Centennial rallies to beat rival Franklin with special teams plays

Centennial rallies to beat rival Franklin with special teams plays

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Centennial rallies to beat rival Franklin with special teams plays

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FRANKLIN — Special teams played a major factor when rival Centennial visited cross-town rival Franklin in Friday evening’s season opener.

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Centennial wide receiver Austin Waddell (5) catches a pass in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown against Franklin with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter on Friday, August 19, 2016, in Franklin.

Centennial wide receiver Austin Waddell (5) catches a pass in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown against Franklin with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter on Friday, August 19, 2016, in Franklin.

The Cougars struggled in what’s considered the third phase of the game … until the third quarter.

That’s when Centennial junior Tavion Fleming made the first of two special plays of his own.

Fleming’s 89-yard punt return shifted the momentum, turning a 10-point deficit into a one-score game.

“I caught it and made the first man miss,” Fleming said. “I saw my teammates in front of me. They guided me.”

Though the host squad extended the lead back to 10 points, Fleming was in the right place again after his team scored on Austin Waddell’s 66-yard reception with 1:13 remaining. Fleming recovered Andrew Knight’s ensuing onside kick, and Waddell caught the game-winning 34-yard scoring pass with 18 seconds remaining, giving the Cougars their only lead at 28-24.

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“We have a first-year kicker, and we have not been doing a great job of kicking onside kicks,” Centennial first-year coach Matt Kriesky said. “I didn’t think we were going to get it, but we executed well.”

Special teams impacted things earlier in the half as Cougar punter Senturian DuReaux booted a 47-yard punt in the third quarter that rolled dead at the Rebel 6. However, the favorable field position was erased due to a Centennial penalty.

“We work on our special teams every day,” Fleming said. “Monday, we do kickoffs. Tuesday, we do punt return. We rotate them every day.”

The ensuing punt was downed at the Rebel 22, and Franklin junior Carter Hendry connected with a wide-open J.P. Batarseh for a 78-yard touchdown on the next play.

Earlier in the game, DuReaux’s knee touched the ground while fielding a snap while in punt formation. That led to Christopher Miller-Hill’s 23-yard field goal that created a 10-7 lead for the Rebels at halftime.

“That’s the difference in the game,” Franklin coach Donnie Webb said of the Fleming’s special-teams heroics. “We have to be able to do the little things, getting lined up correctly and covering punt correctly.”

Reach Craig Harris at crharris@tennessean.com . Follow him on Twitter @CHTennessean. 

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