WEEK FOUR PREVIEW | Grizzlies, Lions Set to Kick Off HCAC Schedule on Saturday in Franklin

Photo: Danny Goggans
Photo: Danny Goggans

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The Opening Kick
Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play begins on Saturday afternoon with the Grizzlies welcoming 2018 HCAC co-champion Mount St. Joseph to Faught Stadium. Both team finished the year tied with Hanover for the league title with a 7-1 conference record. Franklin handed the Lions their only conference loss of the year, winning a 42-34 shootout in Cincinnati.
 
About the Lions
Now in his third season as head coach of the Lions, Tyler Hopperton has MSJ off to a 2-0 start and the only remaining unbeaten team in the HCAC. The Mount closed out conference play last weekend, rolling to a 34-7 win over Anderson on their home turf.
 
The Lions boast a dangerous passing attack led by senior quarterback and three-year starter Chaiten Tomlin. Tomlin is completing 68.3% of his passes on the year and has thrown for 695 yards and six touchdowns without an interception to his name. Each of his four starting wideouts has at least seven catches on the year, led by junior Nick Murphy's 11 receptions for 173 yards and a pair of scores. 
 
Defensively, the Lions have been stingy in both games this year, limiting teams to 17 points per game and a league-leading 324.5 yards per contest. Linebacker Sean Sullivan has been all over the place through two contests, racking up 23 tackles to rank second in the league with 11.5 stops per game. The Lions are a +5 in the turnover category to start the year, picking off three passes and recovering a pair of fumbles.
 
Last Time Out
Franklin prepared for conference play last Saturday, making the first of two trips this year to Bluffton for a scheduled non-conference meeting with the Bluffton Beavers. Franklin took the lead with their opening drive and never looked back, rolling to a 34-19 win. Jacob Earl finished off a career afternoon with a personal best 207 yards and a score. Franklin's senior backfield trio of Earl, Austin Grunden and Payton Healy racked up over 300 yards on the ground. A complete recap can be found on page 14 of the notes.
 
Last Time They Met
The Grizzlies and Lions got together last October in Cincinnati in a meeting between two teams still unbeaten in conference play. Playing in a hostile environment, the Grizzlies battled back from a pair of deficits earn the win. Franklin rattled off six straight touchdowns to come from behind and earn the win. 
 
A big reason why was the Grizzly defense, which held the high-powered MSJ offense to 360 yards, a full 140 below thier season average at the time. It was also a record-setting win for Franklin head coach Mike Leonard, who moved past legendary coach Red Faught with his program record setting 121st win. 
 
Rush Week
Franklin's three-headed backfield monster of Earl, Grunden and Healy have made life difficult for opposing defenses so far. The senior trio has accumulated 566 yards rushing through three games, picking up 6.4 yards per carry. Earl has handled the majority of the work load and leads the HCAC with 390 yards on the ground. As a team, Franklin's 228.3 yards per game rushing is far-and-away tops in the league.
 
Stuffing the Competition
Senior Brayton Shannon and junior Evan Stambaugh have not only been the anchors of the Franklin defense through two weeks, but they have been two of the top tacklers in the league. Both players sit tied with each other for second in the HCAC with 32 tackles and are two of four players average at least 10 stops per game. Stambaugh has been a ball hawk from his safety position, hitting double figures in stops in all three games.
 
Picking Their Spots
Freshman cornerback JP Osafo intercepted the first two passes of his career last Saturday, sealing the win with a pick on Bluffton's final drive of the game. Osafo became the first Grizzly to record multiple INTs in a game since David Masaylie accomplished the feat last year on homecoming against Rose-Hulman. Senior Jacob Ferguson also recorded his first career pick last weekend, returning a pass 49 yards to set up a Franklin score.
 
Moving the Chains
No team in the HCAC has been better at moving the sticks than the Grizzlies. Franklin ranks 15th in the nation with 70 first downs accumulated, leading second place Hanover by six in that category.
 
Class of the League
Since the 2007 season, the Grizzlies have been dominant against the rest of the HCAC, going 88-6 over that span while claiming nine of the last 12 outright conference championships. 
 
Around the League
Conference play kicks off for all eight league teams on Saturday afternoon, with all four contests set to kick off at 1:30 p.m. In addition to the Grizzlies and Lions, here are the rest of this week's HCAC contests.
 
Rose-Hulman at Manchester
Defiance at Anderson
Bluffton at Hanover
 
Follow the Action Live
Saturday's game will be streamed on GrizTV with Sam Weiderhaft bringing you the play-by-play action between the two league rivals. Links to the video and live stats are available at the top of the page. In-game updates will be provided on our Twitter feed, @FCGrizAthletics.