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Story and Video By SAM McGAW

The battle for first place of District 11-AAA goes through Ravenwood Friday when the Raptors take on the Franklin Rebels in the Humdingers’ Game of the Week.

Ravenwood battles Franklin for control of District 11-AAA in the Humdingers' Game of the Week (Produced by Sam McGaw)

Franklin (6-1, 3-0) at Ravenwood (7-0, 3-0), 7 p.m.*

When the Ravenwood Raptors and Franklin Rebels met over each of the past two seasons, it took more than four quarters to decide the outcome.

In 2012, Ravenwood edged Franklin 20-16 in overtime to earn its first win of the season. Last year, a 1-yard touchdown pass from former quarterback Avery Jankowski to wide receiver Van Jefferson helped seal a 24-23 victory in OT.

Ravenwood’s defense has given up 2.5 yards per rush this season (Photo by Deb Scally for BHP)

With the top spot in District 11-AAA on the line this time around, the Raptors hope they can win in a much easier fashion.

“We just have to do our job and play like we’re capable of,” said senior safety Nick Barton, who’s recorded 12 tackles and three interceptions. “Obviously on defense, our goal is to hold them to no points, and on offense our goal is to score on every possession. If we do that, we’ll win the game.”

Led by inside linebacker Jeb Stewart (58 tackles, 12 TFL, 1 TD) in the front-seven and Barton in the secondary, Ravenwood’s defense has held teams to 5.86 points and 152.86 yards per game this year.

“Their defense is unbelievable,” said Franklin head coach Donnie Webb. “We can’t take bad penalties and bad plays in the backfield to allow them to turn that defense loose. It’s proven they’ve been able to take advantage of other teams’ mistakes in every game they’ve played.”

For the Raptors, they’re looking forward to the challenge of taking on Franklin’s talented offense.

“We know they have a really good quarterback that can pass it all over the field,” Stewart said. “They have pretty good running backs, but what they really like to do is get the ball up to (Garrison Mathews). I think we’re going to be good about the secondary. The secondary has always got us locked down.”

Franklin QB Joe Critchlow has passed for 4,569 yards, 51 TDs and 12 interceptions in his career (Photo by Steve Wheeler for FHP)

Franklin senior quarterback Joe Critchlow, a three-year starter, has completed 69.8% of his passes for 1,243 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions this season. He’s also scored two touchdowns on the ground.

With playmakers such as tight end Garrison Mathews (19 rec., 372 yds, 4 TDs), and running backs Malik Grimes (423 rush yds, 10 TDs) and Brice Milam (415 rush yds, 10 TDs) surrounding him, Critchlow has led the Rebels to an average of 37.86 PPG.

“Critchlow has a good arm — we’ve seen that from film,” Barton said. “He can throw the ball deep really well. He’s probably one of the best in our district at throwing the deep ball, so we just have to play our coverage, read our keys and make sure no one gets behind us.”

In order for the Rebels to put points on the board, they have to continue establishing balance between the run and pass.

“The run game and pass game go together,” Webb said. “We have to be able to throw and catch it on the outside. That will open up the running lanes. The bottom line is, we just need to do our job because they are very sound in what they do and we just can’t let them dictate the intensity of the game.”

On the other side of the ball, Ravenwood’s potent offense will look to overcome a Rebels’ defense that’s allowed 13 points or less in all but two contests this season.

“They’re aggressive and play really hard,” said Ravenwood quarterback Cole Brown. “They never take any plays off. They’re very physical. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Ravenwood head coach Will Hester said he believes Franklin’s coaching pushes its defense over the top.

“Basically, their scheme is very good, and then we think they’re as talented in the back end as any team we’ve played in the secondary,” he said. “Then, they may not be the biggest, fastest or strongest guys up front, but they do a wonderful job of being where they’re supposed to be.”

The Raptors will continue opening the passing game by their establishing dominance on the ground.

Running back Seth Rowland leads the team in rushing with 766 yards and nine touchdowns. His younger brother, Chris, has 366 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

Ravenwood RB Seth Rowland (24) is averaging 7.3 yards per carry (Photo by Deb Scally)

When the Rowland brothers get rolling, opportunities in the passing game become more available for Brown (1,180 pass yds, 285 rush yds, 10 TDs, 5 ints) and wide receivers Van Jefferson (33 rec., 505 yds, 6 TDs) and Austin Percy (33/552/3).

“They score so fast and so easily on people,” Webb stated. “We can’t just let them run the ball with ease. It’s a double-edged sword, because if you want to just try and stop the run, you’ll have to deal with (Jefferson) and (Percy) on the outside. Obviously, both of those guys are really good players. We just have to make them drive the football.”

Webb said a lot of pressure will be put on his secondary to make sure Jefferson and Percy don’t turn small-yardage receptions into huge gains.

“I think the big thing for them is yards after the catch,” he said. “If they catch the football, which they’re going to, we have to tackle them and make sure they don’t break away for big plays.”

A key factor in this matchup will be the turnover battle. With eight interceptions and eight fumble recoveries this season, the Raptors enter this week with a +6 turnover ratio, while Franklin (5 FR, 2 ints) is +3.

“Ravenwood is such a good football team and they’re so well-coached in everything they do,” Webb said. “We just have to play our game and not make silly mistakes. It’s cliche, but it’ll come down to turnovers and penalties.”

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