Franklin's big-play offense usually grabs the attention in a big win, but the No. 5 Indians' defense deserves most of the credit for Friday night's 37-18 win over previously undefeated No. 14 Dundalk that sealed their second straight Baltimore County 4A-3A Division title.
Junior linebacker Michael Gibson had eight tackles — four of them for a loss — a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 1 1/2 sacks to lead a defense that sacked Owls quarterback Darrius Sample nine times. Lineman Luis Belmontes had three sacks.
Franklin coach Anthony Burgos said his defense has been doing the same thing for the past three seasons as the Indians have won 26 straight games against Baltimore County opponents.
"I thought defensively we played excellent," Burgos said. "For all the talk of their offense and how many touchdowns No. 15 [quarterback Darrius Sample] had, I thought defensively we were in control the whole time. Offensively, I feel it's, 'How good can we be?' Because we left a lot of touchdowns on the field."
In last week's 55-34 win over Perry Hall, Sample accounted for eight touchdowns, a school record, but the Indians held him to just two rushing touchdowns and sacked him so many times he lost 64 yards rushing for the night.
"They were just blitzing seven and Darrius was, I would say, panicking in the pocket a little bit," Dundalk coach Sean Sandora said. "Once he scored that touchdown, I think he settled down."
Gibson said stopping Sample, who had scored a school-record 31 touchdowns, was the focus of their defensive game plan.
"Our key and me and my cousin, outside linebacker Sam Botchway, we had all in our minds, 'Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback.' That's all we were thinking," Gibson said.
With the victory, the two-time defending state champion Indians (9-1) also earned the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A North regional playoffs, which begin next week. Dundalk (9-1) gets the No. 2 spot. Both will host regional semifinals next Friday.
The Indians offense came into Friday's game averaging 46.7 points, but looked shaky early. In the first quarter, Franklin settled for a 32-yard field goal from freshman kicker Gerson Soriano, who would hit two more and nail all of his extra points.
Host Dundalk made the first big play, blocking a punt and getting a touchdown run off the recovery from Daquan Bowman for a 6-3 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Soriano tied it less than two minutes later when the Indians failed to convert from the Owls 15-yard line.
The Indians added their first touchdown when All-Metro wide receiver Steven Smothers grabbed a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Lahay for a 13-6 lead.
Sample cut the lead to one point with a 14-yard touchdown run, but the Indians blocked the extra point — the first of two they would get.
Lahay, who has thrown 30 touchdowns this fall, then hit Damon Hazelton for a 20-yard score and the Indians took a 20-12 lead into halftime.
Soriano opened the second half with a 31-yard field goal before Sample scored on a 3-yard run to cut the Indians' lead to 23-18 with 7:54 left in the third quarter.
The Indians then got their final two touchdowns after turnovers. Gibson recovered a fumble and advanced it 38 yards leading to a 5-yard touchdown run by Botchway.
Defensive end Derian Green recovered an Owls fumble on the next drive and Smothers needed just one play to finish it off, crisscrossing the field for a 40-yard touchdown run to seal the win with 5:13 to go.
"We came out a little bit slow. Defense kept us in the game," said Smothers, also a cornerback. "It was a couple plays, a couple drives we left points out there, but overall, we just need to get the playmakers involved and score points."
F 3 17 10 7 – 37
D 0 12 6 0 -- 18
F—Soriano 32 FG
D—Bowman 15 punt recovery advance (kick failed)
F—Soriano 31 FG
F—Smothers 22 pass from Lahay (Soriano kick)
D—Sample 14 run (kick failed)
F—Hazelton 20 pass from Lahay (Soriano kick)
F—Soriano 31 FG
D—Sample 3 run (run failed)
F—Botchway 5 run (Soriano kick)
F—Smothers 40 run (Soriano kick)