Bring on the No. 1-seed Folsom Bulldogs.
If anyone thinks they may have a chance against the two-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section champions, it’s probably the Franklin Wildcats.
Riding a fast, good-tackling defense the Wildcats set themselves for another showdown with the Bulldogs thanks to Saturday’s 24-10 solid win over No. 8-seeded Modesto (9-2) at Downey High School in Modesto.
A year ago, the ninth-seeded Wildcats (7-4) were knocked out of the post-season in the second round by Folsom, 49-16. In that game Bulldog quarterback Jake Browning was almost perfect, directing his no-huddle offense to 35 points in the first half.
Coach Mike Johnson and crew hope this season things might be different – or maybe a little bit different. Wildcat fans may remember that Franklin’s top three running backs were all injured and out of the Folsom game. This year the top ground gainer, Lamar Jackson, who scored Franklin’s first TD of the game on Saturday, will have to shoulder the responsibility to consistently gain yardage to keep the high-flying Folsom offense on the sidelines.
In their playoff opener on Friday, the Bulldogs scored 42 points in the first quarter en route to a 70-16 rout of Stagg.
Franklin will need to ride a defense that held opponents to only 202 points in 11 games, third best in the Delta League behind Elk Grove (149 points) and Grant (166 points).
The Wildcats were stingy throughout Saturday’s game holding Modesto to a late first-half 27 yard field goal by Julio Corona and a Tre Ingram short run with about a minute left in the game. Franklin held the Panthers’ talented quarterback Nate Phillips to 161 yards passing and 43 yards rushing.
This season he averaged almost 200 yards passing and 120 yards rushing.
Plus, on Saturday, Franklin allowed the Panthers only 21 plays in the second half.
One thing, though, that helped Franklin was that Modesto receivers did drop five passes in the first half, all virtually in key situations. Two were drops in the end zone with another one that came on a fake punt.
Modesto outgained Franklin, 144-113 yards, in the opening two quarters, but trailed the Wildcats, 7-3 at intermission.
A Panther fumble early in the third quarter gave Franklin good field position and after a five-minute drive, Wildcat back Rahsaan York scored from the one-yard line on a fourth-down-and-goal situation. It was 14-3, Franklin.
After another Modesto fumble in Franklin territory, quarterback Jacob Lopez scored on a one-yard jog and Franklin led, 21-3, after three quarters.
Kardo Ballesteros tacked on a 34-yard field goal for the Wildcats with 3:14 left in the game.
With the loss Modesto continued a streak of futility they hope one day will end. The Panthers have never won a playoff football game.
“It’s frustrating that this school has never won a playoff game, but you learn something every year,” Modesto coach Rich Alkire told the Modesto Bee. “This year we were in the ballpark. Last year it wasn’t close.”