FRANKLIN, Ind. – Playing in front of a packed house on homecoming afternoon, the Franklin College football team battled the Rose-Hulman Fightin' Engineers in another instant classic at Faught Stadium.
Facing a fourth-and-10 with under 30 seconds to go, the Grizzlies (3-1, 2-0 HCAC) got the go-ahead touchdown on a 31-yard strike from Braden Smith to Ben Fleet, stunning the Engineers (1-4, 1-2 HCAC) and giving the Grizzlies a 42-39 win.
The score capped a career day for the senior wideout from Indianapolis, as Fleet set new career-highs with 10 catches for 235 yards and a pair of scores. Fellow senior wideout Brad Bonomini hauled in eight balls for 142 yards and a score, providing a major spark in helping the Grizzlies overcome a 14-point first half deficit.
"Every game is like a new day in life and you have to attack it," Head Coach Mike Leonard said. "Things didn't start off too well but I'm so proud of the way this team persevered. I was going to be proud of these guys whether or not we won or lost because of the way they fought back."
"We know we're always going to be challenge by Rose-Hulman," Fleet added after the game. "These games are always fun and it's even more fun to come out on top on homecoming."
Down by a score midway through the opening quarter, the Grizzlies evened things up with an eight-play, 65-yard drive capped by a one-yard scoring run by Jacob Earl. But the offense would stall on their next few drives, giving the Engineer offense a chance to open up a 21-7 lead following back-to-back scoring drives.
The Franklin defense came up big late in the first half, with senior David Masayile picking off two Andrew Dion passes to keep the deficit at two scores. Following the second pick, the Grizzlies drove 85 yards on six plays, getting within a score on Earl's second TD run from four yards out.
After forcing a three-and-out on the Engineer's opening drive of the second half, the Grizzlies evened things up on a 16-yard pass from Braden Smith to Bonomini. Following another Rose punt, the Grizzlies took their first lead of the day on a one-yard run by Austin Grunden, but a missed PAT meant the lead sat at 27-21.
The Engineers answered with back-to-back scoring drives to re-take the lead, but a pair of blocked point after attempts meant the lead sat at 33-27 with 8:16 to play. Franklin wasted no time responding, scoring just 1:10 later on a seven-yard strike from Smith to Fleet with the PAT making it 34-33 Grizzlies and setting up a dramatic finish.
Rose-Hulman put together a methodical 13-play, 73-yard drive that burned up over five minutes of clock and was capped by a two-yard run from Derek Deimel that made it 39-34 with 1:58 to go. The high-octane Franklin offense marched right down the field before facing a 4th-and-10 with 27 seconds to play.
On their final offensive play of the game, Smith lobbed a deep ball into the back of the end zone, where Fleet made a leaping grab over a Rose-Hulman defender, sending the Franklin faithful into a frenzy on the sidelines and on the field.
The two teams combined for nearly 1,100 yards of offense on the afternoon with Franklin holding an edge in total yards, 559-511. Smith went 26-for-47 for 438 yards and three scores through the air while Earl led the team with 85 yards on 22 carries. Defensively, Austin Fleming's 10 tackles topped all players with Logan Hale's nine stops setting a season-high.
Franklin heads out on the road for each of their next two games, starting with a trip to Defiance, Ohio next Saturday (Oct. 6) for a meeting with the Defiance Yellow Jackets. Kick-off is set for 1:30 p.m.