Here is a report on Friday’s Franklin-Smoky Mountain football game from correspondent Marlon Morgan:
SYLVA – After picking up a hard-fought, 21-7 victory at Smoky Mountain High Friday night, this week’s homecoming game will take on a whole new meaning for Franklin.
The Panthers haven’t played a game on their field since September 11. But that hasn’t stopped Franklin from improving 5-2 overall, 3-0 in the WNC Athletic 2-A/3-A Conference.
“It’s always nice to get back home and our kids take a lot of pride playing at home and defending home turf,” Franklin coach Josh Brooks said. “We’re looking forward to that. It’s been a tough go for the last five weeks, but our kids have handled it awesomely.
“I think it’s a testament to my coaching staff and the preparation they put in, but it’s also a testament to our kids. They just take it to the field. It doesn’t matter if it’s home or away. They’re playing with great effort right now. We’re making a lot of mistakes, but we’re making them playing full speed. I don’t want to tone that back. I just want to keep fighting.”
That effort saw the Panthers defense stifle the Mustangs offense for most of the night, thanks to Franklin’s ball-control offense that allowed the defense to remain fresh.
The Panthers got 140 yards rushing from Kelton Lowry on 24 carries, and just enough key passes from quarterback Jackson Perone (5 of 14 for 48 yards and a touchdown) to keep Smoky Mountain guessing.
“It was a tough game. We had to earn everything we got,” Brooks said. “It was a big win for us on the road. You can tell Smoky was very well-coached. They were prepared to play and they played with a lot of effort. Tonight was a challenge for us and that’s what we needed.”
The Mustangs scored on the game’s opening drive when quarterback Chase Fisher, who returned to the lineup after being sidelined with a hamstring injury, connected with Eli Cole on a 60-yard touchdown pass.
Franklin got on the board late in the first half when on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Perone to Jordin Nugent. The point after touchdown was missed, giving the Mustangs a 7-6 halftime lead.
The Panthers scored on their first possession of the second half on Lowry’s 30-yard run, followed by a two-point conversion on Perone’s pass to Hunter Gibbs. From there, Franklin’s defense shut down the Mustangs. Smoky Mountain had just three second-half first downs and was intercepted twice.
The Mustangs were unable to run the ball, picking up just 39 yards on 24 carries. That allowed the Panthers to focus on blitzing Fisher, who completed 8 of 14 passes for 70 yards and had defenders in his face most of the night.
“We didn’t execute very well offensively,” Smoky Mountain coach Dave Napert said. “They brought a lot of blitzes on us. Defensively, we played pretty solid. We were on the field too long.”
“We need to protect our quarterback better. He needed a chance to get the ball out of there and we weren’t getting very good pass protection. They took (the run game). They pretty much always do. They’ve got one of the best defenses around. They did a great job beating us upfront.”
Franklin will host North Henderson Friday while Smoky Mountain entertains East Henderson.
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