FRANKLIN, Ind. – Franklin College today routed arch rival Hanover 58-29 at Faught Stadium to win its third straight HCAC championship outright and earn the conference's automatic bid to next week's NCAA Division III playoffs.
The two-time defending champion Grizzlies finished their regular season schedule with an unblemished 8-0 record in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference and an 8-2 overall mark. FC also won its 26th consecutive HCAC contest.
The Panthers, who were looking to gain a share of the league title and take the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney by virtue of HCAC tie-breaker criteria, finished 6-2 in the league and 6-4 overall.
Ranked 16th in the D3football.com Top 25 Poll and 21st in the AFCA Division III Coaches Poll this week, the HCAC champions now await their assignment from the NCAA selection committee, which will release the 2012 Division III playoffs bracket on Sunday night.
After having to punt on its first possession and then spotting Hanover an 8-0 lead on a 4-yard touchdowm pass from the Panthers quarterback Dexter Britt to star receiver Daniel Passafiume (and two-point conversion run by Spencer Corrao), the Grizzlies fought back and took over.
So much so, FC scored on nine of the next 10 times it had the football. Three of those TDs came after the Griz defense made an interception.
Franklin answered Hanover's first score two minutes later when junior quarterback Jonny West hit senior running back Luke Hamm with a 14-yard TD pass.
The Grizzlies went ahead 14-8 when sophomore Kyle Holzbog took a 4-yard scoring toss from West to capitalize on the host's first interception provided by junior cornerback Zack Corpe.
Franklin all but delivered the knock-out punch in the second period, putting 31 points up on the Faught Stadium scoreboard in the quarter.
West hit senior split end Ben Hamlin on a 7-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the period. Franklin then scored on a 17-yard run by backup QB Grant Welp to capitalize on the Grizzlies' second pickoff, which was made at midfield by sophomore free safety Jameson Brock.
FC scored three more times before halftime when West bulled in from 1 yard out after junior linebacker Jordan Segner returned an interception 63 yards to the 1-yard-line, and then hit junior split end Kyle Linville with a 9-yard scoring strike.
Senior kicker Cole Richards booted a 26-yard field goal as time ran out before the break.
Franklin added one TD in the third and fourth quarter on its way to an eighth straight triumph over the Panthers.
West hit Linville with a 1-yard dart with 8:12 left in the third period before sophomore running back Joey Pasquale scored on a 6-yard run early in the fourth to cap the day's scoring.
Hanover's other scores were made by Jacob Noger, who made a 17-yard grab of a Britt pass late in the second quarter, Britt on a 8-yard scramble up the middle in the third period, and Passafiume again, who this time hauled in a 41-yard pass from Britt, which also was in the third quarter.
West completed 29 of 43 passes for 315 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions, leading a Franklin offense that amassed 504 total yards.
Linville finished with nine catches for 128 yards and two scores.
Hanover's Britt was good on 28 of 36 pass attempts for 283 yards and three TDs, but had three passes picked off.
Franklin's defensive leaders included Corpe and Segner, who both made nine total tackles and set up a touchdown with an interception. Junior linebacker Scott Moore contributed 8 total tackles.