Panthers get the best of Devils in the second half

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Late in the second quarter of Friday’s game at Franklin, Swain County had the ball and was driving. The game was tied 7-7, and the Maroon Devils had designs on taking the lead before halftime.

However, a lost fumble led to a Franklin scoring drive, capped by a touchdown 17 seconds before halftime. The Panthers got the ball to start the second half, scored another TD, and rolled to a 42-21 victory.

Turnovers continue to plague the Maroon Devils, who fell to 1-3. They lost two fumbles against the 4-0 Panthers.

“That was killer,” Maroon Devils Head Coach Neil Blankenship said of the first fumble. “Tie ballgame, had the ball, driving right before half. … All of sudden they had the ball two times in a row. That hurt.”

While Swain kept it close in the first half, the Panthers broke it open by scoring on four straight possessions, and five out of six, to build a 42-14 early in the fourth quarter.

“I think they just wore us down there toward the end in the second half. We’ve got a lot of kids going both ways and they ended up wearing us down,” Blankenship said.

“They’ve got a good football team. We didn’t make plays at times we had the chance. We turned the ball over at crucial times. And that hurt us.”

It was Franklin’s fifth straight win over Swain, and 11th in the past 12 years.

“They were playing a lot of kids both ways,” FHS coach Josh Brooks said. “We felt like we could get them wore down. It’s a four-quarter game. We wanted to play 48 minutes tonight. They pride themselves on being tough and being physical, and they do that. But so do we.”

The Maroon Devils scored first, capitalizing on excellent field position after a fake punt by Franklin gave them the ball at the 25-yard line. After converting a fourth down to keep the drive alive, freshman Bryce Sain scored on a 12-yard run.

Franklin mustered only one first down in the opening quarter. It came on a quarterback sneak on fourth down on the final play of the quarter. Swain’s defense caught the Panthers by surprise and held their prolific running game in check – for a while.

“Their running game is so strong,” Blankenship said. “We had to give ourselves a chance and try to overflow certain sides. We knew they were going to counter it, and they found some things they could pick on us.”

Franklin finished with 432 rushing yards and six TDs. Grant Stiles rumbled for 181 yards and two scores, while Brock Kloeppel tallied 154 yards and four scores.

Despite giving up 35 unanswered points, Swain refused to quit. Brodie Bowman broke a 50-yard TD through the middle of Franklin’s defense to make it 35-14 with 10:35 left in the fourth quarter.

After Franklin’s final TD – a 52-yard run by Stiles – the Maroon Devils put together another scoring drive. Hunter Burrell capped it with a 4-yard run.

Swain scored 14 points against Franklin in the fourth quarter. It’s the first time this season FHS has allowed points in the final quarter.

“I think our kids will fight,” Blankenship said. “We’ve just got to quit hurting ourselves. We’ve turned the ball over too much during this stretch here. We got to quit turning the ball over, because it hurts. We can’t continue to do that because it puts us in a bind. And we’ve got to stop big plays. They had some long runs.”

Swain finished with 172 yards on offense: 134 rushing and 38 passing.

Thanks to his long TD run, Bowman led Swain with 75 yards on the ground. Burrell added 40 yards rushing, while Keshaun Beaner amassed 34 yards.

Bowman went 4-for-10 passing for 38 yards. Brier Younce caught two passes for 32 yards, while Sain caught two for 6 yards.

William Paul led Swain with 10 tackles. Other tackling leaders were Ice Littlejohn (nine), Wren Gunter (eight), Thomas Allen (seven), Zeke Bradley (five), Tanner Wiggins (five) and Younce (five).

Franklin overcame an abnormal game in regards to penalties. The Panthers were flagged 14 times for 120 yards. The Maroon Devils didn’t have an accepted penalty (they were called for holding in the first half that Franklin declined in favor of a tackle for loss).

On the flip side, Swain lost two fumbles compared to zero turnovers for Franklin.

Swain is off this week before traveling to Hayesville on Sept. 22 to begin Smoky Mountain Conference action.

“We’ll practice to get better,” Blankenship said. “We’ll look at some things we’ve been struggling with throughout the first part of the season, because we won’t be prepping for anybody yet. What we’ll do is work on Swain, work on what we’ve got to do to get better. Take next week and work on that and then start working on conference the next (week). But we’ve got to work on Swain first.”

Smoky Mountain Times

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