When Indiana's first Mr. Football Alex Smith was walking the Franklin County High School halls, it was said: “It is always first and goal from anywhere on the football field when Smith is handed the ball.”

Now, the same could be said for junior running back Hunter Tschaenn.
Tschaenn ran for 278 yards on 26 carries and scored four of FC's five touchdowns. His touchdown runs were 37, 33, 31 and 92 yards.

“He's just a tremendous football player,” FC coach Wes Gillman said. “We've said it several times before, but all he needs is a crease, and he's gone. He has outstanding speed, but he also is a kid with great character, leadership, and tenacity. As a staff, we're constantly thinking of new ways to get the ball in his hands. I'm sure from the outside, it looks like we're just giving the ball to Hunter left and Hunter right, but there's a lot more that goes into these plays. We mix up formations and blocking schemes quite a bit, and our line and perimeter blockers have to know what they're doing. When we're mentally focused, we can score on any given play he has the ball, but everyone has to be engaged.”

While FC won the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference game with South Dearborn 33-13, several times during the game, it looked like the Knights would win the ballgame.

On the game's opening drive, the Knights took just six plays to move the ball 73 yards culminating in a 40-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Adam Dixon to junior wideout Blake Bartley on the left sideline. Bartley was so wide open, he stopped dead in his tracks and waited for the high arcing ball to come down like an infielder waiting for a pop fly. After catching the pass, the closest defensive player was still so far away, Bartley went in unmolested for the score.
“That was just a blown coverage where our corner wasn't mentally focused,” Gillman said. “We were in a three-deep coverage, and our corner on that side bit down on a slant route. That's the type of thing we can't afford going forward. We are constantly urging these kids to stay mentally engaged throughout the week and mentally focused in pregame. We have the physical ability to compete with any team on our schedule, but we have to be mentally prepared.”

On the heels of three straight defeats and the ease of which the Knights scored their first touchdown, one would think the Wildcats might have suffered an ensuing letdown, but the opposite happened. FC took seven plays to move 69 yards, and the culmination was a Tschaenn 37-yard touchdown up the defense's gut. His run came immediately after a South Dearborn timeout where one Knight assistant coach was reminding three linemen of the swim move to get past the offensive line. It looked like they were diligently trying that move as Tschaenn sprinted past them. And in less time than it takes to tell it, he was in the end zone.

“That was a big time drive for us mentally,” Gillman said. “At times this year, we've let negative plays snowball and effect the rest of the game. Getting a score right after giving up that touchdown was big for our kids' psyche.”

SD came right back. Dixon, who had more than 1,100 passing yards coming into the game, threw four straight completions, two in the opening drive and two in the drive following Tschaenn's touchdown. Then, he had four straight incompletions, leading to a turnover on downs at the Wildcat 13. From that point on, Dixon and his receivers struggled.

“We were able to get pressure on him early in the game, and I think that was the key to our success,” Gillman said. “He got rattled a bit, and you could see their body language change as the game progressed. Our guys up front did a nice job of battling to get to the quarterback, and for the most part, our defensive backs and linebackers were good in coverage.”

One of those disrupting the Knights' backfield was sophomore Austin Hill.
After the turnover on downs, and a subsequent holding penalty, the Wildcats took the lead on Tschaenn's 92-yard sprint. It was a pitch left and once Tschaenn got past the Knights' line, Tschaenn simply outran the Knights including the safety, who seemed to have the angle on Tschaenn. But he did not. Tschaenn was untouched down the left sideline.

“Hunter runs hard every time he gets the football, but our other 10 guys need to do their job as well,” Gillman said.

After ineffective possessions, FC got the ball back just past midfield on the Knight 48. Junior Josh Bauman opened the series with a 17-yard run. Three plays later, Tschaenn took a pitch from sophomore quarterback Bridger Bolos and Tschaenn turned against the grain to the right for a 37-yard touchdown with 6:10 remaining in the half. FC took a 20-7 lead into the locker room.

