LISLE, Ill. – The Franklin College football team kicked off the 2019 season on Saturday (Sept. 7) night, taking on the Benedictine Eagles in a rematch of last year's season opener.
The Grizzlies (0-1) out-gained the Eagles (1-0) 446-356 on the night and racked up over 250 yards on the ground. But four turnovers, including one in the final two minutes, proved costly as the Eagles earned a 26-25 upset win.
The Eagles opened the game with a 14-play, 90-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown, but Franklin answered with a 13-play scoring drive of their own that ended when Jacob Earl scored from seven yards out on fourth down. After stuffing the Eagles on downs, the Grizzlies took their first lead of the game with 7:53 to go in the first half when Carter Brown booted home a 23-yard field goal.
But the Grizzlies' final two drives of the half came up empty and the Eagles would re-take the lead with a touchdown and field goal in the last three minutes of the half. After 30 minutes, the Eagles held a 16-10 lead.
Franklin got the ball to open the second half and burned six minutes off the clock for a 14-play drive that ended when Braden Smith connected with Brock Finkbiner on a 10-yard score to make it 17-16 Grizzlies. The FC defense force a three-and-out on the Eagles' next drive, but a muffed punt gave the ball back to the hosts with a short field. Four plays later, the Eagles took the lead back with a field goal that made it 19-17.
After each team's next drive ended with a turnover, Franklin got the ball back with 11 minutes to play. Another methodical scoring drive followed, with the Griz traveling 69 yards on 10 plays with Smith firing a dart over the middle to Ryan Poole for a 19-yard score, the first of Poole's career. The two connected on the ensuing two-point conversion, putting Franklin up 25-19 with seven minutes to play.
Benedictine held the ball for the next five minutes before facing a fourth-and-one on the Franklin 17. The Grizzlies stuffed the Eagles on fourth down with Dante Darden and Michael Heading stopping a quarterback sneak to get the ball back with 2:11 to play.
But the momentum faded two plays later when Earl was stripped on a second down carry and the Eagles fell on the ball deep in Franklin territory. Two plays following the fourth Franklin turnover, the Eagles found the end zone and added the extra point to re-take the lead with 43 seconds to play. The Grizzlies moved the ball as far as midfield before time ran out.
Smith went 28-for-41 through the air for 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Mattoon, Ill.-native added 60 yards on the ground on seven carries. Earl finished with 107 yards on 24 carries with a score while adding five catches for a team-high 39 yards. Eight different Grizzlies hauled in at least one pass with Earl, Jordy Jackson and Finkbiner leading the team with five catches each.
Franklin opens play at home next Saturday (Sept. 14) night, when they welcome Albion College to Faught Stadium for Alumni Night. Kick-off is set for 6:00 p.m.