Brad Childers has accepted the fact that nothing is going to come easy for his injury-riddled Franklin High School football team this year.
Childers just wants his players to believe and persist, much like they did Thursday night in their regular-season finale.
Jared Kinzer scored three touchdowns for the Wildcats, who had leads of 17-0 and 24-14 before fighting off visiting Brookville 24-21 on Senior Night at Atrium Stadium.
“It’s a great feeling, man,” said Kinzer, a senior Mr. Everything who plays running back, receiver and defensive back while also returning kicks. “It’s just so surreal to get this win on Thursday Night Lights on TV. Coach Childers talked all week about how … great teams handle adversity, and I thought we did that tonight.”
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Franklin will take an 8-2 record into next Friday’s Division III, Region 12 playoffs. The Wildcats had already clinched their 11th postseason berth before Thursday, and they have earned a first-round home game.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association will announce the playoff pairings Sunday.
“Our kids never gave up. They were relentless all night,” Childers said. “We just asked them to keep grinding and keep playing, and did.
“With the adversity this team has faced, this is really special. I’ve said time and time again I hurt for the kids that can’t play, but I’m so excited for these other guys. I can’t tell you how proud I am of these kids and coaches. It’s unbelievable. It’s a blessing.”
Franklin went 4-2 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division and finished in a second-place tie with Bellbrook behind champion Valley View.
Brookville ended the year 6-4, 3-3.
“We beat a really good football team tonight,” Childers said. “We had some things go more our way tonight than they did. I’ve been on both ends of that this year.”
The Blue Devils made a game of it after committing four turnovers, two on mishandled kickoffs, in the opening half. Three of those turnovers came in the the first eight minutes, though they only led to three points for the Wildcats.
“When you turn the ball over four times in one half and still put yourself in position to have a chance to win the game, that says something about the heart and character of your kids,” Brookville coach Mike Hetrick said. “They battled and fought and just kept doing what we do. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Kyle Rickard, Matt Centers and Nate Glossip all recovered fumbles for Franklin, and Rickard had an interception. Braden Woods completed 11 of 22 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns to Kinzer, who added a scoring run.
The visitors got a 6-yard touchdown run from Bailey Wallen with 2:30 left, and Brent Filbrun’s extra point made it 24-21. Franklin then went three-and-out and punted, with Brookville gettinng the ball at its own 49 with 0:56 left.
An intentional grounding call pushed Brookville backward. On fourth-and-20, Mason Stout found an open receiver around the FHS 20, but the play went as a game-clinching incomplete pass.
“The defense had to bend our backs,” said Centers, a junior linebacker. “It was a little scary, but I had full faith in my team that we’d get the job done. When ‘Don’t Back Down’ by Tom Petty came on, I looked up to the sky and just said to myself, ‘I love this.’ You get a sensation going through your body. It’s the greatest feeling ever.”
Jacob Vore and Justin Eyler had rushing TDs for the Blue Devils, but Wallen was the offensive conductor with 150 yards on 22 carries. The senior went over the 2,000-yard mark for the season, setting a new school standard with 2,035 yards.
Wallen also had 13 tackles at linebacker and blocked a punt.
“We shot ourselves in the foot way too many times and couldn’t bring ourselves back up,” he said. “It’s our last game, so we were going to fight like hell and give everything we’ve got. I believed we were going to win all the way to the end. But Franklin came out and wanted it more and didn’t make as many mistakes as us. They deserved it.”
Of his historic surge to the 2,000-yard plateau, Wallen said, “I couldn’t have done it without my whole grade all through pee-wee and the high school teams I’ve played with. It’s been a great ride. My dad’s been telling me ever since I was in pee-wee just to run through kids and never stop moving my feet, so that’s what I’ve been doing. He was right. I’ve got to give him props.”
Hetrick said Wallen is a rarity, a player who does all the right things when nobody’s watching.
“Best running back in the league, bar none,” Childers said. “Our defensive guys just kept him bottled up. All we had to do was keep banging and tackling and tackling. I don’t know how many yards he ended up with, but we contained him and never let him get loose all the way, and that was the difference in the game.”
The injury bug has depleted the Franklin backfield so much that Kinzer, a standout receiver, has been asked to carry the ball.
He ran 24 times for 61 yards Thursday while catching seven passes for 136 yards.
“It’s a pretty different transition, but I like it,” Kinzer said. “I’m fine with whatever. They put me there and I just run the ball for them.”
Centers contributed 42 yards on four runs for the Wildcats. Matt Schneider kicked a 23-yard field goal and three extra points.
“It was everything you could imagine,” Centers said. “Playing on Thursday, the cameras on you, a great crowd, a great student section, people from other schools around the area coming out … it’s just a surreal moment. We’re going to keep focusing on us. It’s not about who we play next. It’s about us and what we do on the field.”
F: Jared Kinzer 51 pass from Braden Woods (Matt Schneider kick)
F: Schneider 23 field goal
F: Kinzer 5 run (Schneider kick)
B: Justin Eyler 5 run (Brett Filbrun kick)
B: Jacob Vore 10 run (Filbrun kick)
F: Kinzer 43 pass from Woods (Schneider kick)
B: Bailey Wallen 6 run (Filbrun kick)