In 1864, the battle in the trenches thrown up around the south side of Franklin crossing Columbia Pike, and a strong defensive strategy were the deciding points in the best known "Battle of Franklin." More than 150 years later, and a little further up on Hillsboro Road, the same two factors were keys as the home-standing Rebels captured the latest edition of the Battle of Franklin with a 28-14 win over crosstown rival Centennial in a key Region 6-6A matchup.
Senior Matt Gaca rushed 33 times for 210 yards, including touchdowns of 10 and 12 yards as Franklin dominated in the trenches and let a swarming defense take care of the rest.
Gaca was effusive over this offensive line after the contest.
“It’s the best game I’ve seen them play since I’ve been here," he said. "Those holes were wide open tonight. Everyone stepped up this week. We had four great days of practice and everybody played as a family tonight.”
The Rebel line of Fisher Anderson, Chris Haas, Jack Ray, Miles Burgess, Jakob Luberda, Jonah Albert (a John Maher Builders Scholar-Athlete of the Month this week), and Jason Amsler controlled the Cougars up front, leading to Franklin winning the time of possession battle, something Webb called critical early in the week, by a two-to-one margin – 31:36 to 15:14.
“We’ve been improving every game this year and our mindset coming out tonight was we have to control the line of scrimmage,” said Ray. “This is the best week of my high school career, without a doubt. It’s great to win this as a team and beat our rival.”
In addition to opening lanes for Gaca, the line also gave junior quarterback Josh Nichols time to throw for 75 yards on 7-of-10 passing, including a 31-yard strike to Chancellor Bright. Nichols opened the scoring in the first with a one-yard sneak.
Webb, too, was pleased with the efforts of his front seven.
“It felt like we were doing some things right up front on both sides of the line," he said. "I’m so proud of offensive line; they come to work and work hard and don’t often get noticed.”
Centennial continued a pattern of starting slowly but unlike earlier games, never could get going, something head coach Matt Kriesky placed squarely on his own shoulders.
“This is all on me. I didn’t get the kids prepared," Kriesky said. "They weren’t ready to play from the get-go, you could see that. We played right into their hands. We couldn’t get going. They no doubt won the time of possession battle, limited our possessions and that hurt us.”
The Cougars did have bright spots. Less than a minute after Nichols found Bright, Grayson Marcel flipped a perfect screen pass to Jariel “Wowo” Wilson who picked up a couple of quick blocks before jetting 45 yards for the visitor’s first score.
But Marcel, coming back from an injury, struggled under heavy defensive pressure, hitting only nine of his other 18 attempts and being intercepted by Guy Lipscomb in the end zone to stop a scoring drive. He was replaced late by freshman quarterback Cannon Plowman who hit 2-of-3 in the final drive, including a 22-yard touchdown to Ahshari Haynesworth with just over a minute left to play.
The Franklin defense was as impressive as the offensive line, holding Centennial to 162 yards of total offense and just 23 yards on the ground. Wilson was held to a season-low 32 yards on eight carries. He rushed for 245 in Week 6's 37-34 win at Riverdale.
“Our defense could be the best in the state and I think they proved it tonight,” Gaca said, spreading his praise. “It’s the backbone of our team and as long as the offense keeps producing I think we can make a run.”
The game was marred by 19 accepted penalties, including five pass interference and three roughing the passer calls.
The loss puts a damper on playoff plans for Centennial (3-4, 2-2). Kriesky knows it puts his Cougars into a must-win situation at Brentwood in four weeks.
“We got three big games left, Hillsboro, Summit and then Brentwood," he said. "That one will start the playoffs for us.”
Franklin (4-3, 1-3), which travels to state power Oakland next week in Murfreesboro, will have to beat Dickson County on the road in the last game of the year to potentially earn a spot in postseason play.
Franklin 28, Centennial 14
CHS – 0 7 0 7 – 14
FHS – 14 7 0 7 – 28
1Q 8:20 FHS – Josh Nichols 1 run (Iann Burr kick);
1Q 0:21 FHS – Chancellor Bright 31 pass from Nichols (Burr kick);
2Q 11:47 CHS – Jariel Wilson 45 pass from Grayson Marcel (John Crouch kick);
3Q 1:07 FHS – Matt Gaca 10 run (Burr kick);
4Q 10:01 FHS – Gaca 12 run (Burr kick);
4Q 1:10 CHS – Ahshari Haynesworth 22 pass from Cannon Plowman (Crouch kick).
Total Offense 162 321
No. of plays 35 54
Yds per play 4.6 5.9
Passing 139 75
Comp-Att 12-22 7-11
TDs/INT 2-1 1-0
Rushing 23 246
ATT 13 43
Penalties/Yds 6/65 13/115
Punts/Avg 3/41.0 1/31.0
First Downs 13 25
Time of Possession 15:14 31:36
CHS – Wilson 8-36, Marcel 3-1, Plowman 2-(-14); FHS – Gaca 33-210, Reed Kemp 2-28, Rashad Jenkins 2-7, Nichols 6-1.
CHS –Marcel 10-19-1-1 for 101; Plowman 2-3-0-1 for 38; FHS – Nichols 7-10-0-1 for 75; Burr 0-1-0-0.
CHS – Wilson 2-61-1, Crouch 4-44, Haynesworth 2-28-1, Joey Gustafson 2-5, Kevin Townsell 2-1; FHS – Bright 2-39-1, Brock Holthous 2-28, Gaca 2-5, Kemp 1-3.