For the eighth-straight year, the Victory Bell will stay at Franklin College.
And for the third-consecutive time, the Grizzlies are going to the NCAA Division III national playoffs.
Franklin earned the Victory Bell and sole possession of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship with Saturday’s 58-29 win against visiting archival Hanover. The Victory Bell goes to the winner of the annual regular-season finale showdown.
With the win, the Grizzlies (8-2, 8-0 HCAC) — who have won 26-straight games against conference opponents — secured the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Tenth-year head coach Mike Leonard, a graduate of Hanover, said running the table in the conference with eight wins helps build momentum toward the playoffs. The Grizzlies at Adrian College (Mich.) Saturday for a first-round game.
Adrian is 9-1.
“I love the movie ‘Gladiator,’” Leonard said. “When all those guys are chained together in the coliseum, that’s kind of like where we are right now. Is it a purple team? Is it a red team? We can’t control that, but we’re just looking forward to what’s next.”
Ranked No. 16 in the latest D3collegefootball.com poll, the Grizzlies stumbled a bit at the start by going three-and-out on their first possession. Hanover took an 8-0 lead in the first three minute on a 4-yard pass from quarterback Dexter Britt to Daniel Passifume.
But the Grizzlies dominated the rest of the way.
Franklin scored 42 unanswered points to take a commanding 42-14 advantage and cruised the rest of the way, as the Grizzlies capitalized three Hanover turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble.
“Our defense has been playing so well lately, and our offense had been turning the ball over,” Leonard said. “But (Saturday) it kind of flipped. Our defense gave up some plays, but the offense did not have a turnover, and they converted a lot of third downs (11 of 18).”
Junior quarterback Jonny West threw touchdown passes to four different receivers and ran one himself. Backup quarterback Grant Welp also ran for a touchdown, and kicker Cole Richards added a 26-yard field goal.
On the day, West completed 29 of 43 pass attempts for 315 yards and five touchdowns. He completed passes to 11 different receivers.
Junior split end Kyle Linville led the way with nine catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Ben Hamlin finished with seven catches for 96 yards and one touchdown.
Senior running back Luke Hamm led the rushing attack with 54 yards on nine carries. He also had six catches for 52 yards.
In all, Franklin amassed 504 yards of total offense compared to Hanover’s 317.
For the season, West has thrown 27 touchdown passes, including 17 to Linville.