The state Class 3A football championship figured to be a high-scoring affair with Franklin and Linganore averaging more than 40 points each, but defense took over early and a touchdown pass on fourth-and-20 provided the offensive jolt.
Late in the third quarter, Franklin quarterback Jacquez Adams hit Steven Smothers with a 27-yard touchdown pass on that fourth-down play to give the No. 9 Indians a 14-7 edge en route to a 20-7 victory at M&T Bank Stadium for the first state football championship in school history.
“It's just real crazy,” Franklin running back Darius Hinton said, “because we was talking about this since Day One , 5 o'clock in the morning practices, but it's all worth it.”
The Indians, who also reached the state final in 2010, started the game-changing drive on the Linganore 17-yard line, but a false start and an 8-yard sack of Adams set them back to the 27.
“We got out of field goal range,” Franklin coach Anthony Burgos said. “The idea was that we were going to kick a field goal, but like we've been doing all year long, [we] just put our playmakers in place to make plays. These guys do a tremendous job of getting after the football and using their talent that God gave them to make some spectacular plays.”
All through the playoffs, Adams has been confident in throwing the ball to his receivers and in the title game, he was 9-for-17 for 117 yards and two touchdowns — both to Smothers. The two connected on a 24-yard pass that tied the game in the second quarter, but going for it on fourth down was a surprise to Smothers, who made the catch on the edge of the end zone.
“That was big,” Smothers said. “In the first quarter, we knew we can't be happy just to be here and we got excited and you get nervous. On fourth-and-20 … big-time players make big-time plays. Jacquez put up a great ball. It has some zip on it. The defender couldn't make the play and I got my left foot down.”
The Indians (12-2) sealed the win on Kiandre Burrell's 6-yard touchdown run with 6:03 left on a drive that started on Franklin's 2-yard line. On the second play of the 11-play drive, Jacquez Adams was nearly tackled in the end zone but managed a 4-yard gain. Then Hinton, who had 18 carries for 111 yards, broke a 39-yard run that got the Indians out of trouble.
After Burrell's touchdown, defense did the rest. They shut out Linganore (12-2) for the final 34:14 of the game.
The Lancers, who played in a tough Frederick County league and were held under 20 points only one other time, rallied in last week's semifinal with 29 second-half points to beat two-time defending state champ River Hill, 41-38. The only time they threatened after Burrell's touchdown, Jordan Adams, Jacquez's twin brother, picked off quarterback Clark Stieren in the end zone.
An Indians defense often overlooked compared to an offense that scored 49 points in each of the first three playoff games, held its four playoff opponents to a total of 42 points and only one second-half touchdown.
In the first half, the Lancers, who had a distinct size advantage, ran for 137 yards, but the Indians held them to 63 in the second half, using linebacker Burrell to seal of the edge and keep the Butler brothers, Phillip (22 carries for 123 yards) and Dante (eight carries for 36 yards) from breaking runs to the outside.
“In the second half, we knew what play was coming,” said senior linebacker Bruce Damon, the Indians defensive leader who had 13 tackles, three for a loss.
“We all made plays,” he said. “Our defensive line played tremendous which made me play tremendous and I give it all to them. Our [defensive backs] played amazing. I think [Linganore] might have had a couple catches throughout the whole game, but other than that Jordan Adams, RJ Mays, Taurus Bruton and Mike Gibson shut them down pretty well. I was just proud of all of them.”
The Lancers had only 37 yards passing and Stieren completed four of 13 passes. Their only touchdown came on a 16-yard Phillip Butler run less than two minutes into the second quarter.
On their first two possessions of the second half, the Indians went three-and-out and then Adam Beiser picked off Jacquez Adams, but the Lancers' possession didn't last long. Stieren fumbled the exchange on the second play of the drive and Burrell recovered to set the Indians up on the 17-yard line.
Five plays later, they scored on the fourth-down Jacquez Adams to Smothers (three catches for 54 yards) connection.