TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – With first place on the line in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) on Saturday afternoon, the stage was set for an epic encounter between the Franklin College football team and the Fightin' Engineers of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
Fans from both teams were treated to a battle between the class of the HCAC. Almost a year after suffering their last conference loss, the Grizzlies (5-2, 5-0 HCAC) avenged last year's defeat against the Engineers (6-2, 5-1 HCAC), erasing a second half deficit to earn a 29-22 comeback win.
"I'm really proud of our guys' character and how they responded to adversity today," Head coach Mike Leonard said after the game. "We tell them they're going to face adversity in life and it's all about how they respond. Today they responded positively."
Senior quarterback Chase Burton had another big day, going 32-for-54 for 467 yards, becoming the second player in program history to record 10,000 career passing yards. Burton also threw for three scores and ran for one more, moving into a tie with Jonny West for the most touchdown passes in program history with 104.
After each team was forced to punt on their first possessions, the Grizzlies found pay dirt on their second series of the afternoon. Franklin went 76 yards in 12 plays, capped with a one-yard quarterback sneak by Burton that made it 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Following a Rose-Hulman field goal on the following possession, the Grizzlies used the big play to set up their second score of the opening frame. Franklin traveled 73 yards in eight play, the biggest coming courtesy of a 34-yard pass from Burton to Tanner Wroblewski that put the Grizzlies deep in Rose territory. Burton capped off the drive with an eight-yard strike to Deontez Alexander in the corner of the end zone that made it 14-3 Grizzlies.
The hosts got back within a score on their first drive of the second quarter, cutting the Franklin lead to 14-9 on a 24-yard score from Andrew Dion to Noah Thomas. The two defenses would dictate play the rest of the half, keeping the offenses out of the end zone the rest of the way and giving Franklin a lead heading into the break.
Rose-Hulman got the ball to open the second half and wasted no time taking their first lead of the day, marching down the field on their first possession of the half for a touchdown and a 15-14 lead. Following a Franklin punt, the Engineers followed up with another quick touchdown drive, putting the Grizzlies in a 22-14 hold midway through the third quarter.
Franklin would commit their only turnover of the day on their next possession, and the Engineers had a chance to take a commanding lead. But the Franklin defense came up with a momentum-shifting fourth down stop, keeping the Grizzlies within a score as they took over with 4:37 left in the quarter.
Dormant for nearly 30 minutes of game action, the Franklin offense fed off that stop and answered with a four-play, 72-yard drive that was capped with a 21-yard scoring pass from Burton to Lee Wroblewski. The two seniors would connect on a two-point conversion to even up the game at 22 with 3:34 left in the third.
Fazaun Stephens' picked off his first pass of the year on the next Rose drive, and the Grizzlies turned to the big play to re-take the lead. Burton connected with Alexander for a 64-yard score with eight seconds left in the third, giving the Grizzlies a 29-22 lead and setting the stage for a dramatic fourth quarter.
The Franklin defense continued their relentless pursuit over the final 15 minutes of play, holding the Fightin' Engineers without a first down. On the other side of the ball, the Grizzlies dominated the time of possession battle over the final quarter, as the offensive line cleared plenty of room for Jordan Brown to run and drain out the clock.
It was a banner day for the Franklin offensive line. Rose-Hulman entered the game with the most sacks in Division III, but they were unable to sack Chase Burton once on Saturday. The Grizzlies' 192 yards on the ground is the second most yards allowed by an Engineer defense this year.
"The key to the game was our offensive line. Chase did a great job stepping up in the pocket and avoiding their rush. Our coaches had a great scheme for the run game but our players did a great job executing that game plan. We were able to run the ball for chunks of yards at a time late and keep their offense off the field."
Franklin racked up 659 yards of offense while the Engineers finished with 496 yards on the day. For the first time this year, the Grizzlies won the time of possession battle, holding the ball for a season-high 33:41.
Senior Austin Fleming topped the Grizzly defense with 10 stops on the day. Fellow seniors Trace Rooks, Jay McClain, Nathan Warman and Tyler Reed all recorded nine stops on the afternoon, with Reed leading all players with 1.5 sacks.
Now, the Grizzlies can turn their attention to next week's homecoming game, which takes place on Saturday, Oct. 28 against Mount St. Joseph. Kickoff from Faught Stadium is set for 1:30 p.m.