FRANKLIN, Ind. – The much-anticipated season-opener for the Franklin football team took place on a hot and muggy Saturday (Sept. 1) night at Faught Stadium in Franklin, with the Grizzlies welcoming Benedictine University (Ill.) to town for the 2018 kick-off.
The Grizzlies (1-0) picked up right where they left off in 2017; by scoring early and often on their way to a convincing 55-38 victory in front of a packed house on Alumni Night. Making his second career start, junior quarterback Braden Smith had a breakout game, going 26-for-35 for 348 yards and four touchdown passes. Senior Brad Bonomini hauled in nine of those passes for a career-high 174 yards and three touchdowns on the night.
"We came together tonight and everyone had a hand in it," Smith said after the game. "The line played great and our receivers got open all night. I had some chemistry with these guys the last two years, but the last two weeks we've been having great practices and we turned it into a win tonight."
"It took a little while to feel out our opponent but we knew if we didn't execute we weren't going to win," Head coach Mike Leonard added. "Our coaches made a great game plan and our players executed it perfectly. Braden earned this start and performed the way we know he can. Both teams tried to wear the other down in the heat but credit to our guys for not letting that get to them."
Franklin took the ball first and wasted no time putting a crooked number on the scoreboard, rattling off a nine-play drive that was capped by a four-yard toss from Smith to a wide-open Bonomini in the back of the end zone.
The Eagles would march down the field on their first drive, but were stuffed in the red zone when David Masayile and Brady Hale cut down a fourth-and-short situation. Right before the end of the first quarter, the Grizzlies added to their lead when Jacob Earl dashed 80 yards for his first score of the year.
Benedictine got on the board shortly after, running the ensuing kick back for a touchdown to cut the lead in half. Franklin restored their two-score lead on the very next drive, culminating in a perfectly placed throw from Smith to Bonomini for a 28-yard score and a 21-7 lead.
The Eagles answered right back with a 12-play drive that resulted in a touchdown, followed by a seven-play drive that ended with Earl's second rushing score of the night to make it 28-14. Franklin added an insurance score right before the half, with Payton Healy scampering in from five yards out to stake the Grizzlies to a 35-14 lead at the break.
Franklin put the game out of reach in the third quarter, scoring on all three of their drives to extend their edge to 55-17 after 45 minutes of play. Smith tossed touchdown passes to Bonomini from 40 yards and freshman Mickey Koczersut and Austin Grunden punched the Grizzlies' final touchdown of the night in from five yards out late in the third quarter.
One of Division III's most dangerous offenses showed no rust on Saturday night. Despite working in nine new starters on that side of the ball, Franklin racked up 605 yards of total offense on the night. Earl led all ball carriers with 108 yards on just eight carries while 11 different Grizzlies recorded at least one catch.
On defense, senior Austin Fleming and junior Brayton Shannon topped the squad with eight tackles each. John McKinney and Zak Prater recorded the Grizzlies' two sacks on the night, while Robbie Witham and Dyllan Shelley set up touchdowns with their first career interceptions, each coming deep in Benedictine territory.
Franklin hits the road for their final non-conference game of the season next Saturday (Sept. 8) night, traveling north to take on the Britons of Albion College. Kick-off from Albion, Mich. is set for 6:00 p.m.