TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Facing a pair of two-touchdown deficits on the road against a long-time conference rival on their homecoming, things were looking bleak for the Franklin football team late in their Saturday showdown with Rose-Hulman.
But instead of folding, the Grizzlies (2-3, 1-1 HCAC) dug in on both sides of the ball and pulled off an incredible comeback, stunning the Engineers (2-2, 1-1 HCAC) in the final minute to win 29-28.
Both teams were forced to punt on each of their first two drives, but the Engineers would break through first with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Dion to Jake Zimmerman with 4:52 to go in the opening quarter. Following another Franklin three-and-out, Rose made it a 14-point game on another long touchdown pass from Dion, making it 14-0 Engineers after 15 minutes of play.
Franklin's defense would shut the Engineers down in the second quarter and on the offense's first possession of the period, FC marched 80 yards on 13 plays capped by a three-yard rushing touchdown by Braden Smith that cut the deficit in half with 4:20 to go in the second quarter. That's where the score stood at halftime as both teams had drives fizzle out before the end of the half.
After coughing up the ball on their first drive of the second half, Franklin's defense held and got some help thanks to a six yard punt by the Engineers. Working with a short field, Smith tied things up when his fourth-and-13 pass found Landen Gessinger for a 36-yard score.
But the Engineers would re-claim their two-score lead before the end of the third quarter, getting an 11-yard rushing touchdown from Garrett Wight and following a Smith interception, Wight scored his second touchdown of the day to make it 28-14 late in the third.
With momentum on the home team's side, Franklin quelled the home crowd with a methodical 12-play scoring drive. Facing fourth-and-goal from the six, Smith threw a dart to Gessinger in the end zone for the score and after a Carter Brown point after, Franklin was back within a touchdown at 28-21 with 11 minutes to play.
The Grizzly defense stifled Rose's offense in the fourth quarter, forcing punts on each of their next two possessions, the latter giving Franklin the ball with 3:57 on the clock and 71 yards to the goal line. Franklin faced a third-and-15 on the drive, but wiggled out of trouble when Smith hit Payton Healy for 16 yards and a fresh set of downs. With under a minute to go, Smith unleashed a 17-yard scoring pass to Cole Daab, who out-worked a Rose defender to haul in the pass and cut the deficit to one.
Not content to play for the tie and overtime, head coach Mike Leonard gambled and went for the go-ahead two-point conversion. Smith came through big for the Grizzlies, using his legs to push the ball over the goal line and give Franklin their first lead of the day.
A short kick-off left the Engineers with great field position. But with no timeouts, three short completions in the middle of the field left Rose well short of field goal range when the clock ran out.
Smith was brilliant in his return to action after a two-game absence, going 17-for-34 through the air for 263 yards and three touchdowns. The Mattoon, Ill.-native also had 16 carries for 68 yards and a score. Daab had his best game as a Grizzly, hauling in six passes for 141 yards and a score.
Brayton Shannon led the Grizzlies' defense with eight stops, all the solo variety. It was a big day for a pair of rookie linebackers, with Aaron Black and Kody Wilkerson setting career highs with seven and six stops, respectively.
Franklin looks to keep the momentum going next Saturday (Oct. 12), when they face the Anderson Ravens on Homecoming at Faught Stadium. Kick-off is set for 1:30 p.m.