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October 20, 2012It is Franklin's 10th year of varsity football and it may not have a bigger win on its resume than a 17-7 road win over Elk Grove to remain undefeated at 8-0. The Wildcats used a power running game and stifling defense to gain control of the Delta River Conference and the Sac-Joaquin Section pecking order.
Elk Grove's running game has been tough to slow down for the better part of two seasons, but Franklin did an outstanding job in the win. Elk Grove was held to 120 yards on less than three yards per carry. Playing with back-up quarterback Guy Scott-Hall (starter Tommy Arnold was suspended for discipline issues), the Thundering Herd were consistently in low percentage down and distances especially with a non-existent passing attack. They had 15 plays of one yard or less for an offense which is built on moving the chains and then breaking long runs. Robert Frazier finished with a hard 85 yards on 24 carries while Wadus Parker finished with just 13 yards. Before tonight, the lowest yardage output of the year for Elk Grove was 322 yards against Lincoln-Stockton.
"We practiced really well. We used Kyran (Harris) and Christian (Fonbuena) on scout. We had such a great week of scout. We used our two starting linebackers and they were their linebackers," Franklin head coach Mike Johnson said. "The week was tough. I think it helped."
Keys to the Wildcats' success were play recognition and speed to stretch out plays and not allow Elk Grove to turn the corner. The top performer was junior linebacker Joey Banks, who has an explosive first step to the ball and was a constant in the backfield. He is a sure tackler and despite being a little undersized, is a hard hitter.
"The best part about Joey is he played under control. Joey tends to sometimes spiral all over the place," Johnson said. "He had his best game. What a great night to have your best game."
Offensively, with plenty of formations to go from, Franklin was multi-dimensional on Friday to tally 392 total yards (184 rushing and 148 passing). Possibly the most important was the play of senior quarterback Trent Spallas, who completed his first six passes in going 9-for-16. He was able to attack soft spots in the zone and also go outside with comeback routes and taking shots downfield. Dionte Young was the top receivers with four catches for 97 yards. However, Spallas' most important throw came with Franklin up 10-7 in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats were facing a 3rd and 8 from Elk Grove's 45 yard line when Spallas found Damion Sanders on a 15 yard comeback route. Harris scored a 27 yard touchdown two plays later to put Franklin up 10 points to start the fourth quarter.
"I knew we couldn't be run, run, run on them. Even though I thought we ran better than expected, but we had a game plan to change up our calls a lot," Johnson said. "Trent was fabulous. That was exciting. I'm excited for him."
While the passing game was vital in the win, Franklin's offensive foundation is in the power running game. With looks ranging from the shotgun spread and the I-formation, the Wildcats averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Fonbuena finished with 81 yards on 15 carries while Harris played the role of closer in going for 65 yards on 11 carries including 50 yards on his last five attempts. The Wildcats also ran wide receiver sweeps with shifty athlete Trevon Lampley, but it was his pre-snap movement and subsequent hard counts which were most valuable in drawing numerous offside penalties for the Thundering Herd defense.
Coming into the game, Northern California saw De La Salle in the top tier with Elk Grove alone in the second tier and teams like Franklin, Bellarmine, Serra, Folsom and Placer in the third tier. Friday's result drops Elk Grove into the general pool of teams fighting to be paired with De La Salle in a likely Open Division regional bowl game. However, perception will persist as Franklin rises to the top team in the city, Sacramento region and section with two weeks left in the regular season.
"We've talked about it all year. Sometimes it's not easy being No. 1," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of pressure. We'll see how that works."