What seemed like an upset in the making, in fact, a surprisingly easy Franklin High School football victory over Hunterdon Central Friday night, shifted dramatically after a one-hour lightning delay.
What ensued thereafter can be classified as another Stewart Field classic, one specially sweet for Franklin.
The Warriors opened the season with a memorable 42-41 overtime victory despite giving up a 28-point lead, then falling behind 41-34 in overtime.
They won it when junior quarterback I’zjaier Sanders threw a 22-yard pass on third down to senior Jose Benjamin to cut the lead to 41-40, then rolled out to hit Benjamin with the two-point conversion pass and the victory.
“It absolutely ranks up there, it’s Hunterdon Central you’re talking about and it’s a great way to start the season,” said Franklin coach Lou Solomon when asked if it was the greatest win he’s had since taking over in 2005. “It reminds me of an overtime win at Phillipsburg (a 24-17 double overtime win in 2007) a few years ago.”
The Warriors won the overtime coin flip, but Solomon deferred to Central, which scored on four plays with Jason Cabinda’s run and Steven Barr’s extra point giving the Red Devils a 41-34 lead.
After Eddie Lee was thrown for a three-yard loss on a screen pass, Sanders connected with Ed Rios for the TD, then hit Benjamin with teh conversion pass, the fourth time in the game the two connected. Sanders threw five touchdown passes in all.
“It was a great job of recovering in overtime,” said Solomon, whose team plays host to Phillipsburg Saturday. “Just a great win. We made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes. We can get a lot better.”
Hunterdon Central, down 28-0, rallied to take the lead in overtime, the second straight time it had played one at home. The Red Devils ended 2011 with a 34-31 overtime loss to Piscataway in the first round of the North 2 Group IV playoffs.
Franklin stopped a three-game losing streak in the series.
Central rallied to tie the game at 34 on Cabinda’s run with 1:10 left in regulation. All that was needed to likely seal a wild win was an extra point from the very reliable Barr. But a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty pushed the Red Devils back, and a poor snap made overtime very likely.
Hunterdon Central scored three unanswered touchdowns to cut the deficit to 28-21 before a 63-yard touchdown pass from Sanders to Benjamin gave the Warriors a 34-21 lead with 9:46 left in regulation. That felt like a dagger for Central, but the Red Devils crept back on Mike Knight’s 20-yard pass to Ryan Dunleavy, and Cabinda’s run.
Up 13-0 in the second quarter, Franklin recovered fumbles on the Red Devils’ 28 and 33-yard line respectively to score twice in 62 seconds. The first touchdown came on a 26-yard pass from Sanders to Benjamin — on a third-and-19. The Warriors recovered the ensuing kickoff at the Central 33 and two palys later it was Sanders throwing 25 yards to Benjamin for a 27-0 lead. The game was stopped moments later for an hour by lightning. When it resumed, senior Eddie Lee adding the extra point to make it 28-0.
Lee scored Franklin’s first two touchdowns – on a 64-yard run on the second play of the game and on a 9-yard dump pass from Sanders. Lee added the extra point for a 13-0 lead.