NEW CASTLE – Franklin County coach Wes Gillman suffered a little déjà vu at New Castle’s Neal Field in the 2021 opening game Friday night.

Two years ago, the coach said his team started off slowly before pulling off a 16-point win. This time, the host Trojans got off to a fast 20-6 start ahead of a monster third quarter for the visitors that led to a 44-34 comeback victory.
“You can make excuses and say it was extremely hot, which it was,” he said, “but we can’t start games like that in conference play.”

That starts Friday at Connersville, 7 p.m.

“But we made adjustments at halftime and put personnel in different spots, it got cooler, and we looked at what they were doing to try and exploit situations where we’d be successful,” added Gillman. “That’s the team I saw all summer in the third quarter.”

Though it was a collective effort, senior Jacob Schatzle came alive in that period as he found the end zone three times in a span of five minutes. Junior quarterback Brady Morehead took control with a rollout 30-yard strike to his teammate for a quick score, followed later by a 52-yard bomb to the streaking Schatzle that was a pretty sight by any measure.

“Brady played well in his first true varsity start,” said the coach. “There were throws and receivers he missed and the one interception, but I was pleased overall. As a lefty, he did well going to his right and throwing on the run. Brady’s worked really hard and grown physically, which helps mentally as well.”

He certainly got it done with his legs, banging out almost 170 yards for a total of more than 300 yards offense. Morehead’s rushing touchdown in the final 30 seconds of the first half started a run of 38 unanswered points for FC.
A 6-yard TD by senior Bridger Bolos midway through the fourth appeared to be icing on the cake for the guests, but not so fast.

Kyle Gabbard went three-quarters of the field for a score on the ensuing kickoff to make it 44-28. With the Trojans’ timeouts exhausted, they still managed to add a 52-yard TD from QB Eli Cooper to Gabbard with 38 seconds left. A 2-point conversion could have brought NC within one score.

“In the fourth, our coaching calls and substitutions weren’t great, and some referee calls weren’t great, and then add an offensive fumble and a fumbled kickoff by us – all happened within a 2–3-minute span,” Gillman recapped. “It went from a 24-point game to what could have been an 8-point game.

“I was livid after the game and some of that was on me, but I can say that won’t happen again,” he added.

A few key plays in the opening half helped FC from falling into an even deeper hole. Two were Bolos punts that were big in the context of the Cats’ first kicking attempt, which was blocked and led to an NC touchdown two plays later.

“We’ve been working on two different punts, and one was what you saw first,” Gillman said. “Bridger’s athletic and can take a bad snap and turn it into a positive. He averaged 47 yards on two punts, remarkable for a high school kid.”

The Trojans did turn one of the punts into a successive score as Cooper found Gabbard for 37 yards down to the 1, followed by a Cooper dive and 14-point lead.

FC’s next two drives ended in turnovers on downs but on a 3rd-and-10 late in the half, senior Hunter Geis picked off a Cooper pass and returned it to NC’s 12. He added two more interceptions after the break for a hat trick.

“He had a huge game,” said Gillman. “If he doesn’t step into those passes, I don’t know if the momentum changes enough for us.”

Cooper was on target at times, but FC’s defense made him look ineffective in several moments.

“Our defensive ends Sam Westerfeld and Bryce Hodapp were on him in about two seconds,” said FC’s coach. “We changed our defensive schemes and tried to confuse him. He made good throws under distress but after time, he was anticipating a hit coming.”

Down six to start the second half, FC picked off two consecutive Cooper aerials. The first was by Geis at midfield, leading to a score two plays later. The Cats never trailed again. New Castle got a big return on the kickoff, but Bolos promptly gathered in an INT near the sideline. FC went 42 yards in seven plays.

The game started with an 8-play, 68-yard drive by FC with Morehead’s 37-yard toss to senior Kristian Prows setting up a Bolos plunge.
Several Wildcats were seeing their first meaningful varsity time and the returns were generally good.

“I mentioned Bryce,” said Gillman, “and center Ben Becker graded out well this week. He has the ability to be a phenomenal offensive lineman. Our guards struggled a bit but Kaden Erfman and Austin Hill, who are new to the line as tackles, knew where they were going and executed blocks. Clayton Bolser was sometimes disruptive (at nose tackle).”

Connersville is coming off a 48-33 season-opening loss to Richmond.

Wildcats 44, Trojans 34
Franklin Co. – 6 8 24 6 - 44
New Castle - 13 7 0 14 - 34
First Quarter
FC – Bolos 1-yard run, 8:39. Pass failed.
NC – Quintin Boatright 25-yard pass from Cooper, 6:40. Kick failed.
NC – Brevan Thrine 1-yard run, 2:54. Ian Thurlow kick.
Second Quarter
NC – Cooper 1-yard run, 10:16. Thurlow kick.
FC – Morehead 5-yard run, :24.8. Morehead run.
Third Quarter
FC – Schatzle 30-yard pass from Morehead, 10:04. Bolos run.
FC – Schatzle 6-yard run, 7:51. Morehead run.
FC – Schatzle 52-yard pass from Morehead, 5:03. Morehead run.
Fourth Quarter
FC – Bolos 6-yard run, 6:25. Run failed.
NC – Gabbard 75-yard kick return, 6:12. Gabbard pass from Cooper.
NC – Gabbard 52-yard pass from Cooper, :38. Pass failed.
Total yards: FC 405, NC 194
Passing: FC 148, NC 194
Rushing: FC 257, NC 0
First downs: FC 18, NC 6
Fumbles/lost: FC 1/1, NC 1/1
Penalties: FC 8-72.5, NC 2-20
Franklin Co.- Rushing: Bolos 20-68, Schatzle 3-20, Morehead 32-168, Geis 2-1. Passing: Morehead 6-17-148 (INT). Receiving: Prows 2-55, Schatzle 3-91, Geis 1-2.
New Castle – Rushing: Thrine 7-18, Jon Eberhart 1-0, Cooper 5-(-22), Aidan Bradley 1-4. Passing: Cooper 10-23-194 (4 INT). Receiving: Gabbard 7-146, Bradley 1-8, Boatright 2-40.
(Stats should be considered unofficial)