Following injuries to two other running backs, Jacob Clark became the go-to guy in the Livonia Franklin offense – and go he did Friday night!
Clark rushed for 190 yards on 20 carries and scored four touchdowns to lead the host Patriots to a 33-30 playoff win over visiting Farmington.
He opened the scoring with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Denzel Adams, and he later burst through the line for scoring runs of 28, 54 and 33 yards.
“I’m taught to follow my main man, (right tackle) Bobby Madley, through the hole,” Clark said. “I go right off his butt just like coach tells me to do. As soon as I see daylight, I have to go as fast as I can. That’s pretty much it.”
Franklin coach Chris Kelbert and Clark said the real credit goes to Madley and the other interior linemen – Josh Retting, Dan Domzalski, Joe Fortin and Jax Gasaway.
“Jacob is a great football player, but our offensive line is phenomenal,” Kelbert said. “We had three running backs run that position. Jacob was the third guy and he just picked up where they left off, because that offensive line does a great job.”
In that regard, it was a program win for the Patriots (7-3), who will play at Jackson for a Division 2 district championship next week.
Clark has been part of the mix of players in the Franklin backfield all season, but he became the featured back after Nate Binkiewicz and Isaac Moore were injured.
“It was unfortunate both got hurt,” Clark said. “When people get hurt, you have to step up and fill their roles. When someone has a broken leg, you have to be that extra leg.
“I came out here and supported them and, once again, I could not have done it without my line.”
The 5-foot-10, 186-pound junior has been averaging seven to eight carries a game. He had 14 the previous week and a season high Friday.
“I didn’t expect to get the ball that much,” Clark said. “I’m not complaining. It’s really a blessing; it really is.
“Sometimes, you have to put the team on your back, and it’s not only me. It’s the whole team. It was a team effort, and I’m proud to call myself a Patriot.”
Franklin also had a 55-yard touchdown run by Adams that gave the Patriots a 19-14 lead in a see-saw second half.
Adams had 110 yards on 13 carries, but Franklin didn’t need him to take over the game since Clark was carrying the bulk of the workload.
“He commands a lot of attention,” Kelbert said of Adams, who completed 2-of-3 passes for 34 yards. “When defenses have to focus on him because he is so good, it opens it up for the other guys.”
Clark’s 54-yard run put Franklin on top to stay, 26-22, early in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots were driving for an insurance score after Chris Nehasil’s interception.
On fourth-and-two at the Farmington 46, Nehasil got the call but fumbled at the end of a 13-yard run. Gasaway fell on the loose ball, and Clark scored again on the next play.
“My heart stopped for a second and my stomach went,” Nehasil said. “Then I saw we recovered it, and it was the best feeling in the world. I knew we had it in us when we did that.”
The Falcons led 14-13 at halftime, following Kyle Brunson’s 27-yard run and Daylen Baldwin’s 38-yard pass reception from JDrew McGovern.
Each team missed a PAT, but McGovern ran for the two-point conversion after the Baldwin touchdown.
Brunson was injured early and didn’t return. David Reese moved to tailback and rushed for 76 yards on a dozen carries. In the second half, Zach Purry had 83 yards on eight rushes.
Purry’s 43-yard run put the Falcons (5-5) in the lead, 22-19. Reese had a 3-yard run for a touchdown with two minutes left in the game. McGovern’s pass for two made it 33-30.
“They hit a couple home runs, a couple big plays, and that was the thing we couldn’t give up – and we did,” Farmington coach John Bechtel said of the Patriots.
“I thought our kids played hard. We overcame some adversity. It was just a well-played game. Give them all the credit. That offense is awfully tough to slow down, and we didn’t get it done.”
Franklin had a 354-333 edge in total yards, including a 320-238 advantage on the ground. McGovern was 4-of-8 passing for 95 yards.
“At halftime, we told the kids, ‘We’re a second-half football team. We just have to go out and play even harder in the second half,’” Kelbert said. “I thought we did that.
“We had been preaching all week it was going to take a great effort on our part and we got it.
“We’re going to play our best game of the year next week no matter who we play.”