Franklin’s season may have come to an end, but the Grizzly Cubs fought down to the final snap, falling 24-21 at Martinsville in a Class 5A Sectional 14 semifinal Friday.
The Cubs managed just 230 yards of total offense, but a stellar performance by the defense and the special teams nearly led Franklin to a surprising upset.
“I knew that we wouldn’t mail it in just from the way we practiced,” Franklin coach Chris Coll said. “This group has been through some tough times. But this was a testament to the leaders on this team. They weren’t going to quit.”
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Winners of just one game all season, Franklin faced an uphill battle in stopping the strong Martinsville offense. But the Artesians went three and out on their first three possessions and didn’t get a first down until late in the first quarter.
All of Franklin’s points in the first half came on field goals. After a scoreless first quarter that saw the two teams combine for five total yards, the Grizzly Cubs started the second with excellent field position when Garrett Eason intercepted Martinsville quarterback Jonathon Collier on the Artesian 22-yard line.
But Franklin (1-9) managed only 17 yards on the drive and had to settle for a Spencer Downhour 23-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Martinsville answered with a quick drive that ended in a 3-yard keeper by Collier to go ahead 7-3 with 7:44 to go in the half.
Franklin, which had managed just 16 total yards through the first quarter and a half, then put together its first good drive of the game, going 46 yards on 10 plays before Downhour hit a 39-yard field goal to close the gap to 7-6.
Downhour may have been the MVP of the game for the Grizzly Cubs. Along with hitting a pair of field goals, he also put four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the 5.
Martinsville (6-4) closed the half with a late touchdown, a 13-yard run by Isaac Osborne with 1:05 left, then opened the third with a long drive capped by a Caleb Urban 28-yard field goal to push its lead to 17-6.
But the Cubs weren’t ready to lay down. Riley McCann set Franklin up with another short field, taking the kickoff 59 yards down to the Martinsville 36. This time, the Cubs cashed in with a touchdown, getting a 7-yard pass from Drew Byerly to McCann to pull within 17-13 midway through the third.
Martinsville scored on a 6-yard pass from Collier to Matt Thomas to go ahead 24-13 early in the fourth period. Franklin answered with another short drive of just 27 yards thanks to another long McCann kickoff return and scored on a Byerly 1-yard keeper. A Byerly to Noah Crow two-point conversion pulled the Cubs to within three, 24-21 with just over seven minutes to play.
But Franklin couldn’t get any closer. The Cubs got the ball back, but an interception ended their final drive. The Artesians then ran out the final four and a half minutes.