Back-to-back: Franklin-Simpson beats Johnson Central for second straight 4A championship

LEXINGTON – Franklin-Simpson has done it – again.

Behind another Most Valuable Player performance from standout running back Tre Bass, the Wildcats defeated Johnson Central, 14-12, to capture their second consecutive Class 4A KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl championship on Saturday evening at Kroger Field in Lexington.

Franklin-Simpson’s victory gave it its second straight over the Golden Eagles in the state finals, as the Wildcats won 35-21 in 2017.

“Man … what can you say? It was an overall team win,” Franklin-Simpson head coach Doug Preston said. “You’ve just gotta give all the credit to the kids. We were playing with everything we had – and with great hearts. The kids at Franklin-Simpson found a way to win this football game. We just gutted it out and made plays when we had to.”

Rushing for a game-high 135 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, Bass capped his Wildcat career with a dominant outing and back-to-back MVP awards. Bass accounted for all of Franklin-Simpson’s points as he recorded TD runs of 88 and 15 yards.

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Along with Bass, fellow senior running back Carlos McKinney tallied 66 yards on 16 carries in his final high school contest to help the Wildcats finish with 191 rushing yards – and 5.5 yards per carry.

“It’s hard to have words for,” Bass said. “My teammates have my back, and I have theirs. We’ve been working on (accomplishing) this for 12 months. Coach prepared us – and we just came out and did it.”

Franklin-Simpson – which finishes its season with a 14-1 overall record – held a 7-0 lead after the opening quarter and later took a slim 7-6 advantage into the locker room at halftime. The Wildcats pushed their lead to 14-6 in the third before Johnson Central (13-2) used a late fourth-quarter touchdown to make it 14-12.

Despite the score, FSHS was able to stuff the Golden Eagles on their two-point conversion attempt and seal the win.

“We came out aggressive and ready. Coach prepared us, and we’ve been practicing,” safety Chase Gooch said. “We just came out prepared and ready.”

The two sides exchanged punches in the opening half.

After both punted on their first drives of the game, Franklin-Simpson struck first just past the midway point of the first quarter. Following a Johnson Central punt, the Wildcats needed only one play to score on an 88-yard touchdown run from Bass to lead 7-0 at the 5:00 mark.

Before the quarter come to a close, Johnson Central put itself in Franklin-Simpson territory on a 42-yard run from Bryce Tackett. The Golden Eagles capped their four-play, 54-yard drive early into the second with Joe Jackson’s two-yard TD. A bad snap resulted in the PAT failing, and the Wildcats still held a 7-6 lead with 11:01 remaining in the half.

“We’ve came a long way,” Preston said of his team’s defensive unit. “You’ve gotta credit the kids for believing, being committed and doing the things we asked them to do – from the beginning to the end.”

As neither side was able to find the end zone again during that stretch, Franklin-Simpson took its tight advantage into the break. Bass had already recorded 108 yards on eight carries in the first 24 minutes as the Wildcats held a 152-116 edge in the total yards category.

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Bass continued to be a big factor in the ensuing half.

Following a punt on its first series of the third quarter, Franklin-Simpson used a quick two-play, 47-yard drive that lasted just 32 seconds to increase its lead. After quarterback Luke Richardson connected with Leandre Stutzman for a 32-yard gain down to the Johnson Central 15, Bass ran it in on the next snap to make it 14-6 at the 4:02 mark – and the Wildcats took that same advantage into the final period.

“I just felt like we wanted it more,” said Bass. “We came out and put our foots on their necks and didn’t let up. We came out and we put it to ‘em. I couldn’t be more blessed to have the teammates I have. With it being my last season, it’s a perfect way to end it.”

Johnson Central wasn’t going down without a fight.

Trailing 14-6 with just over a minute remaining, the Golden Eagles made things interesting – capping a quick two-play, 74-yard drive with a five-yard TD run from Jackson. However, while Jackson’s score brought Johnson Central within 14-12, the two-point conversion attempt failed and just 57 seconds remained.

“Coach told us to ‘keep our head,’” said Gooch of what Franklin’s approach was near the end of the game. “He prepared us for this, and we’ve just been ready.”

Taking advantage of its lead – and effectively using its final drive to run out the clock – Franklin-Simpson was able to hold off Johnson Central and capture another state title.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” senior left tackle and Louisville commit Jack Randolph said. “It’s awesome. It shows how hard we work in the offseason and during the season to get where we are. Shout out to our coaching staff – they’re the best in the state. It’s just the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

Franklin-Simpson 14, Johnson Central 12

Franklin-Simpson – 7    0    7    0

Johnson Central –   0    6    0     6

First quarter

F-S – Bass 88 run (Hollingsworth kick), 5:00

Second quarter

JC – Jackson 2 run (PAT no good), 11:01

Third quarter

F-S – Bass 15 run (Hollingsworth kick), 4:02

Fourth quarter

JC – Jackson 5 run (2-point conversion fails), 0:57

Tyler Mansfield@ByMansfield

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