The Opening Kick
With the regular season in the books, the Franklin College football team turns their attention to the Division III playoffs, starting on Saturday afternoon with a showdown against the Knights of Wartburg College. It will be the first ever meeting between the Grizzlies and the Knights.
Last Time Out
Franklin closed out a perfect HCAC schedule last Saturday afternoon, rolling past Hanover 56-14 for their 13th consecutive win in the Victory Bell Classic.
The Grizzlies dominated the game from the start, finding the end zone on each of their first five possessions. By halftime, the Grizzlies had opened up a 42-7 lead, giving them plenty of cushion the rest of the way.
Chase Burton finished his day 22-for-28 for 336 yards and five touchdowns, all coming in the first half. Deontez Alexander hauled in two of Burton's TD passes, finishing the day with 158 yards on just four catches.
The FC defense smothered the Hanover attack all afternoon, finishing with a season-high four turnovers forced. Jay McClain, Ryan Conner and Chris Knight all picked off a pass while Natahn Warman finished with a fumble recovery.
A complete recap is available on page 12 of the game notes.
Wartburg returns to the playoffs for the 11th time in program history after earning an automatic bid to the 32-team field by way of winning the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship. The Knights enter Saturday's game a perfect 10-0 on the year and are currently ranked No. 15 in the AFCA coaches poll.
Junior quarterback Matt Sacia guides a Wartburg offense that averaged 38.7 points per game in the regular season. Sacia completed 66.9 percent (186-for-278) for 2,552 yards and 28 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
Sacia's top target all year has been senior wideout Riley Brockway, who comes into the game with a team-high 72 catches for 1,097 yards and 13 touchdowns. Griffin Brennecke ranks second on the team with 600 yards receiving while Denison Harrington's 37 catches ranks second on the team.
Dylan Binion leads a powerful Wartburg ground game that averaged over 200 yards per game in the regular season. Binion finished with 1,134 yards on 174 carries with 12 touchdowns. As a team, the Knights average 4.5 yards per carry.
On the other side of the ball, the Knights gave up just 15.2 points per game on the year. Linebacker Rob Rottler has been the Knights' go-to stopper on defense this year, leading the team with 93 tackles while adding four sacks and eight tackles for a loss. Tony Anstoetter ranks second on the club with 86 stops, adding 3.5 sacks and one interception.
Defensive lineman Dillon Radamaker leads the team with five sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Defensive backs JoJo McNair and Peyton Imhoff are tied for the team lead with five interceptions each.
The Second Season Begins
Playoff action gets underway around the country on Saturday afternoon. Franklin will be making their ninth playoff appearance in the last 11 years and first since 2015. Meanwhile, the Knights are back in the 32-team tournament for the first time since 2014.
Franklin carries a 5-8 playoff record into Saturday's showdown. The Grizzlies are in search of their first playoff win since 2013, a 17-10 win over Washington University-St. Louis in Franklin. Meanwhile, the Knights have won each of their last two home playoff games, both coming back in 2014 against the University of St. Thomas and Saint John's University.
A whopping 16 members of the Grizzlies collected All-HCAC honors earlier this week. Burton was named Offensive Player of the Year for the third consecutive season after leading the league in all major passing categories. He was joined on the first team by running back Jordan Brown, wideout Deontez Alexander, offensive linemen Samm Hayes, Sam Burck and Landon Johnson, defensive backs Ryan Conner and Trace Rooks as well as linebacker Austin Fleming.
Second team selections included wideouts Lee and Tanner Wroblewski, defensive linemen Zach Turner, Tyler Reed and Zak Prater, linebacker Nathan Warman and kicker Stephen Colligan.
The Grizzlies haven't been afraid to stretch defenses in 2017, with 25 of the team's touchdown passes encompassing 25 yards or more and 10 TD passes going for at least 50 yards. Deontez Alexander has been the team's go-to deep threat, hauling in 14 of his 18 scores from beyond 25 yards.
Alexander has not only been the top threat to score for the Grizzlies this year, but he has emerged as one of most dangerous pass catchers in the nation. The senior wideout ranks second inDivision III with 18 TD grabs on the year.
Burton comes into Saturday's game tied for the most touchdown passes in the nation with 42, matching his career high. Additionally, he ranks second in thr country in passing yards (3,636), passing yards per game (363.6) and passing efficiency (193.2).
As a team, the Grizzlies lead Division III with 580.4 yards per contest and 419.8 passing yards per contest. Addiontally, their 50.1 points per game is the third-highest mark in the nation, as is the team's 190.8 passer efficiency rating.
Follow the Action Live
Grizzly fans will be able to follow the game online with live video and live stats provided by the Wartburg sports information department. Both of those links can be found at the top of the page. In-game updates and post-game coverage can be found by following the Grizzlies on Twitter @FCGrizAthletics.