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Quarterback Austin Gibson looks to pass to wideout Jeb Brewer. The senior quarterback has been steadfast all season for the Panthers, leading them to a 12-0 record. Photos by Tom TomlinsonFranklin did not waste any time getting on the scoreboard last Friday night in the team’s opening round playoff game against Hunter Huss in the Panther Pit, scoring on their first possession to take a quick 6-0, before defeating the Huskies 35-7.

The bread and butter of Franklin’s team, the big boys up front, paved the way for Franklin’s first score when freshman Jeremiah Young took it in from the goal-line. Young scored after the Huskies attempted a gutsy fake punt deep in their own territory, giving Franklin the ball at the 26-yard line to set-up their first touchdown from the triple Young set.

The Panthers did nothing to trick Hunter Huss in the contest, opting to stick to what has worked all year long for the team, relying on a powerful running attack to control the game and keep opposing offenses off the field.

The Huskies swiftly made some defensive adjustments after Franklin’s first drive, choosing to stack the box against the Panthers. Future playoff opponents will likely use this tactic against the Panthers to contain Franklin’s running game and force Gibson to throw the ball downfield. The move paid off for Hunter Huss on several plays, forcing an Austin Gibson interception on Franklin’s third possession and holding Franklin to 14 first half points.

The Panthers rally at midfield before kicking it off to the Hunter Huss Huskies. The Panthers were victorious once again last Friday night, winning 35-7 in their opening round playoff game.“He made up his mind about where he was going with the ball and just made a bad decision on that play,” said head coach Josh Brooks. “He has played tremendously all year for us and we are going to need him to be big for us down the stretch. He has done an excellent job running our offense this year, and that mistake was only his third interception of the year,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in Austin.”

Much to the dismay of Huskie fans, Franklin’s Thomas Evans plays on both sides of the ball and completely dominated the line of scrimmage for four quarters. Evans treated Huskie rushers like ragdolls on several plays, getting two big sacks to end Hunter Huss drives in the first half. Evans’ playmaking ability set the tone early and led to another impressive performance from Franklin’s defense. The stat sheet says it all. Franklin held Hunter Huss to just -9 yards rushing and 87 total yards.

“We went out and got the job done,” said head coach Josh Brooks. “I was really proud of our defense and the way we played overall in the second half. We didn’t score as much as I would have liked, but our time of possession really prevented them from doing anything offensively. We were not really used to playing against that kind of speed on offense, but we kept our composure and handled it well in the second half. I think it’s a good start for us,” he said.

The Huskies could not do anything on the offensive side of the ball, but the young team from Gaston County was stingy on defense. “ I was really impressed with their defensive line,” said Brooks. “They had some really talented players that caused us some problems,” he said.Parrish Young races past a Hunter Huss defender. The Huskies were a fast unit, but could not contain Franklin’s running game.

Franklin’s offense looked a bit shaky in the first half as well, fumbling snaps and mishandling the football on several occasions. That being said, Franklin never once lost control. The Panthers had the ball for more than 30 minutes in the game, never giving the Huskies a chance to mount any momentum on offense.

On Franklin’s fourth possession in the first half, sophomore Marquel Manning ended up making an impact, rushing for several first downs to set up a Jacob Young touchdown. To counter the aggressiveness of the Huskies, head coach Josh Brooks called a misdirection play to Parrish Young, getting Franklin inside the red-zone for the second time of the game. From there, it was a predictable call for senior Jacob Young, who pounded the ball from the one-yard line to give Franklin a 12-0 lead.

Coach Brooks decided to go for the two point conversion to make up for a failed field goal attempt from their first scoring drive. Austin Gibson threw a play-action pass to Parrish Young to give the Panthers a 14-0 halftime lead.

While the Huskies contained Franklin’s offense in the first half, they did not come close to doing so in the third and fourth quarters. After the Panthers turned the ball over on their first possession of the second half, Franklin’s defense predictably held strong. When the Panthers got the ball back after another Hunter Huss three and out, they marched straight down the field for another score.

Franklin’s linemen have dominated at the line of scrimmage throughout the season, and Friday night’s game against Hunter Huss was no different.Senior Nathan Raby scampered for two huge gains to setup Parrish Young’s goal-line touchdown, followed by a successful Eric Olvera field goal that gave Franklin a 21-0 lead.

Gibson completed a three-yard pass to senior wide-out Jordan Talley to open up the fourth quarter, but a fourth down incompletion ended Franklin’s threat. When Franklin got the ball back after yet another three and out from the Huskies, they pounded the ball downfield for a 92-yard scoring drive, capped off by a six-yard Marquel Manning touchdown run.

The Huskies were finally able to put it in the end-zone after a long touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers responded on the proceeding kick-off. Jacob Young scooped up the onside kickoff attempt and showed off his speed, something the physical back is not known for, rushing 57 yards downfield for Franklin’s final score of the game.

Senior Nathan Raby once again shined in the backfield for another big game, rushing 10 times for 109 yards to lead Franklin’s offense to another win. Jacob Young added two touchdowns, while Marquel Manning, Parrish Young, and Jeremiah Young each finished with one touchdown a piece.

Franklin moves to 12-0 on the season and will face conference rival East Henderson Friday night in the second round of the state playoffs. Franklin defeated the sixth Golden Eagles 28-21 in week nine, a victory that allowed Franklin to capture their first outright conference championship in over a decade.

“They are just as athletic and talented as we are,” said head coach Josh Brooks. “I have a lot of respect for their coach and their program, and this will be a big challenge for our team. It’s never easy to beat any team twice, regardless of what sport it is, but I think our guys will be up to the challenge,” he said.

In their first meeting, the Eagles tried to force Franklin to throw the ball, but to no avail. With ten Eagles in the box, Franklin still found a way to run the ball consistently. East Henderson will probably attempt a similar strategy this Friday night. Expect the Panthers to pound the ball right at the Eagles once again, while mixing up some play-action passes to keep East Henderson’s defense honest. It should be another entertaining game in the Panther Pit.

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