The moment was bittersweet after a Franklin team that has lost nine straight to Martinsville let one get away.
But coach Adam Reese encouraged his team to look at how far it has advanced in five weeks, not just how close it came to knocking off host Class 5A No. 6 Martinsville on Friday night.
The visiting Grizzly Cubs rode a staunch defensive effort and the rugged running of leading Johnson County rusher Ross Barr but fell to the Artesians, 19-12, when a fourth-quarter drive ran out of time.
“I know it hurts right now,” Reese told his team. “But we are going to come out on the other end of that scoreboard. Trust me. Trust me.”
Indeed, there is much reason to look ahead.
A relentless effort by the defense held Martinsville 27 points below its average and frustrated All-State quarterback Mason Kutruff throughout the night.
“We got after the quarterback really good,” Reese said of his defensive front four of Nik Welch, Connor Tolley, Alex Claxton and Austin Ramsey, which combined for three sacks and a forced fumble. “Kutruff’s a heck of a player. Our ‘D’ line play was all about effort and determination.”
Tolley’s sack got the ball back for the Cubs one last time at their own 30.
From there a steady dose of Barr up the middle and an interference call on a pass play from quarterback David Stiers to Chad Williams got the ball to the Martinsville 38.
There, a fourth-down halfback pass by Williams was intercepted, and the Artesians sealed the win.
“Our kids put out a great effort,” said Reese, who saw his team put up big second-half numbers at Whiteland last week. “We’ve been talking in practice about sustaining our effort. We want to put together four quarters.
“I think they did that tonight.”
Trailing 13-6 going into the fourth quarter on two Patrick Palmer field goals, Franklin put together its best drive of the night. It was Barr doing the heavy lifting behind an offensive line that began to dominate.
The Cubs’ fullback took a trap play up the middle and showed surprising speed to outrun the secondary for a 52-yard score.
After a missed extra point, Franklin trailed 13-12.
“Ross is a tremendous player and leader,” Reese said. “His effort is not just great on game night but in practice as well. Even when people know it’s coming, he’s still going to gain yards.”
On the next Martinsville drive, though, Kutruff hit split end Ethan Lavender on a 75-yard screen play to the four. The quarterback scored on the next play to make it 19-12. A missed extra point gave the Cubs life.
“Mistakes are made in every game. That stuff goes both ways.” Reese said, discounting a handful of missed plays that could have turned the game, including a third-quarter drive to the seven that came up empty. “Our kids played hard. It’s frustrating when you lose.
“We’ll go back and correct some things on film. I’m really proud of our kids.”
Barr led Franklin (3-2, 0-2 Mid-State) with 170 yards on 32 carries. He now has 836 yards in five contests.
Reese said, despite the loss, the Cubs are going in the right direction.
“If we just stick with the plan, I think we’ll be where we want to be come November,” Reese said. “That’s always the goal.”
It is homecoming week at Franklin, where the Cubs host winless Mooresville Friday.