SPRING HILL – Last November 15, Citrus junior wide receiver Sam Franklin didn’t make it out of the first quarter of the Class 6A, Region II quarterfinal after throwing a punch at Springstead wide receiver Brandon Geiger.
On Friday night at Booster Stadium, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Franklin wasn’t thrown out for a flagrant foul and assessed a six-week punishment by the FHSAA for any unsporting behavior, instead he landed the final blow in a scoreless game.
On the last play of regulation, Eagle junior quarterback Victor Koerick, in his first varsity start (2-of-6 passing for six yards and six carries for 1 yard rushing), was picked off by Franklin.
Behind a couple key blocks, Franklin raced along the far sideline – in front of the CHS bench – traversing 76 yards with the pick-6 in Citrus’ improbable 6-0 win.
The season-opening setback dropped SHS to 22-17 lifetime in lid-lifters.
Franklin’s dazzling return – the Golden Hurricanes’ game-high third turnover against the usually ball-security conscious SHS – left Inverness’ first-year skipper Justin Taylor speechless in the wake of his first-ever varsity tilt.
“Before that last pass, I prayed to God he’d give me the strength to do something,” recalled the 18-year-old Franklin. “They had just tried the same pass on the other side of the field, so, yeah; I thought it was coming my way.
“After I grabbed the ball, I got a couple great blocks including one from (Andrew) Swicegood,” said Franklin. “And I turned it into a great play. Sure, I made that last play, but I can’t take credit for the win. We’re a team here; we love each other.”
“Right now, there are no words,” insisted Coach Taylor, the Canes’ 19th skipper since 1951. “I’m extremely happy with all the hard work the guys have put in.”
On Franklin’s last-second return, “We put Sam in there late in the game for a reason. He’s a special player and we thought that if he could get his hands on the ball, we’d have an opportunity (to score).”
In a game where the Hurricanes offense alternated Desmond Franklin and Ryan Grow under center, CHS was muzzled to 81 total yards on 34 snaps (2.38 yards per play) and zero offensive points.
The Eagle defense featured pressure from inside linebackers Dylan McLeod, Conor Ross (forced fumble, plus a sack), Kevin Rivera (fumble recovery), Joseph Trautman and Zack Lawrence.
The ’Canes departed home with three first downs including none in the second half.
Even when the ever-present Sam Franklin came through on special teams to block an Eric Stevens punt, the visitors set up shop at the Eagle 6 and couldn’t score with 7:30 left in the game when placekicker Joe Kelly pushed a 27-yard field goal attempt wide right.
CHS’ rushing offense managed 30 yards on 18 attempts led by senior Breon Whaley’s seven carries for 23 yards.
Despite yielding 195 total yards, including 189 on the ground – led by Eagle senior Daniel Wright’s 26 carries for a game-high 127 yards – the Inverness crew never collapsed.
Of the Hurricanes’ three takeaways, senior linebacker John Bronson recovered a Wright fumble on a pass, but the offense stalled settling for one of their game-high five punts.
“No matter what happened we never got down,” explained Coach Taylor on the keys to the game. “We knew we’d be a in a dogfight for 48 minutes. Even after we didn’t score on first-and-goal, we continued playing good defense.
“The biggest positive I take away from this is when you fight, good things will happen,” added Taylor.
Despite a 12-3 advantage in first downs and a definitive edge in time of possession, the closest the Eagles came to offering a second offensive option to Wright was senior Robert Holdway’s seven carries for 40.
After the game, SHS’ second-year mentor Mike Garofano remained composed.
“One last play made the difference, but no one play wins or loses a football game,” detailed Garofano as he dropped his second straight season-opener. “They (Citrus) made one more play.”
Without reviewing videotape, “We definitely struggled to finish drives,” pointed out Garofano. “And we lost the turnover battle, which we normally win. They get a first-and-goal on our 6-yard line and we held them. They don’t score against our defense, so we played really well defensively.
“I thought we handled their athleticism. And they’ve got some skill guys who’ll be playing on Saturdays,” noted Garofano. “But we had some of the best hits I’ve seen in a while, too. The effort was definitely there.”
Rewinding the game’s final snap, “On the last pass play, had we checked down and gotten 10 yards, we still had one timeout left,” explained Garofano. “We were going to try to win it with a field goal. Instead, the guy that gets thrown out against us last year wins it for them.”
Citrus 6, Springstead 0
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
CIT 0 0 0 6--6
SPG 0 0 0 0--0
CIT – S. Franklin 76 interception return (no kick attempted)
First Downs 3 12
Atts./Rushing Yds. 34-81 50-189
Comp./Pass Atts./Int. 6-16-0 2-6-1
Passing Yds. 51 6
Total Offense 34-81 56-195
Fumbles/Lost 3-1 2-1
Return Yards 2-0 2-20
Punts/Avg. 5-36.8 3-18.7
Penalties 6-38 7-47