FRANKLIN, Ind. – All the spoils went to the victor at Franklin College's Faught Stadium today.
The Grizzlies captured the Victory Bell trophy, their third Heartland Conference outright football championship in four years and their third automatic bid to next week's NCAA Division III playoffs in a 48-25 decision over arch rival Hanover College.
Franklin finished its HCAC schedule with an unblemished 8-0 mark and improved to 9-1 overall. FC, ranked 24th in the D3football.com Top 25 Poll this week, will find out its NCAA playoff assignment on Sunday afternoon.
Senior quarterback Kyle Ray completed 34 of 41 passes for 361 yards and five touchdowns and ran for a score, senior split end Matt Zmich made 11 catches for 101 yards and three TDs and Franklin's defense held the upset-minded Panthers to just 29 net yards rushing and 153 yards of total offense to help the Griz defeat Hanover for the sixth straight year.
In most of their conference games this season, the Grizzlies had the game well in hand by halftime, but despite being mostly stymied by FC's defense from scrimmage, the Panthers held strong.
Hanover fell behind 14-0 when Ray scored on a 1-yard sneak and then passed to Zmich for a 9-yard touchdown in the opening quarter. But the visitors got on the scoreboard when senior Daniel Passafiume broke loose for an 84-yard kickoff return for a score.
Ray, who leads all Division III quarterbacks in passing efficiency, struck again with arm, hitting sophomore split end Kyle Linville this time for a 31-yard touchdown. But Hanover again pulled to within a touchdown by recovering a Franklin fumble on the host's own 2-yard-line and scoring on a pass from junior quarterback C.J. Croft to sophomore running back Colton Zeck.
In the second period, Franklin scored twice as Ray hit Zmich with a 5-yard TD strike and senior running back Darryl Stott rushed for a 1-yard touchdown, but gave up a 2-yard TD pass from Croft to junior tight end Matt Robinette to cap the Panthers' longest sustained scoring drive of 61 yards. Hanover also got two points on a safety on a Franklin punt play to pull to within just five points at 28-23 before Stott's rushing TD.
Franklin, which is eighth in rushing defense, eighth in scoring defense and 12th in total defense in Division III, kept the Panthers' offense off the scoreboard after the intermission.
Ray connected with Zmich on a 5-yard scoring toss early in the third quarter to put FC up 42-23. The Panthers tallied another safety on another errant snap on a punt attempt by Franklin. The Grizzlies closed out the scoring with an 11-yard touchdown strike from Ray to senior wingback Ryan Momberger with a minute left. Momberger had six receptions for 135 yards on the day.
In all, the Grizzlies gained 25 first downs and rolled up 445 yards of total offense.
On defense, senior linebacker Nick Cochran, junior linebacker David O'Rourke and senior linebacker Teddy Henkle made eight total tackles each. Freshman cornerback Zack Corpe had two interceptions, giving him eight for the season, and Cochran had FC's other pick-off.