HANOVER, Ind. – The Franklin College football team packed up the bus and headed for Alumni Field on Saturday (Nov. 16) afternoon for a meeting with Hanover College in the 89th Victory Bell Game.
Facing a two-score deficit late in the third quarter, the Grizzlies (5-5, 4-3 HCAC) rallied back with scores on back-to-back drives to tie things up early in the fourth quarter against the conference champions. But the Panthers (9-1, 7-0 HCAC) would score the go-ahead touchdown with under two minutes to play, holding on for a 27-21 win.
Senior Austin Grunden had a career afternoon with 213 yards on the ground on 26 attempts, setting career-highs in both categories. Franklin's ground game racked up a whopping 291 yards rushing against the league's best defense that was surrendering less than 120 yards per game on the ground entering Saturday's contest.
The Grizzlies moved the ball inside the Hanover 30 on each of their first two drives but were unable to come away with points early on. On the second play of Hanover's second drive, senior Brady Hale picked off his first career pass, setting the Grizzlies up inside the Hanover 10. One play later, Braden Smith found Cole Daab from six yards out, spotting the Grizzlies a 7-0 lead with 3:44 to go in the first quarter.
Hanover would answer with touchdowns on their next two drives and stuff an 18-play Franklin drive inside the five-yard line late in the first half, spotting the Panthers a 14-7 lead when the teams broke for halftime.
The Panthers stretched the lead to 14 with a touchdown on the first drive of the second half and after on long drive stalled out in Hanover territory, the Grizzlies turned to the big play to get back within a score. Facing a third down late in the third quarter, Smith and Daab connected on a 79-yard scoring strike, a career-long for both that cut the deficit to 21-14.
Hanover's first drive of the fourth quarter yielded nothing and the Grizzlies capitalized on the ground, with Jacob Earl tying things up on a three-yard TD run with 10:34 to go in the game. Grunden set up the score with a career-long 55-yard run on the drive.
Each team's next drive resulted in a punt and after taking over with five minutes to go, the Panthers broke through with the go-ahead score with 1:36 to go on a 36-yard touchdown pass. Franklin was able to march down the field on the game's final drive, getting as close as 24 yards away from the end zone before time ran out.
Playing in his final career game, Smith threw for 131 yards and a pair of scores, hitting Daab for 106 yard through the air. Freshman Jarrett Gibson had a season-high 62 yards on the ground while Earl had 23 yards and a score. The Grizzlies became the first conference team to score more than 21 points against a Hanover defense that allowed just 33 in conference play coming into today.
Defensively, senior Brayton Shannon finished with a team-high 11 tackles, giving him a conference-leading 99 stops for the season. Aaron Black's seven solo stops were tops among all Franklin players while four different players recorded a pass break-up on the afternoon.