In its final two regular-season games, the Franklin College football team wrapped up the two largest prizes available to it — an outright HCAC championship and the Victory Bell.
Now, the Grizzlies begin their quest for a far bigger payoff.
Franklin capped off the regular portion of its schedule Saturday with an easy 56-14 victory at Hanover, holding onto that series’ traveling trophy for the 13th consecutive season.
Next up is the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs and a road trip to 17th-ranked Wartburg College in Iowa. The Grizzlies (8-2, 8-0 HCAC) are returning to the postseason after a one-year absence.
The Knights are 10-0 and have won all but one of their games by double digits.
The game will have extra significance for Franklin coach Mike Leonard, who worked alongside Wartburg head coach Rick Willis at Wittenburg two decades ago.
“He’s one heck of a man, one heck of a coach,” Leonard said of Willis. “He’s developed one awesome football program there at Wartburg and we’re looking forward to the great challenge ahead.”
Against Hanover, there wasn’t as much of a challenge. The Grizzlies took care of business quickly by scoring three consecutive touchdowns in the first nine minutes of action. Jordan Brown squeezed a 1-yard touchdown run in between two short scoring passes from Chase Burton.
After the Panthers got on the board, Franklin stretched its lead out with 28 straight points, taking a 49-7 cushion into the final period.
Deontez Alexander hauled in touchdown passes of 35 and 56 yards, and Jacob Earl added a 33-yard TD grab. Greenwood native Kole Stogner broke loose for a 37-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The Grizzlies racked up a season-high 258 yards on the ground, with Earl’s 91 yards leading the way. Burton completed 22 of 28 passes for 336 yards, with Tanner Wroblewski (six catches) the top target.
Nathan Warman and Austin Fleming each had 10 tackles to lead the Franklin defense.