WEEK FIVE PREVIEW | Grizzlies Hit the Road Saturday for Meeting with Rose-Hulman

Photo: Angie Palmer
Photo: Angie Palmer
 
The Opening Kick
Conference play rolls on Saturday afternoon with a matchup between two of the league's most consistent teams in Franklin and Rose-Hulman. Saturday's meeting is a quick road trip for the Grizzlies ahead of a three-game homestand starting next week with homecoming.
 
About the Engineers
Head coach Jeff Sokol has the Engineers off to a 2-1 start which included a 52-35 win over Manchester to open league play a week ago. The Engineers were paced by running back Garrett Wight, who rushed for 147 yards and hauled in 104 receiving yards while scoring four touchdowns. That performance was more than enough to earn Wight the HCAC's Offensive Player of the Week award earlier this week.
 
Under center is third-year starting quarterback Andrew Dion, who has averaged 332 yards per game in his first two starts against the Grizzlies. For the year, Dion is completing 54.1 percent of his passes for 603 yards with four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Junior Noah Thomas has been his top target this year, catching 16 passes for 327 yards and three scores. Thomas leads the HCAC with 109.0 receving yards per game. 
 
Defensively, the Engineers are conceding 428.3 yards per game but just 328.5 yards per contest over their last two games. Senior defensive back Zach Phillips is the team's top tackler with 19 stops on the year and has generated one of the team's two interceptions this year. Six different players have racked up sacks this year with Corey Vincent and Tyler Cross leading the team with two sacks each.
 
Last Time Out
The Grizzlies kicked off the conference schedule last weekend, hosting one of last year's co-champions in Mount St. Joseph at Faught Stadium in Franklin. The Grizzlies generated a pair of touchdowns from the defense, but the offense struggled to get going as the Lions left town with a 50-27 win, snapping a nine-game losing streak to the Grizzlies. A complete recap is available on page 14 of the game notes.
 
Last Time They Met
The two teams clashed last September for the annual homecoming game in Franklin and put on an instant classic. Franklin shook off a 21-7 first half deficit and score with 21 seconds left in the game on a fourth down touchdown pass from Braden Smith to Ben Fleet, completing the comeback and giving the Grizzlies a 42-39 win. Smith was magnificent in his first career start against the Engineers, throwing for 438 yards and three scores. 
 
Franklin lead the all-time series 42-24-2 and have won each of the last two games. It's homecoming for the Engineers on Saturday, a game where Rose is 8-0 under Sokol's watch.
 
Rush Week
Senior tailback Jacob Earl has been one of the league's top runner through four games, ranking third in the HCAC with 478 yards, good for 119.5 yards per game which also ranks third in the conference. Additionally, Earl's 6.5 yards per carry ranks second in the league and his six touchdowns are also the second most in the conference. As a team, Franklin ranks second in the league in rushing yards (767) and yards per game (191.8), trailing Manchester in each category.
 
Stuffing the Competition
Senior Brayton Shannon and junior Evan Stambaugh have not only been the anchors of the Franklin defense through four weeks, but they have been two of the top tacklers in the league. Shannon set a career-high with 14 tackles a week ago and leads all players with 46 stops through four games. Stambaugh isn't far behind, racking up 36 tackles so far to rank fourth among all players in the conference. 
 
Spreading the Wealth
Franklin's young receiving corps has been active this year, with 13 different players recording a catch on the year. Five different players have racked up double-digit catches with Earl's 14 grabs leading all players through four contests.
 
Defense Turns to Offense
The Grizzlies saw two players score their first career touchdowns last week when Franklin scored a pair of defensive touchdowns. Shannon was the first defender to find the end zone, gathering in a fumble and rolling 75 yards for a score. Later in the game, Brady Hale blocked an MSJ punt, freeing up the ball for twin brother Bryce Hale to gather it in and return the blocked kick 22 yards for a score.
 
Return on Investment
Freshman Jarrett Gibson has emerged as the league's top kick returner, racking up an HCAC-best 415 return yards through four games. Gibson ranks second on the Grizzlies with 465 all-purpose yards entering this week.
 
Class of the League
Since the 2007 season, the Grizzlies have been dominant against the rest of the HCAC, going 88-7 over that span while claiming nine of the last 12 outright conference championships. 
 
Around the HCAC
Conference play resumes Saturday with three HCAC game on tap with Bluffton and Manchester on a bye week. The rest of the schedule is as follows:
Defiance at Mount St. Joseph, 1:30 p.m.
Anderson at Hanover, 1:30 p.m. 
 
Follow the Action Live
Saturday's game will be streamed by the host institution with live stats provided by Rose-Hulman's athletic communications department. 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.