Last season Franklin-Simpson was blown off the field in a 48-0 rout at the hands of Johnson Central in the Class 4A football finals.
What a difference a year makes.
The Wildcats got their revenge on Saturday, riding a handful of huge plays to a 21-0 first-half lead on their way to a 35-21 victory over Johnson Central in the Class 4A championship game.
First-year starting quarterback Rylan Thomas hit Jevon Covington for a 49-yard gain on the Wildcats’ first possession, then Tré Bass got them on the board with a 30-yard touchdown run.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Franklin-Simpson again stunned the Golden Eagles with a monster play. Thomas scrambled to his left as the pocket collapsed, bought time and fired over the middle to Bass, who broke free down the left sideline for a 73-yard score.
Early in the second quarter, Thomas completed a 17-yard sideline throw to Covington that set up the quarterback’s touchdown plunge from fourth-and-goal inside the 1-yard line. Suddenly the Wildcats, who managed just 18 yards of offense in last year’s matchup, were ahead by three touchdowns and on their way to the program’s third state championship.
“Last year they just came out and thumped us hard and nobody picked us to win it this year, and we just came out so aggressive and proved everybody wrong tonight,” said Thomas, who completed six of seven passes for 195 yards and handled punting duties in his final game as a Wildcat. “We watched a ton of film on them and felt like we could control the line (of scrimmage) so we just did what we do. We’re a running team and we came out and ran the ball down their throat.”
Bass, who was a backup on last year’s state runner-up, led that rushing attack with 76 yards, averaging 10.9 yards-per-carry. He finished with 149 total yards of offense on eight touches (seven rushes, one catch).
“Tré’s an amazing player, he hits the field and works his butt off every day,” Thomas said. “All the credit goes to Tré and our offensive line.”
Bass added a 16-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter for a 28-7 lead and converted a crucial third-and-three deep in Johnson Central territory during a clock-milking drive late in the game, rushing for 10 yards to set up Carlos McKinney’s 3-yard TD run that put the Wildcats ahead 35-14 with 6:35 left to play.
Franklin-Simpson Coach Doug Preston said the Wildcats’ main goal was to win the war in the trenches this time around.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is to come out and be physical for 48 minutes, and I think the big thing they pride themselves on is wearing you out in 48 minutes. And we didn’t wear out. We came out with a great start and kept hammering them ... I think that really was the difference.”
Johnson Central’s offense found little room to breathe most of the night. Well over half of the Golden Eagles’ 246 yards came on three plays: A 49-yard touchdown pass from Riley Preece to Seth Dalton that cut the deficit to 21-7, a 62-yard TD connection between Preece and Dalton to make it 28-14, and a 67-yard pass from Preece to Blake Gamble that set up Gamble’s 7-yard TD run for the game’s final score with just over a minute to play.
Saturday’s win gives Franklin-Simpson its first title since its back-to-back crowns in 1979 and 1980. Former University of Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips was the quarterback for those championship squads.
So, did the Wildcats use last season’s beat-down as motivation for this season’s triumph?
“We didn’t talk about last year any until right before we came on the field, and we told them it was time to show what Franklin-Simpson football really was,” Preston said. “We said ‘win or lose, we’re gonna be fighting them for 48 minutes’ ... if we do that, we’ll be state champions. And here we are.”