Prep football: Rickard, Wildcats like playing the takeaway game

Kyle Rickard sees himself as just one part of a Franklin High School defense that is powered by a basic philosophy — get the ball away from the other guys.

“Last year, we had a goal of 40 turnovers. This year, we had 50 turnovers as a goal,” said Rickard, a senior free safety for the Wildcats football team. “We’ve just been working to get the ball out and get it in our hands and get the ball back for our offense in good field position.”

Following that premise has helped Franklin continue to win this season despite a dizzying amount of injuries, including a pair in the secondary.

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The Wildcats (8-2) will make their fifth playoff appearance in the last seven years at home Friday night against New Richmond (8-2) in a Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal.

“It’s time to go,” Rickard said Tuesday before practice at the school. “We’re pretty hard to beat at home, and hopefully we can keep this train rolling.”

Franklin coach Brad Childers noted that his team only had four regular-season home games this year, so another contest at Atrium Stadium is a great thing. The stadium should be covered in red and black, the school colors on both sides.

“I think it’s going to be a lot like it was last Thursday night,” said Childers, pointing to the Wildcats’ 24-21 win over Brookville in a Thursday Night Lights matchup that closed the regular season. “I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere.

“It’s unbelievable with this many injuries, but these kids keep grinding. I’ve said it time and time again: I’m so proud of these guys and these coaches. Our goal is just to be a little bit better than we were last week and give us an opportunity to get to the next round and see what happens there.”

Franklin’s defense has 31 takeaways this season. The Wildcats have been limited to less than two only once, getting zero in a 34-3 loss to Valley View in Week 5.

Sixteen of those takeaways have been interceptions, led by senior Jared Kinzer with four. Rickard and sophomore Logan Willis have three apiece.

“Last year with the corners and safeties, they were all seniors, so all of us underclassmen had to step up this year,” Rickard said. “We’ve made an emphasis to … not get beat over top. It’s paid off.”

Rickard saw some varsity action last year, but was mostly a special-teams player while backing up Noah Kremer at free safety.

In 2017, Rickard has three fumble recoveries to go along with his three picks. And all six of those pivotal plays have come in the last four games.

“Here’s what it is — the game has slowed down for him,” Childers said. “These last four weeks have gone as they should for kids who get better each week. He understands the defense better. He’s doing a lot better job of reading the quarterback and understanding what the offense is trying to achieve, so it’s put him in those positions to make plays.”

Rickard missed the first four games in 2016 with mono. He said the 2017 campaign is “more than what I expected. It’s an honor to be out here with these guys kicking it. It’s fun.”

Kinzer and junior Zach Bowermaster are playing cornerback for Franklin, and senior Logan Clark and Willis are safeties.

Childers noted that Willis and Bowermaster have stepped in and raised their games since Xack Arnwine and Clay Winstead joined the Wildcats’ expansive disabled list.

“We’re next man up,” Rickard said. “We like to give the young people some love. Us seniors, it’s our job to make sure that they know the position that they’ve moving up to.”

New Richmond junior quarterback Josh Anderson will challenge Franklin’s secondary. He’s a dual threat with 1,007 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground and 1,845 yards and 21 TDs through the air.

“Coach (Frank) Russell is really good at mixing up coverages and causing quarterbacks to have to think a little bit more instead of just being reactionary,” Childers said. “We have some ball hawks.

“We’ll try to catch New Richmond off balance a little bit and make Anderson feel a little bit uncomfortable and make him make a mistake. If he’s putting it in the air, that means he’s not running it, so we’ve got a chance in that situation to get a touch on the ball or maybe another pick.”

Friday’s game

What: Division III, Region 12 quarterfinal, New Richmond (8-2) at Franklin (8-2), 7:30 p.m.

Where: Veterans Memorial Field at Atrium Stadium, 301 E. Sixth St., Franklin

New Richmond playoff history: 4-6 in six appearances (1999, 2000, 2001, 2009, 2015, 2016)

Franklin playoff history: 5-10 in 10 appearances (1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1993, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016)

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