However, the Wildcat lead looked precarious once again as the Knights took their second second-half possession on a fumble recovery and went 55 yards in just seven plays. Sophomore fullback Landon Herzner culminated the drive with a 17-yard run through many missed arm tackles. A missed extra-point attempt left the host Knights down by seven, 20-13.

“That was probably the worst way we could have started the second half,” Gillman said. “On our first possession, it looked like Hunter was about to break another one, and then a defender reached in from behind and stripped the ball away. It put our defense in a difficult spot, and South Dearborn was able to capitalize. I give our kids credit though. If you take away the blown coverage on the first drive of the game, and if we don't give them a short field on the first drive of the second half, I'm not sure if South Dearborn scores. Our defense was solid all night long. They played with enthusiasm and toughness. That's all we're looking for. Or at least that's half the battle. If we come out and compete, we give ourselves a chance to win. I think our kids are starting to understand that. It has to start during the week of practice and preparation though.”

After that, it was offensive frustration for both football teams. At one point at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth, the Wildcats were flagged for an illegal procedure penalty before three consecutive holding penalties, backing the Wildcats from the Knight 27 to the Wildcat 34. However, when the Knights took possession of the ball from their 35, the Knights had three horrendous snaps and a delay penalty in five plays to put themselves on their own 15.

SD was forced to punt on a fourth and 30 from the SD 15. Sophomore Tyree Carr had a fine punt return to the Knight 35. On a fourth-and-eight from the Knights 33, Tschaenn again scored a touchdown after starting left, slanting right, and running right down the middle of the field for a 33-yard touchdown. It gave the Wildcats a 27-13 lead with 4:49 to play.

It was arguably the most important score of the game.

“That touchdown definitely put the game away,” Gillman said. “The way our defense was shutting their offense down, it felt like a two touchdown lead would be safe, but you never know. I'm proud of our kids for continuing to play hard. We could have used that cushion as an opportunity to relax a little bit defensively, but our kids didn't do that. We played hard the entire game.”

Dixon took a hard shot in the third quarter and remained on the Knight sideline with his helmet off, maybe on concussion protocol. The Knight offense did not operate efficiently without Dixon. FC took its next-to-last possession on the Knight 27.

SD tried to make a fourth-and-14 from its own 21 leading to the turnover on downs.

Bolos scored the game's final touchdown on a 20-yard run after faking a Jet sweep. Bolos started the game as the Wildcats starting senior quarterback Brady Bogan remains on crutches. In the two games after Bogan's first-quarter injury at Lawrenceburg, FC went with freshman quarterback Brady Morehead.

Besides scoring the touchdown on the ground, Bolos completed one of two passes for 27 yards. He also had a touchdown pass nullified by a holding penalty.
“Bridger is just an exceptional athlete,” Gillman said. “We knew we had to make an adjustment to give our kids the best chance possible to be successful. A freshman at quarterback is difficult. Brady Morehead played a decent game last week, but he's a freshman and not physically or mentally ready for that type of game speed. I don't know of a lot of freshman who are ready for that. Bridger has the ability to lead our offense. He's a tough football player, and he understands the game. Bridger at QB also allows us to get Josh Bauman on the field and gives us more run threats. If a defense keys on Tschaenn, we can utilize Bauman and Bridger in the backfield. And a bit of a pleasant surprise is the fact that Bridger can throw the ball. I'll take it.”

This was an important win for the Wildcats as it broke a three-game skid after the Wildcats opened the season with three-straight victories.

“This win was huge,” Gillman said. “We've had a rough three weeks with injuries and being physically worn down. We needed to come out and compete to get things back on track. It would have been very easy for our kids to lay down and pack it in, but we didn't do that. This week proved to our kids that we can compete with good football teams. If we are mentally focused and give full effort, we can compete with any team we play.”

FC went to 4-3 on the season and 3-3 in EIAC play. SD dropped to 4-3 and 3-1, respectively. FC visits EIAC foe 2-4, 1-4 Batesville Friday.