NHIAA D-VI Football Championship: Franklin showing nice finishing kick
Franklin at a glanceRecord: 8-2
Win streak: 3 games
History: Four state titles won by the program, last one in 2008.
Captains: Kody Benwell RB-Lb; Ian Jipson OL-DL; Sam Barry OL-DL; Nate Grevier DL
Other key players: Jake Jameson, RB, DB; Kory Parent, RB-LB; Pat Kaplan, OL; Brandon Butterworth RB-DB-P
It's not how you start, but how you finish.
Franklin started the season on a down note, losing 26-13 to Mascoma in Canaan in the Division VI opener for both teams.
The Tornadoes are hoping the season ends differently Saturday when both 8-2 teams clash for the state title in a 1 p.m. start at Hanover High.
"It seems like we've been in the playoffs the last two weeks," said Franklin assistant coach Jeff Kaplan. "Our last regular-season game was against our rival, Bishop Brady, a team we hadn't beaten since 2001. There was no guarantee that we were already in the playoffs entering that game. But our guys pulled out a (32-26) tough win in the late stages."
In the semifinals last week, second-ranked Franklin encountered third-seeded Campbell of Litchfield, a team Kaplan said "is very talented and in my opinion, was the team to beat at the time we played them in the regular season. If you ask me, beating them in the regular season (32-29) was the turning point in our season. We won that game on the road and it showed we were a young team coming of age. It gave us confidence and ended up allowing us to host Campbell in the state tournament."
In a defensive battle, Franklin ended up outlasting Campbell, 14-10, last week, setting up the rematch with top-ranked Mascoma.
"For our division, Mascoma has very good size," said Kaplan. "In our division, a lot of teams go through a four-year cycle of building their team for a championship run. After years of taking a beating, this was the year Mascoma was handing out the beatings. In four of their games this season, they scored 40 or more points."
In the regular-season loss to the Royals, Kaplan said two big plays made the difference. "They returned a kickoff for a score and scooped a fumble for another touchdown return," he said. "You can't do that against a senior team like Mascoma."
Kaplan serves as the team's offensive and defensive line coach. He saw how effective Mascoma's running game is up close.
"They like to steamroll you with their running game," he said. "They'll push you for three yards, push you for another three and then bang, they'll pop a long one on you. They have an explosive double-wing offense."
To counter Mascoma's offense, Kaplan said "ball control on offense is important on our end. Turnovers and special teams will also be a key. In championship games, it's important to establish field position. You always want to make your opponent start their drives deep in their territory."
Kaplan said Franklin will look to first-year sophomore starting quarterback Bruce Carey to manage the team in the biggest game of the season.
"With any young quarterback, you're always going to see mistakes and he's made his share," said Kaplan. "But to his credit, he's learned from them. Believe me, he's going to be a very good quarterback by the time he reaches his senior season."
Kaplan joined Greg Husband's staff in 2009 and credits the head coach for leading his program to its fourth championship game since 2005.
"He keeps it simple and our kids love playing for him," said Kaplan. "We have between 40 and 50 kids on our roster and that's a lot for a Division VI school."
Kaplan said the championship game is being held at Hanover High because the NHIAA deemed Mascoma's grassy field unplayable because of recent inclement weather. Hanover has a turf field.
"You'd think a team like Mascoma with their size would prefer playing in the mud on a grass surface, but to me it's a wash," said Kaplan.
When asked how Mascoma would handle its first-ever appearance in a championship game, Kaplan said "good question. I don't know the answer, but we'll find out soon."