The Opening Kick
With their non-conference schedule in the rear-view mirror, the Franklin College football team turns its attention to Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) play. First up for the Grizzlies is a showdown with the Yellow Jackets from Defiance College at Faught Stadium in Franklin.
Tribute to Service Day at Faught Stadium
Before kickoff on Saturday, the Grizzlies will honor emergency first responders and military personnel during a pregame ceremony for the annual Tribute to Service Day at Faught Stadium. This is the fourth consecutive year the Grizzlies have honored service members following the untimely passing of Nick Schultz '13, a former FC offensive lineman that tragically lost his life in the line of duty while working with the Merrillville Police Department in September 2014.
Last Time Out
The Grizzlies kicked off their home schedule under the lights last Saturday night, taking on Division I FCS non-scholarship foe Butler University. The Grizzlies fell behind early and spent the rest of the night playing catch-up to the Bulldogs, dropping the home opener 43-24.
Senior Chase Burton threw for 324 yards and three scores on the night. Two of those touchdowns went to Deontez Alexander and the other to Tanner Wroblewski, as both players went over 100-yards receiving on the night.
A full recap is available on page 11 of the game notes.
Under third-year head coach Aaron Mershman, the Yellow Jackets come into Saturday afternoon's showdown in search of their first victory of the year. Defiance has had a tough start to the season, dropping each of their first two contests to Baldwin Wallace University and Hope College.
Freshman quarterback Logan Mico will lead the Yellow Jacket offense on Saturday afternoon after being named the starter earlier this week. Mico is 8-for-16 for 107 yards with one interception on the year, and he carries a 93.7 quarterback efficiency rating into his first start.
Junior running back Corey Bennett leads the Defiance ground attack with 109 yards on 29 carries over two games. DeVontae Cravin has been the Yellow Jacket's go-to target in 2017, catching nine passes for 124 yards. Cravin has also been the team's top kick returner this year, averaging 32.0 yards per return.
The Yellow Jackets are allowing 205 yards per game both on the ground and through the air so far. Teams are averaging 40 points per game against Defiance while the Jackets remain in search of their first offensive points of the year.
With their non-conference schedule in the rear-view mirror, Franklin gets league play underway on Saturday and looks to continue their dominance in the league. Picked as the pre-season favorites by HCAC coaches, the Grizzlies have controlled HCAC play over the last seven years, winning 56 of their last 58 conference games dating back to 2009.
Home Run Ball
The Grizzlies have shown a knack for big plays in the first two games of the year, as six of Chase Burton's eight touchdown passes have gone for 28 yards or more. His longest scoring strike of the year came last week against Butler, as Burton found Deontez Alexander for an 81-yard score. Alexander has been Burton's go-to deep threat, with four of his five TD grabs going for 28 yards or more.
Spreading the Wealth
Burton has used his slew of weapons at receiver and out of the backfield to his advantage. The senior signal caller has distributed his passes to eight different receivers through two games. As a result, Burton leads the HCAC and ranks 38th in the nation in passing efficiency at 168.3.
Alexander's Big Start
Senior Deontez Alexander has not only been the Grizzlies' most dangerous big play threat, but he's been one of the top receivers in the nation through two games. Alexander leads the HCAC with 128 receiving yards per game and yards per catch at 27.5. Additionally, his five touchdown catches is tied for second most in the country.
Jacob Earl set a pair of career highs coming out of the backfield last week. Earl rushed for a personal-best 38 yards on eight carries and caught one pass out of the backfield that went for a career-best 25 yards. Earl leads the Grizzlies with 75 yards on the ground on 13 carries and ranks sixth on the team with six catches for another 50 yards.
A quintet of seniors on the defensive side of the ball have racked up the tackles for Franklin early in the year. Austin Fleming has recorded back-to-back double-digit tackle games and tops the squad with 22 stops. Senior DB Trace Rooks has 20 stops and fellow senior safety Ryan Conner has recorded 18 tackles, including a team-high 12 solo stops. Jay McClain (13) and Grant Bryan (12) round out the Grizzlies' top-five tacklers through two games.
The Hoosier State's Best
The Franklin football program was recently named the top team in the state of Indiana by HeroSports.com. Teams from all three NCAA divisions and the NAIA were considered for the award and based on the Grizzlies' recent run of success under Mike Leonard, the Grizzlies claimed the top spot in the second installment of the award.
Around the HCAC
Conference play gets rolling on Saturday with four afternoon games. In addition to the Grizzlies and Yellow Jackets, Bluffton travels to Mt. St. Joseph, Earlham heads Anderson and Hanover is at Rose-Hulman. Manchester is the only team in the league on a bye this week.
Follow the Action Live
Grizzly fans will be able to tune in to the game live on GrizTV with Andrew Smith assuming the play-by-play duties for all five home contests this year. Links to the video and to live stats can be found at franklingrizzlies.com. Follow the Grizzlies on Twitter @FCGrizAthletics for in-game updates and post-game coverage.