FRANKLIN, Indiana - The Mount St. Joseph University football team got the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference season underway on Saturday with a trip to Franklin College. The Lions and Grizzlies were both co-champions of the HCAC last season, along with Hanover College. This conference opener has an opportunity to go a long way in one of these teams possibly winning the HCAC this season.
The Lions came into the game losers of their last nine games against the Grizzlies. They last took down Franklin on October 24, 2009 on the road, the 26-16 win helped the Lions last outright HCAC Championship.
The Lions defense would be on the field to start the game, as Franklin won the toss and elected to take possession. The Lions forced their first of five three-and-outs in the first half. After not scoring on their first drive, the Lions got on the board on their second drive. Seniors Chaiten Tomlin (Mt. Orab, Ohio/Western Brown) and Chase Pankey (Cincinnati, Ohio/Moeller) hooked up for their first of three first-half touchdowns, a 19-yarder to put the Lions ahead 7-0.
The Lions would go on to score 29 unanswered points, taking command of the game. They looked poised to add to that total, taking the ball back with 1:56 to play in half and three timeouts. Tomlin hooked up with Cornell Beachem (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winton Woods) for a 27 yard gain, putting the Lions in position to at least attempt a field goal before the half. Beachem fumbled and Franklin returned it 75 yards for the touchdown.
After playing dominant football for all but 15 seconds of the first half, the game began to take on a different feel. Tomlin threw his first interception of the year on the second play of the second half. It began to feel as though the momentum was starting to swing toward Franklin. On the first play of Franklin's drive
From the point of the fumble the game had a different feel. On the first possession of the second half Tomlin threw his first interception of the year. It started to feel as though the negativity was beginning to snowball, and that Franklin would get back into the game.
On the very next snap though the Lions showed that this game would not be like the last nine. Junior cornerback Noah Able (Cincinnati, Ohio/Moeller) stepped in front of a quick hitch and picked off his second pass of the day, getting the Lions the ball back in excellent field position. On the Lions second play of the next drive Tomlin found Paul Minor (Indianapolis, Ind./Warren Central) for his second touchdown catch of the day. That touchdown righted the ship for the Lions, and helped them to overcome another "off-script" Franklin touchdown.
Franklin would cut the game down to a two score margin, late in the third quarter. As their outstanding running back Jacob Earl got on track with a pair of TD's. The Lions though answered the call again and again. This time Tomlin would find Beachem for the score, Beachem's first of his career at the Mount. On the Lions ensuing drive they would have a punt blocked, and returned for a touchdown. Which again brought the game within two scores.
Senior safety Peyton Williams (Cincinnati, Ohio/Norwood) would all but finish any hope for the Grizzlies, picking off his second pass of the day with only 2:52 on the clock. This time Williams raced 66 yards in the other direction for a Lions touchdown.
It was fitting that a defensive play dashed any hopes that Franklin might have to sneak out with a win. The Lions defensive effort was magnificent in the game. After the game MSJ defensive co-ordinator Rick Thompson said, "These kids played their hearts out". The defense registered four sacks for the second consecutive week. Senior Spencer Kandra (Cincinnati, Ohio/Elder) put together quite possibly his finest game of his collegiate career. He led the team with eight tackles, a sack and a half and three and a half tackles for loss. Leading a defensive front of Gavin Brennan (Richmond, Va./LC Bird), David Guck (Cincinnati, Ohio/Elder), Nick Brokering (Shelbyville, Ind./Shelbyville), Alvin Burke (Cincinnati, Ohio/Fairfield), Andrew McFarland (Cincinnati, Ohio/Glen Este), Alex McQueen (Amelis, Ohio/West Clermont), Noah Hammond (Brookville, Ind./Franklin Co.), and JJ Courtney (Independend, Ky./Simon Kenton) who as a group played the entire game in the Franklin backfield.
"We are now 2-10 against Franklin in my twelve years here, Coach Leonard and his team have done an amazing job of making sure that the HCAC title has to go through them" Coach Hopperton said after the game. "While it feels great to get a win against Franklin, and I am extremely excited for our kids, this is just a step in the process."
The Lions will take to the field again in a week as the welcome the Yellow Jackets of Defiance College to Cincinnati and Schueler Field. The game will take place as a part of the Mount's 2019 Homecoming Celebration, and during the game we will recognize members of the 2004 and 2009 HCAC Championship teams. The game is scheduled to get underway at 1:30 PM, if you can not make it out to the game please follow along all season with all of your Lions live game coverage on MSJsports.com.