PISCATAWAY – Piscataway put a damper on Thanksgiving dinners throughout Franklin for the ninth year in a row yesterday, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
The Chiefs needed a 16-yard touchdown run by Elijah Barnwell with 12 seconds remaining to break a deadlock and finally subdue the pesky Warriors with a hard-fought 29-22 victory.
Franklin never led but did manage to tie the contest at 22-all following a a safety midway through the fourth quarter when a muffed Piscataway snap rolled out of the end zone. That was merely one of a handful of odd plays in an often bizarre affair in which Franklin (2-8) battled evenly with Piscataway (7-3) for all 48 minutes.
“While we felt good coming into the game, it’s a rivalry game,” said Piscataway coach Dan Higgins, after his team increased its edge in the series to 27-21-3. “I was just so proud of how we finished, overcoming so many things. That’s the news of the day for me. They showed so much courage under so much adversity.”
Piscataway may still have been feeling the effects of its shocking home-field loss to Union in the first round of the playoffs 12 days ago but it looked like its usual champion self on the game-winning drive, marching 80 yards in five plays in 58 seconds. Barnwell, who carried 26 times for a game-leading 129 yards and two touchdowns, finished the drive by circling the left side on Piscataway’s “stretch” play off left tackle.
“I was just very patient and let my blocks set up. When I saw what I had I exploded and scored,” said Barnwell, who completed a stellar junior campaign with 23 touchdowns and more than 1,700 rushing yards. “We needed a big play throughout the whole game and I was trying to produce that but Franklin played hard and made it tough on us.”
The Warriors had plenty to be proud of as well, including the performances of Darius Gibson and Nile Uzzell. Uzzell completed 10 of 19 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown but was intercepted three times, including the game’s final play at midfield by Piscataway quarterback Daniel Haus. The versatile Uzzell carried 11 times for 71 yards and one touchdown and caught four passes for 104 yards and another score.
“Our kids played with a tremendous amount of heart and effort today,” Franklin coach Louis Solomon said. “We didn’t make the plays we needed today to win the game, but we played really well.”
The pace of the game was established early after Piscataway required a mere three plays to travel 72 yards for its first score, a 45-yard run by Zaire Ashley and Franklin answered with a 95-yard return for a touchdown by DeAndre Taylor.
Piscataway began the fourth quarter with a failed fourth-and-1 from its 29 but Franklin came away empty despite having a first-and-goal from 3, as two bad snaps in the shotgun lost a combined 30 yards. That drive ended with an interception deep in the end zone that Joshua Boyd returned to the 3, setting up the fumble on the next play that enabled Franklin to tie the score with the safety.