What seemed like an upset in the making, in fact, a suprisingly easy Franklin High School football victory over Hunterdon Central Friday night, changed dramatically after an hour-long lightning delay. What ensued thereafter can be added to the list of Stewart Field classics — especially sweet for Franklin.
Fraknlin scored a memorable 42-41 overtime victory despite giving up a 28-point lead, then falling behind 41-40 in overtime. The Warriors won it when junior quarterback I’zjaier Sanders threw a 22-yard pass to Jose Benjamin to cut the lead to 41-40, then rolled out to hit Jose Benjamin with the two-point conversion pass and the victory.
Down 28-0 in the second quarter, Hunterdon Central rallied to take the lead in overtime, the second straight time it had played one — the Red Devils lost to Piscataway 34-31 in overtime in the first round of the North 2 Group IV playoffs last November at Stewart.
Franklin, which stopped a three-game losing streak in the series, won the toss to start overtime, but coach Lou 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. But the Warriors answered behind Sanders, who threw four toucdhown passes to Benjamin, the last one in overtime.
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 Barr. But a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty pushed the Red Devils back, and a poor snap prolonged the mystery.
Hunterdon Central covered a poor snap on a Tyler Gray punt attempt with 3:15 remaining in regulation. After a delay of game penalty pushed the Red Devils’ quarterback Mike Knight went right for two yards, , then threw to 20-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Dunleavy. Central trailed 34-28.
Hunterdon Central cut its deficit to 28-21 in the third quarter with three unanswered touchdowns before Sanders’ long touchdown pass to Benjamin gave the Warriors a 34-21 lead.
Conditions couldn’t have been more different than the last time Hunterdon Central and Franklin met. The Warriors found the heat and dry green of Stewart Memorial Field’s turf much more agreeable than navigating a blizzard on a natural surface. The only real threat Franklin faced early was the lightning that forced about an hour delay with 7:03 left in the second quarter. The game was stopped moments after Sanders threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to senior Benjamin, who was wide open in the end zone. At just after 9 p.m., senior Eddie Lee added an extra point to make it 28-0.
Senior Eddie Lee scored on a 64-yard run on the second play of the game, then caught a nine-yard dump off from Sanders for another score.
After Sanders’ touchdown passes of 26 and 25 to Benjamin, Hunterdon Central found itself down four touchdowns. But the second half — and a bit more — proved much, much different before Franklin recovered to score a memorable season-opening win.