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Down three touchdowns, Franklin scores 35 points in a row and repeats as 3A champions

Franklin's football team never needed its big plays more than it did in Thursday night's Class 3A state championship.

In the first half, not much went right for the No. 4 Indians as Damascus scored the first 21 points. Once the Indians broke one of their hallmark big plays — a highlight-reel Steven Smothers' 30-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jacquez Adams just before halftime — everything fell into place.

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Franklin (13-1) rallied for 35 unanswered points to win their second straight state championship, 35-21, at M&T Bank Stadium over the previously undefeated Swarmin' Hornets (13-1) from Montgomery County.

Junior wide receiver Smothers had a hand in four touchdowns, including one on a 12-yard pass from Adams that gave the Indians their first lead of the game with 2:56 left and another following a fumble recovery advanced 14 yards for a touchdown with four seconds left. He totaled 146 yards, including 122 on six receptions.

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Adams, a senior headed for West Virginia, completed 14 of 20 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

In the first half, the Indians appeared completely out of sync. They turned the ball over twice, had a bad snap for a big loss and couldn't contain the Hornets' rushing game.

"The first half was like the worst first half we ever had," Adams said, "so we realized we had to turn it up. At halftime, we were like, 'Nah, we can't come out like this,' so my guys did a great job blocking for me and I just made the passes and I know all my guys were there to do what they had to do and they got in the end zone or got a first down."

Damascus, The Washington Post's No. 1 team, went up 21-0 on Jake Funk's 2-yard touchdown run with 4:27 left in the first half. The Indians then tried a fake punt that didn't work, but stopped the Hornets on their next drive and Adams orchestrated a 72-yard scoring drive that took 34 seconds.

The quarterback connected with Smothers on passes of 32 and 30 yards on the drive. On the 30-yard scoring play, Smothers had a step on two defenders and Adams put the ball right between them in the back of the end zone with 38 seconds left in the first half.

"If you ask some of my coaches, they'll say they don't know how fast I am," Smothers said. "Sometimes I feel like I'm floating and I got past [the two defenders] and I just went up for the ball and made a play."

The momentum carried over into the second half, when the Indians got the ball first. On the fifth play of the first drive, Kiandre Burrell broke through for a 35-yard touchdown run to pull within 21-14 with 10:19 left in the third quarter.

As coach Anthony Burgos' Indians offense heated up, so did the defense, which forced four turnovers in the second half. Against a Hornets offense almost exclusively ground based, the Indians frequently put everybody in the box in the second half.

Burrell, who doubles as a linebacker, had three sacks and tackle Luis Belmontes had two as they, cornerback Juantez McRae and safety Mike Gibson were among the defensive leaders who held the Hornets to 99 yards rushing and no touchdowns in the second half.

"I just want to leave something here to show these guys that even the smallest players — I'm the smallest player on the team — can make big plays in big games," said Burrell, adding that he is 5-feet-7 "on a good day."

On Damascus' first pass of the second half, quarterback Derek Gibson passed to La'Kye Austin behind the line of scrimmage but Austin fumbled the ball and Franklin's Murad Hussain recovered.

Adams then connected with Smothers on a 47-yard touchdown pass to tie the game, 21-21, with 7:39 left in the third quarter.

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In the first 23 minutes, the Indians were outgained 160 yards to 84 in the first 23 minutes, but they finished with a 482-264 advantage in total yards, gaining 326 in the second half.

Winning the toss was one of the few things that went right for the Indians in the first half. They deferred and the Hornets rolled downfield on 10 rushing plays to take the lead when Funk punched in a 2-yard touchdown less than five minutes into the game.

Franklin had to punt on its first possession and its second ended in a fumble when Adams said he didn't here the play change and turned to his left to make the handoff but no one was there. When the Hornets hit him, the ball popped loose. Joey Salisbury recovered and advanced the ball to the Indians 13-yard line.

On the next play, Gibson hit Salisbury for a 14-0 lead with 2:42 left in the first quarter.

The Indians' offense finally started clicking on its next possession. On the fifth play of the drive, Darius Hinton (seven carries, 66 yards) broke a tackle and seemed headed to the end zone. Before he could break the plane, Austin, the Hornets' cornerback, slapped the ball out of Hinton's hands. The ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.

The Hornets didn't convert that turnover but with 4:27 left in the quarter, Funk, who had run for more than 1,600 yards and 33 touchdowns coming into the game, extended the lead to 21-0 with a 2-yard touchdown run. Funk finished with 145 yards on 34 carries.

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