routed Bluffton.
The Fightin’ Engineers, by virtue of their win over the Grizzlies two weeks ago, maintain the inside track in the HCAC title race. Franklin (6-2, 5-1), the six-time defending champion, still has two games left on its schedule with a road game Saturday at Anderson and the annual Victory Bowl game at home against rival Hanover.
Rose-Hulman (7-2, 6-1), meanwhile, only has to beat Earlham in its final game Nov. 12 to secure the conference crown — and an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Grizzlies scored 35 unanswered points in the second half to pull away on Saturday.
With his team trailing 24-21 with 9:40 left in the third quarter, Grizzlies junior quarterback Chase Burton found junior wingback Lee Wroblewski streaking down the sidelines for a 49-yard touchdown. He then hooked up with junior split end Deontez Alexander for a 31-yard scoring strike.
The play that really ignited the team was a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by seldom-used junior linebacker Colton Hayes.
Hayes got another pickoff in the fourth quarter on a tipped pass that dropped right into his hands.
“It was kind of like a very big surprise,” Hayes said of his pick-six. “It just came out of nowhere. And the second one was another great opportunity.”
“He stepped in front and made the play,” Franklin coach Mike Leonard added. “And he’s a guy who hadn’t got a whole lot of (playing time) in the last few years, so I’m happy for him.”
Burton, the leading passer in the conference, threw for four touchdowns while completing 36 of 50 attempts for 310 yards.
Junior wingback Darrell Crenshaw had 11 catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.
The Grizzlies had a powerful run game to go with their normal aerial attack. Ty’Ronte Files rushed for three touchdowns and gained 91 yards on 26 carries.