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Story and Video By SAM McGAW

The Franklin Rebels and Centennial Cougars battle for second place in District 11-AAA on Friday.

Franklin battles Centennial for second place in District 11-AAA Friday (Produced by Sam McGaw)

Franklin (7-2, 4-1) at Centennial (8-1, 4-1), 7 p.m.*

Second place in District 11-AAA will be decided Friday night when the Franklin Rebels visit the Centennial Cougars.

The Rebels are reeling off two straight games that went down to the wire, including last week’s 34-33 overtime win against Independence.

It doesn’t get any easier for them this week when they face a Centennial team that’s having one of its best seasons in school history.

Centennial RB Deon Sanders (2) has 1,087 total yards and 11 TDs (Photo by Andrew Dyrdal for FHP)

Featuring the duo of talented running backs Deon Sanders and Tyrel Dodson, as well as one of the area’s top wide receivers in Missouri commit Emanuel Hall, the Cougars’ offense has the ability to light up the scoreboard at any given moment.

“If you want to load the box to stop Deon and Tyrel, you’ll be sitting there with an SEC commitment out there by himself at wide receiver,” said Franklin head coach Donnie Webb. “It’s going to be a challenge for us because both of those backs also have the potential to play at the next level. We just have to get a lot of people to the football and hang on.”

Sanders leads the way on the ground with 174 carries for 970 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also has 14 receptions for 117 yards and one score.

Dodson’s carried the ball 35 times for 452 yards and eight touchdowns, while Hall has caught 31 passes for 677 yards and 10 touchdowns.

While the trio has plenty of big-play ability, CHS head coach Brian Rector said a big factor for his offense’s success will be how well it can sustain drives.

“Keeping the chains moving is the key for us on offense,” he said. “If it’s throwing a hitch because it’s open out there, let’s throw a hitch. If it’s being patient with 4-yard runs, let’s do 4-yard runs.

“We have to be able to run the ball, we have to throw accurately and protect the quarterback. I think if we can do those things, the chances of us being successful are much better.”

Franklin quarterback Joe Critchlow threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Luke Hill against Ravenwood (Video by Sam McGaw)

The Rebels’ offense is led by one of the district’s top quarterbacks in senior Joe Critchlow.

Critchlow enters this week with 1,819 passing yards and 23 touchdowns (3 run, 1 receiving).

While he has shown he can put points on the board, one of the bigger reasons for his success has been his ability to protect the football, as he’s thrown only four interceptions this year.

“He does a great job of making good decisions,” Rector said. “He’s going to be a phenomenal player at the next level because you can tell he knows how to manage a game and that he can stay cool, calm and collected. I think there’s a pretty good shot we’ll all be hearing about Joe Critchlow in the years to come.”

A big reason Critchlow has found open lanes through the air is because of his team’s efficiency in the run game.

The Rebels average 143 rushing yards per game.

Leading the way for them on the ground are running backs Malik Grimes (559 rush yds, 10 TDs) and Brice Milam (472 rush yds, 178 receiving yds, 11 TDs).

Because of the balance the duo provides, opposing defenses have been unable to focus on stopping just one aspect of the Franklin offense.

“Not only do they have one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the district, but they also have a couple of really good running backs,” Rector said. “To go along with that, they have some tall, sure-handed receivers.”

Critchlow’s top targets in the passing game are 6-foot-5 tight end Garrison Mathews (29 rec., 505 yds, 4 TDs), 6-3 wide receiver Parker Pinnell (21/279/2), and 5-11 wide receivers Luke Hill (19/311/5) and Carson Young (24/291/3).

The Cougars will look for cornerback Kevon Prince (13 tackles, 1 int), linebacker Tyrel Dodson (36 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 ints) and safeties Trent McDermott (43 tackles, 4 ints, 1 FF) and Peyton Pisacane (65 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR) to make a big play every time Critchlow passes the ball.

Franklin RB Malik Grimes rushed for 91 yards against Independence (Photo by Steve Wheeler for FHP)

“What we have to do is have great position and do our best to win the routes and win the pass defensive battle in the first five yards,” Rector said. “Our players can’t play in stilts, so we have to do the best we can with the situation.”

A player that has come up big for the Rebels recently is Hill, who’s racked up five receptions for 143 yards and four touchdowns over the past two weeks.

“The big thing for him and the offense as a whole is just doing what we’re supposed to and we take what’s given,” Webb said. “If he is the option, Luke is always capable taking it to the end zone, and he has been able to make some big plays here in the last few games.”

Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s game, both teams will move on to the Class 6A playoffs. However, a second-place finish in the district will likely lead to a first-round home game, which will be crucial if the seeding puts these two programs on a crash course with one another.

“It’s going to be crazy because we could turn around and play each other again,” said Webb. “It’d be nice to have at least one week before that happens, though.”

Sam McGaw is the sports editor for Franklin Home Page. Email him at [email protected]. You can also follow him on Twitter @SamMcGawSports.