Posted: Nov 07, 2018
The Opening Kick
The final weekend of the regular season swws one of the oldest rivalries in the game commence as Franklin and Hanover meet at Faught Stadium in the 88th installment of the Victory Bell Game. The stakes have never been higher for the two teams, with the winner set to take the 2018 HCAC regular season championship and earn the league's automatic berth into the 2018 Division III playoffs.
Last Time Out
The Grizzlies opened November with a gritty, hard-fought 28-24 win over Bluffton one week ago, keeping their perfect conference record intact. Trailing at halftime and early in the fourth quarter, Franklin turned to their ground game and defense to secure a win over the Beavers to set up this week's showdown for the conference title.
Braden Smith threw for 225 yards and rushed for a pair of touchdowns. Austin Grunden recorded 100 yards in a game for the first time in his career, rushing for a pair of scores and helping the Grizzlies run out the clock in the fourth quarter.
A complete recap is available on page 12 of the game notes.
Hanover is guided by third-year head coach and former Franklin assistant Matt Theobald, who has the Panthers in a position to win their first conference championship since the 2003 season.
Junior AJ Breit will guide the Hanover offense on Saturday after taking over at starting quarterback earlier this year. Breit is completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,042 yards and 15 touchdowns to just five interceptions this year.Junior wideout Jackson Daugherty has been the team's top target this year, hauling in 42 passes for 653 yards and six scores. Jared Frank has been the team's top threat near the goal line, leading the team with nine touchdown catches.
In the backfield, the Panthers will turn to junior Jake Namisnak and sophomore Walt Ballinger to pick up the ground game in the absence of Shawn Coane. All three backs have appeared in nine games wtih Coane's 1,058 rushing yards good for second in the conference coming into this week. Ballinger has found the end zone twice and is averaging 6.6 yards per carry with Namisnak's three scores and 4.5 yards per touch not far behind.
Defensively, the Panthers have been a stifling unit, limiting opponents to just 16 points and 260 yards per game, the fewest of all HCAC schools. Linebacker Kyle Treber's 82 tackles leads all players and ranks fifth in the league in total stops. Zach Dauer's 6.5 sacks leads the Panther defense while Brody Dell tops the squad with three interceptions.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
After 87 matchups between the two rivals, the all-time series sits even at 42-42-3. Recent history has been kind to the Grizzlies, with Franklin winning 13 straight bell games dating back to 2005. Franklin head coach Mike Leonard is 13-2 all-time against his alma mater.
It has been business as usual for the Franklin offense this season, depsite hefty turnover coming into the year. The Grizzlies' 574.4 yards per game and 270 total first downs are the most in Division III. Additionally, Franklin ranks second in third down conversion percentage (55.7%), fifth in passing offense (349.8 ypg) and sixth in scoring offense (46.1 ppg).
Thank You, Seniors
Prior to the opening kick, the Franklin football program will recognize its senior class and thank them for their hard work on the field and in the classroom over the last four years. This year's senior class consists of: Brad Bonomini, Michael Eisberg, Paul Eisberg, Logan Feigel, Ben Fleet, Austin Fleming, Spencer Fox, Logan Hale, Chaz Hill, Tim Kreczmer, Andrew Longstreth, David Masayile, Elliott Parmer, Devin Parrish, Zak Prater, Tyler Reed, Ryker Stout, Bryan Wells and Austin Woiteshek.
Head of the Class
The always-potent Franklin air attack has been powered by the duo of Braden Smith and Brad Bonomini, and each player sits at the top of the conference rankings coming into this week. Smith's 338 yards per game through the air is tops in the conference while his 28 touchdown passes against just four interceptions ranks second in the league. Bonomini tops all receivers with 127.4 yards per game and 1,147 receiving yards, both good for second nationally.
Picking Their Spots
Seven different Grizzlies come into this weekend with interceptions, all of whom picked off their first career passes at some point this year. Masayile and Alex Frey lead the team with two INTs each, followed by one from Fleming, Evan Stambaugh, Rob Witham, Chaz Hill and Dyllan Shelley.
The second Division III regional rankings debuted on Wednesday afternoon with Franklin ranked eighth in the North Region. The Grizzlies are the lone HCAC representative in the top-10.
Alone at the Top
Franklin sits all alone in first place in the HCAC and on the cusp of their 11th outright conference championship in the last 12 years. Since the 2007 season, the Grizzlies have been dominant against the rest of the HCAC, going 93-5 against league foes.
Around the HCAC
Conference play wraps up this week with four games taking place around the league. Mount St. Joseph is the lone team on a bye in the final week of the year. The other three games of the week are as follows:
Manchester at Anderson, 1:30 p.m.
Earlham at Rose-Hulman, 1:30 p.m.
Defiance at Bluffton, 1:30 p.m.
Follow the Action Live
Saturday's game will be broadcast live on GrizTV, sponsored by the Hubler Automotive Group. Sam Weiderhaft will have all the play-by-play action. Live stats will be available at franklingrizzlies.com and in-game updates will be provided on Twitter by following @FCGrizAthletics.