ADRIAN, Mich. – The atmosphere was fantastic at Performance Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the Adrian College football team hosted its first-ever NCAA Division III playoff game. The visitors however quieted the partisan crowd as Franklin College flexed their muscle in a 42-10 win over the Bulldogs. Adrian finishes the season 9-2 and had their nine-game win streak come to a halt. Franklin moves on in the tournament and will face Mary Hardin-Baylor in the next round.
Adrian could not match Franklin's depth on offense as the Grizzlies were balanced with 206 rushing yards and 305 passing yards. The bigger storyline is this contest was the Franklin defense which held Adrian to just 10 points.
"Our offense has been getting all of the press since about 1964 when legendary coach Faught installed the run-and-shoot," said Franklin head coach Mike Leonard. "In the last few years however, our defense has gotten us into this position. We want to thank Adrian College for a fun atmosphere and they did a great job hosting us."
Each team started the game by trading scoreless possessions as Adrian intercepted Franklin on their second drive and then the Bulldogs coughed up the ball near midfield on the following drive. The Grizzlies took over at midfield with 3:35 left in the first quarter and marched downfield ending the first quarter at the Adrian 12-yard line. Franklin punched it into the end zone with 14:39 left in the second quarter as Sam Otley's three-yard score gave the Grizzlies a 7-0 lead. The Adrian defense would lose junior linebacker Hunter Juntunen to a leg injury in the first quarter and the Franklin defense got things going after that injury.
"It was a huge impact losing Hunter early in the game," said Adrian head coach Jim Deere. "He is basically the trigger man of our defense and like another coach on the field. Hunter is not only a good player but also we lost a good mind for the game. No excuses though because injuries are part of the game. Franklin did a tremendous job moving the ball and even if Hunter was out there, I don't know how much that would have mattered."
Adrian went three-and-out on their next drive and punted back to the Grizzlies on a short field at their own 45-yard line. Franklin drove to the Adrian 16-yard line but then took back-to-back penalties which pushed the ball to the 31-yard line. That did not seem to matter as quarterback Jonny West found teammate Kyle Linville down the home sideline for a 31-yard touchdown to give Franklin a 14-0 lead with 11:00 left until halftime.
The West-Linville combo had a huge day for Franklin as Linville finished with nine catches for 176 yards and three touchdowns. West finished 24-of-37 through the air with four scores and two interceptions. Adrian answered with their only touchdown drive of the game to cut the lead to 14-7. With the ball at the Adrian 47-yard line, senior wideout Justin Hemm drew a pass interference call which coach Leonard did not like too much. After the 15-yard step off, the Franklin bench got another 15-yard penalty to push the ball down to the Franklin 22-yard line. Junior Taylor Copacia connected with Hemm for 15 yards later in the drive down to the two-yard line and then Kyle Smock carried in from two yards with 7:52 to go in the second quarter.
West found Linville on a 58-yard pass play on Franklin's next drive which moved the ball down to the Adrian 13-yard line. Three plays later it was West finding Linville on a slant for a seven-yard score to make it 21-7 with 6:44 left until the break.
"The combo of Jonny and Kyle goes back to high school at Speedway," said Leonard. "They have played together since middle school and it shows on the field. It is fun to have these talented guys leading our offense. Kyle caught his 20th touchdown pass today which really speaks volumes about his talent. Our offense though is so balanced that opens things up for him."
Franklin increased their lead to 28-7 scoring on their fourth straight drive in the second quarter. The Grizzlies used their longest drive of the day going 83 yards in 10 plays capped off by West finding Ben Hamlin on another seven-yard slant pattern for the touchdown.
Adrian took a little momentum into the locker room as junior Dustin Salliotte booted a 26-yard field goal as time expired to make it 28-10. The field goal was set up by junior linebacker Deontae Bridgeman intercepting West and returning it 71 yards to the Franklin 14-yard line.
Adrian punted on their first two drives of the third quarter gaining just one yard. Franklin took over at their own 34-yard line with 10:54 left in the third and marched into the end zone in 10 plays as West and Linville connected on an eight-yard fade route in the back of the end zone making it 35-10 with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
Adrian gained just 31 yards in the third quarter and mustered 41 more yards in the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies rounded out the scoring at the 12:11 mark of the fourth quarter as Luke Hamm rushed in from five yards out making it 42-10.
Hemm playing in his final game caught 12 passes for 119 yards, but Franklin kept him out of the end zone. Copacia completed 15-of-24 passes for 126 yards. Adrian rushed the ball 29 times for 52 yards compared to 40 carried for 206 yards by Franklin. The run however was sweet for the Bulldogs who rewrote the history book. They captured their first MIAA outright title since 1983 and tied the school record for wins.
"The support of the campus and community has been beyond wonderful," said Deere. "We hope that this is just the beginning of growing our program into something where we win multiple conference titles and advance in the playoffs. Our senior class has been a cornerstone for the future and I can't thank them enough for their dedication and sacrifice."