Maybe they should just call Donnie Richard the touchdown machine.
Whiteland’s quarterback does not throw much. He only passed six times Friday night at Franklin — but each of his three completions found the end zone, including a back-breaker that stopped a frantic Franklin second-half rally en route to a 41-31 win.
It was a tale of two halves.
The Grizzly Cubs cut a 35-3 Warriors lead to 35-24 after three third-quarter touchdowns by senior running back Ross Barr.
It looked like a miracle comeback might be in the making when the Franklin defense put Whiteland in a third-and-11 situation at Franklin’s 40 midway through the fourth.
Then, with Franklin looking for a sack, Richard found running back Jeffrey Wooten on a 40-yard middle screen for a score and a
41-24 lead that deflated the Cubs’ comeback.
“Donnie is playing well,” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher of the senior quarterback, who also hit split end Isaiah Calaway and back Mark Shaw on 27- and 9-yard scores earlier in the game.
For Fisher, though, the concern was less about the play of his quarterback and more on a team that seemed to lose focus on both sides of the ball in letting Franklin back in the game.
“I am speechless with our inability to finish,” he said of the 28-point lead that shrank to just an 11-point spread at one point. “We’ve got to learn to finish. It’s going to come back and bite us if we don’t learn.”
It looked like Whiteland was going to make quick work of its Mid-State Conference rival.
The Warriors (3-1, 2-0) piled up 304 rushing yards in the first half, scoring quick touchdowns on their first four drives.
Wooten and Brandon Patterson capped drives of 3, 2 and 1 plays with electrifying sprints through the heart of the Franklin defense.
Senior Wooten scored on a 60- and 71-yard runs, in both instances, breaking through a quick trap off tackle and outrunning the safeties.
Patterson’s score came on a 78-yard counter off a brilliant play fake from Richard.
In between, Richard capped a long drive with that 9-yard pass in the left flat to Shaw.
“We really played well to start the game,” Fisher said.
The Cubs managed a first-quarter drive to set up a 34-yard field goal by Patrick Palmer. The senior, who scored three goals in a Thursday night soccer game against the Warriors, also registered four touchbacks.
When Whiteland parlayed a Gabe Clippert interception into a Richard-to-Calaway touchdown pass early in the third quarter to give the Warriors a 35-3 cushion, the game appeared over.
Barr made sure it wasn’t and his teammates gave him the opportunity.
The county’s leading rusher going into the game, the Cubs drove 40 yards exclusively behind Barr to make it 35-10 and create a glimmer of hope.
Evan Sipes fanned that fire by recovering Palmer’s onside kick. Barr scored again from 3 yards out and it was 35-17, with the Cubs fan in full throat anticipation of a rally.
“You’ve got to give Franklin credit for coming back and playing back good football,” Fisher said.
The Cubs’ defense then forced a fumble, which senior Connor Tolley pounced on at the Whiteland 22.
Five plays later Barr rumbled in to cut it to 35-24, but Franklin would get no closer as Richard and Wooten closed out the game with the perfectly called screen.
Barr carried 32 times for 117 yards, but the Cubs could not find enough weapons to complement him as Whiteland stacked the box.
“We want to play four quarters of football,” said first-year coach Adam Reese, who saw his team slip to 3-1, 0-1. “We didn’t come out and do that. But this is something to build on.”
Whiteland’s rushing trio of Shaw, Wooten and Patterson combined for 336 yards.
The Warriors have won 13 straight against Franklin.