TERRE HAUTE —
Possession is nine-tenths of the law. At least that’s the law Franklin Central tried to live by as it faced Class 5A No. 2 Terre Haute North.
The Patriots play by their own rules. The big play is the law of the land at North and it ruled Friday’s Conference Indiana matchup. The Patriots used the big gain to maximum advantage in a 28-18 win over the Flashes.
It was the Patriots’ fifth consecutive victory. North (7-2, 5-2) reached the seven-victory threshold for the first time since 1996. It’s the first time the Patriots have won seven in the regular season.
"We've been striving for that goal all year. We've thought about it since preseason and we haven't stopped thinking about it. Now we can go for eight wins and get a record for our team," North running back Kai Stratten said.
While the Flashes tried to use as much clock as possible on its drives, North ate up yardage in big chunks.
North had 12 plays of 10 yards or more. Ricky Brookins rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Stratten rushed for 91 yards and added 81 more in the air. He also scored two touchdowns.
"We can pound the ball and our defense is holding us up. It feels good knowing we can move the ball," Brookins said.
The Patriots ignited the game in their favor on the first play of the game. After North’s offensive line opened up a gaping hole up the middle, Brookins did the rest, cutting to the left sideline from the wide-open space to break a 76-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0.
Sometimes unhearlded in North's big play offense is the offensive line that sets them up. Due to several injuries, North played with several reserves on the line Friday, but they held up their end.
"Those two guys [Brookins and Stratten] will be the first to tell you that they love their o-line. They're just big and strong kids and have such great chemistry. They feed off each other," North coach Chris Barrett said.
Brookins' touchdown run was as easy as it would get for the Patriots. Unfazed by the early North score, Franklin Central methodically went to work on the ground. Running back Aaron Austin did most of the heavy lifting and finished a 78-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. The kicker-less Flashes failed on their attempt to go for two, so North still led 7-6. All 78 of the Flashes’ yards were gained on the ground.
North’s lead disappeared when Franklin Central broke from its ground routine. Franklin Central quarterback Corey Durm threw a perfect bomb to wide receiver Marcel Price and he sprinted 65 yards for a touchdown to put the Flashes up 14-12.
Big plays are North’s forte and the Patriots didn’t disappoint on their first drive of the second quarter. North set up a screen on the left side and Stratten caught the pass from Chris Barrett II. Stratten bobbed-and-weaved his way down the left sideline and broke free for a 62-yard touchdown to put the Patriots back in front 14-12.
North has used the screen to maximum effect before. Its become an important part of the Patriots' arsenal.
"It catches the defense off-guard. [The defense] shoots up the field and I can get behind those linemen. They're so much bigger than the DBs and they can blast them. I get down the sideline for a touchdown," Stratten said.
Franklin Central would take 6 minutes, 4 seconds off the clock in response and the Flashes faced 4th-and-4 from the North 9. Durm and Price hooked up again as Durm threw a fade to the right side. Price hauled it in for a touchdown and the Flashes led 18-14, an advantage that would hold up to halftime.
Austin rushed for 106 yards in the first half for Franklin Central. The Flashes’ offense ran 34 plays in the first half. North had just 22 plays.
A similar pattern developed in the second half. Franklin Central took nearly six-and-a-half minutes off the clock on its opening series, but couldn’t get on the board.
North took a page from the Flashes’ methodical book and used 11 plays in response. North penetrated to the Flashes’ 22-yard line and Stratten ran through another gaping hole and scampered to the sideline for a touchdown to put North in front 21-18.
"We're a big play team, but we proved tonight we can eat the clock up when we need to," Barrett said.
North sealed the victory in the fourth quarter. After driving inside the Franklin Central 10, North faced 4th-and-5 at the 12-yard line. A Barrett-to-Brookins 9-yard pass got the Patriots out of that predicament, then Brookins completed the drive with a 3-yard touchdown up the gut to make it 28-18.
North’s defense held Franklin Central scoreless in the second half. The Flashes couldn’t muster a first down once the Patriots took a two-score lead. The Flashes had just 62 yards of offense after halftime.
The Patriots have a week off before they begin postseason play. North travels to Castle on Nov. 1. The time off could allow the return of some of the injured Patriots to return, including down linemen Ethan Barrett and Vahn Billberry and linebacker Austin Barron.
"It's phenemonal [to have a week off]. It couldn't come at a better time," Barrett said.