CEDAR PARK — From the opening kickoff, Franklin found fire in all three phases en route to a 49-20 win over Natalia in Class 3A Division II area playoffs Friday night at Gupton Stadium.
“Our effort right now is unbelievable,” Franklin coach Mark Fannin said. “These kids are clicking at the right time, and I’m very proud of them.”
Franklin advances to the regional round for the eighth time in the last 10 years. The No. 6 Lions (9-2) will face Lexington (8-3) next week at a time and location to be determined as the Eagles won their area playoff game over Taft 28-0 on Friday. Franklin opened its district slate with a 49-14 win over Lexington on Sept. 25.
“It’s definitely going to be fun. It’s always fun playing Lexington,” Fannin said of the rematch. “Coach [Kirk] Muhl over there and his staff, they do an outstanding job.”
The Lions recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff and scored four plays later to take a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
From there, Franklin found success with its reliable running game and a dominating defense as it built a comfortable 35-0 halftime lead.
“Our kids feed off momentum, and if we can ever get that momentum rolling, it just seems like it all comes together and we start clicking,” Fannin said.
Good fortunes came for Franklin when the Lions found the ball in the hands of sophomore running back Bryson Washington. His first three carries of the game resulted in 4-, 7- and 52-yard touchdown runs, and he finished the night with a team-best 85 rushing yards on six carries.
“We were really building momentum as we got down the field, and every time I got the ball, I was just seeing green,” Washington said. “The offensive line, they’re great. I feel like we’ve got the best offensive line in the state. They work their tails off. They’re not the biggest, but they’re smart and strong and they play hard.”
Altogether, Franklin’s formidable ground game gouged the Natalia defense for 370 yards on 50 carries with 15 different ball carriers.
“I’ve got a special group of backs that have that mentality of ‘do not get tackled,’” Fannin said. “Just hard-nosed football players, and as a coach, you can’t ask for better kids.”
Franklin’s ferocious effort on defense allowed the Lions to control the game. Two first-half turnovers gave Franklin great field position, and the Lions scored touchdowns off of both Natalia miscues. Most of Natalia’s offensive output came in the fourth quarter with the Lions mainly playing reserves.
“They were swarming to the ball, made some big plays at some big times, and when we’re clicking on defense, those kids are pretty good,” Fannin said.
Franklin’s lone blemishes were a pair of fumbles in the third quarter, one of which was returned 56 yards for a touchdown by Natalia’s Christopher Saldana.
Nonetheless, the Lions’ hopes of fulfilling “164” lived on another week — the team’s huddle break that refers to the miles between Franklin and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, home of the state championship game.
“We take it one week at a time, and it’s always good to be playing over the Thanksgiving holidays,” Fannin said. “We’re going to have fun with it.”
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