The Cinderella season continues for the Franklin Admirals.
An 18-yard strike from Connor Beavon to Taylor Spierto with just 0:04 to go propelled the Admirals to a 31-28 win over the hosting Ravenwood Raptors in playoff action Friday evening at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood.
The win advances Franklin into the 6A state quarterfinals in the unlikeliest of postseason runs.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say how overly excited we are to be here,” Franklin head coach Donnie Webb told Home Page after Friday’s instant classic.
Beavon delivered a masterful performance, completing 23-of-34 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns to deliver the Admirals its fourth straight victory.
Connor Garner added 69 all-purpose yards and 3 TDs, while Spierto (12 receptions, 116 yards, 1 TD) and Carson Repass (6 rec., 111 yards) both hauled in 100+ receiving yards for Franklin, who enjoys its deepest postseason run since 2016.
It was clear from the outset that the night was destined for a wild finish, as defense was strictly a rumor throughout a furiously paced opening quarter. Ravenwood struck first, racing out the gate on its first offensive drive in two weeks—having advanced to the second round following a forfeit by Stewart’s Creek due to a school COVID-19 outbreak.
Trevor Andrews engineered a 53-yard opening drive capped by an 18-yard touchdown pass to All-American senior tight end Jake ‘Drago’ Briningstool (6 receptions, 81 yards, 1 TD) to give the Raptors an early 7-0 lead.
Neither it nor momentum would last very long.
Beavon needed just six snaps to march the Admirals down field, connecting twice each with Spierto and Carson Garner, the latter hauling in a 40-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the 1st quarter.
Ravenwood immediately responded, as Andrews found Ross Johnston (5 rec., 75 yards, 1 TD) just two plays later. The Raptors pulled ahead 14-7, only to suffer a major blow two drives later. A pass intended for Johnston instead found its way to Caleb Anderson, who ran it back to the Ravenwood 6-yard line before being taken down by Andrews.
The touchdown-saving tackle cost Ravenwood its starting quarterback. It wasn’t evident until the following drive, when Andrews was forced to leave the game after favoring his right leg. The sequence came shortly after Franklin’s Garner scored for the second time, this time on a 3-yard run out of the wildcat to tie the game at 14-14 with 2:57 to go in the quarter.
“Trevor’s presence on the field is more than just making plays, he’s a leader and the team looks to him when things are tough,” Ravenwood head coach Matt Daniels told Home Page. “So, missing that was big but we did just enough to overcome.”
Jacob Stewart would take over the Raptors’ offense, doing so with short field position. The 6’4” senior was unable to take advantage, coming up one yard short on a risky 4th down conversion attempt to turn the ball over on downs. The drive signaled a defensive surge on both sidelines, as neither team was able to find the end zone for the remainder of the half.
Ravenwood would turn to its run game to take the lead early in the second half. Justin Smitherman (10 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD) compiled all 51 yards of offense on the Raptors’ second drive of the 3rd quarter, including a 40-yard dash to put Ravenwood ahead 21-14.
Two Franklin drives were stifled by Ravenwood’s stellar offense, including a 4th down stop by All-American linebacker Junior Colson (12.5 tackles, 12 solo, two for loss).
At some point, though, the dam had to break. Beavon and the Admirals’ offense managed to chip away on a lengthy mid-quarter drive, capped by Garner’s hat trick after scoring on a 3-yard pass to tie the game at 21-21 with less than 15:00 to go in regulation.
If there is a statistic that will come back to haunt the Raptors, it will be failing to put away the game following two key Franklin turnovers. A pair of fumbles by Bryce Sparks (15 carries, 48 yards) provided dramatic moments in the 4th quarter, though the first such instance saw Ravenwood unable to convert into points.
Franklin made the second-chance opportunity count. AJ Elliot drilled a 35-year field goal to give Franklin its first lead of the game, 24-21 with 5:31 to go.
Ravenwood wasn’t done yet, though.
The defending regional champions refused to go down without a fight, admirably anchored by its second-string quarterback. Stewart came through in the clutch, lofting a 16-yard pass into the arms of Lee Molette to give Ravenwood a 28-24 lead and forcing Franklin to find a way to march the length of the field in less than a minute.
Where there was a will, there was a way.
Brilliant time management saw the Admirals advance 40 yards in just 0:44 of game time. Franklin used its final timeout with just 0:07 to go, with 3rd and 1 on the Raptors 18-yard line after a 9-yard scramble by Beavon in his only run of the night for positive yardage.
Fortunately, only his arm was needed for the Admirals’ final offensive play of the night.
Beavon sailed the ball into the right corner of the end zone, where Spierto literally dropped to his knees in hauling in the game-winning touchdown.
“Time and time again, Connor has come up huge for us,” stated Webb. “These incredible plays with Carson Repass, with Tyler Spierto—Connor has been throwing to them since the sixth grade."
Franklin denied Ravenwood any breathing room on the final kickoff, sealing the improbable win while advancing to the Class 6A state quarterfinals for the first time in four years.
“Obviously we always knew we had it in us to make it this far,” notes Webb. “However, this group—so many times when we get a score, we found a way to lose.
“Tonight, we found a way to win it.”
Fittingly, that same 2016 season marked the last time Franklin beat Ravenwood, having lost its last four meetings before Friday’s comeback win, including a 42-21 defeat this past September.
The difference between 2016 and now was the fact that Franklin was expected to advance that far back then. The Admirals were just 4-5 four weeks ago and fortunate to sneak in as the lowest seed in the Region 5/6 bracket. It was all the room they needed.
“Our district is so tough, we knew that we just had to make it to the playoffs to give ourselves a chance to succeed,” noted Coach Webb.
His theory is supported by the 49-13 trouncing of Region 5A champion Smyrna Bulldogs one week ago which breathed new life into Franklin’s season.
Of course, its fantastic finish against defending Region 6A champion Ravenwood will be discussed for years to come—even if not quite the conversation expected to take place amongst Raptor nation.
“Super proud of the guys for rallying around each other,” Coach Daniels said afterward. “We did just enough to overcome (Andrews’ injury) and put ourselves in a position. Obviously, we didn’t close it out there at the end.
“Congratulations to Franklin. They played a heck of a game. We are so fortunate to have gotten 11 games in this year; it will certainly be something we remember for the rest of our lives.”
Ravenwood drops to 7-5 on the season, having won four of its previous five in its greatest effort to ignite a hoped-for second straight run towards Crossville and the Blue Cross Bowl state championship.
Franklin improves—in every sense of the word—to 7-5 overall, including a four-game winning streak heading into next Friday’s quarterfinal showdown. It comes versus the Brentwood Bruins, who enjoyed its own 31-28 comeback win over Independence to once again advance this far in the postseason.
For both teams, it’s a familiar sighting and just the latest chapter in a longstanding friendly gridiron rivalry.
“This is the fifth time that Franklin and Brentwood have met in the state quarterfinals,” pointed out Coach Webb. “I’m just excited for two schools to bring back some history.
“We’re just excited to be playing Week 13.”