For Franklin on Friday night, it wasn’t how the Rebels started the fourth quarter but how they finished it.
After giving up a fumble for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to fall behind visiting Hillsboro 17-7, Franklin scored 21 straight points in the final 10 minutes of the game to come from behind to defeat the Burros 28-17.
“They are a really good defensive football team with a lot of really good athletes, and they were giving us trouble,” Franklin coach Donnie Webb said. “We knew going in their front four were going to be very hard to block. That’s why you stay the course, keep doing what you’re doing, and we came through in the end.”
The game marked the return of former Franklin coach Craig Clayton, who was dismissed after last season and is now in his first season as coach at Hillsboro (3-2, 1-1 11-AAA).
Hillsboro actually forced a Franklin punt on its next possession following the Burros’ touchdown on the fumble recovery in the end zone, but the Burros fumbled the punt and the Rebels (3-2, 1-1) recovered at the Burros 45.
Franklin marched downfield from there and scored on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Joe Critchlow to tight end Garrison Mathews to cut the deficit to 17-14.
The Rebels then elected to try an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and successfully recovered at the Hillsboro 45.
“The little things matter, and we have been practicing that kick for about six weeks. Little Joe Defatta hit it perfect,” said Webb, referring to the kick.
Critchlow then tossed his second touchdown pass of the game to receiver Luke Hill to put the Rebels ahead to stay 21-17 with 3:24 left to play.
Hillsboro quarterback Porter Streator then fumbled deep in his own territory, setting up Franklin’s final score, a 14-yard touchdown run by running back Nick Hardemon.
Despite a slow start, Critchlow hit on his final six passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
“It felt unbelievable,” Critchlow said. This was a big win for us and to be able to come back is really good, too.”
Franklin’s defense did not allow a first down in the second half and held running back Robert Kelley to minus-13 yards rushing for the game.
It was a defensive struggle in the first half, but the Franklin defense was opportunistic early. Defensive end Zach Bacon intercepted a Streator pass on Hillsboro’s second possession of the game and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead.
Both teams found it difficult to generate much offense in the first half, combining for four first downs.
The Burros finally got something going offensively on their last possession of the first half. Streator hit tight end Micah Phillips on a 37-yard gain to the Franklin 12. The drive stalled from there, but Joseph Occhipinti connected on a 31-yard field goal just before halftime to cut Franklin’s lead to 7-3.