On the road against the 15th-ranked squad in NCAA Division III, the Franklin College football team decided to roll the dice in overtime Saturday, going for two points and the win rather than kicking a PAT to extend the game.
The gamble didn’t pay off, and the Grizzlies wound up on the wrong end of a 35-34 nail-biter at Wartburg (Iowa) in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs.
“We knew today could come down to one or two plays late and that came true,” Franklin coach Mike Leonard said. “We were in a position to win and we were confident because of our belief in our players. It didn’t come to fruition, but I’m very pleased with how we performed today.”
The Knights (11-0) drew first blood in overtime, converting a fourth-and-9 and then going ahead 35-28 on a Connor Schrader touchdown. The Grizzlies answered back, first converting a fourth down of their own on a pass from Chase Burton to Tanner Wroblewski and then getting into the end zone on a 10-yard Burton keeper.
Franklin (8-3) then went for the upset victory, but another throw from Burton to Wroblewski fell incomplete.
The two teams were back and forth in regulation. Franklin College got on the board early with a 1-yard run by Jordan Brown before Wartburg answered back with two touchdowns before the end of the first quarter to go up 14-7. Brown then tied the game with another 1-yard run and the Grizzlies went up with 1:35 left in the half on a 14-yard pass from Burton to Ben Fleet, but the Knights pulled even at 21-21 with a touchdown just 10 seconds before the break.
Each team scored once in the third quarter, with Wartburg pulling ahead first and the Grizzlies tying it on Brown’s third TD run, this one from 11 yards out. From there, the defenses tightened up, keeping the score deadlocked through the final 24 minutes and 30 seconds of regulation. Franklin came up with a key fourth-down stop in the red zone during the final three minutes to preserve the tie.
Austin Fleming finished with a career-high 16 tackles in his final game for the Grizzlies. Trace Rooks and Jay McClain added nine and eight stops, respectively.
Offensively, Brown ran for 116 yards and caught five passes for 51 more. Burton completed 25 of 44 throws for 280 yards and a score. He ends his career as the school’s all-time leader in passing yardage (11,579) and TD throws (121).