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Defense the key for Division VI championship hopeful Franklin

Franklin's defense takes down a player from Winnisquam Regional High School football from their game on October 12, 2012. Tilton, NH.

(Samantha Goresh/ Monitor Staff)

Franklin's defense takes down a player from Winnisquam Regional High School football from their game on October 12, 2012. Tilton, NH. (Samantha Goresh/ Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

FRANKLIN – Dusk was gone, but the dark couldn’t drive Franklin from its football field. The players were shadows, barely seen, but they could be heard. “De-fense, de-fense,” they chanted, sounding more like fans on game day than kids at the end of a cold practice.

Still, the chant fit. When things have been darkest for Franklin this year, the defense has found a way out.

“Not giving up, no matter what, that’s been the key to our defense,” said senior linebacker Kody Benwell, “always keeping our heads up.”

It’s not like the Golden Tornadoes have had many reasons to hang their heads this year. They went 7-2 in the regular season, earned the No. 2 seed for the Division VI playoffs, beat No. 3 Campbell, 14-10, in the semifinals and are preparing to play No. 1 Mascoma (8-2) in tomorrow’s title game. But when Franklin has needed a boost, the defense has been quick to deliver.

After losing the season opener at Mascoma (26-13), the Tornadoes defense posted a shutout at Newport (20-0), dominated the next week at Gilford (42-6) and finished the three-week run with a 7-0 win against Farmington-Nute. Needing a victory to ensure a home playoff game, the defense came up with a pair of sacks and a blocked field to set up a 32-26 decision against Bishop Brady in the season finale.

And the signature moment came against Newfound on Oct. 20. The Tornadoes were coming off a loss, in danger of missing the playoffs and facing the top-ranked offense in D-VI. They responded by holding the Bears to 124 total yards and posting a 28-0 statement win.

Like Benwell said, attitude has been a critical component for the Franklin defense, which allowed the fewest points in D-VI during the regular season – 108 total, 12.0 per game. Not only do the Tornadoes fight through tough times, they get amped for the good ones.

“We’re always loud, yelling, in their faces, no quiet moments,” said senior Nate Grevior, who has emerged as a leader on the defensive line. “And you should see us in the tunnel before games, we’re crazy.”

Along with attitude, the Franklin defense has relied on another fundamental – teamwork.

“Every week I tell the D-line (Ian Jipson, Robert Ellis, Eric Ives and Grevior) they have to step up and take the brunt of things, and they’ve done that every week,” said Kerry “Boo Boo” Glew, Franklin’s defensive coordinator. “So while they’re getting double teamed, Benwell and the other linebackers (Korey Parent and Brandon Gagnon) are able to look through those gaps and make big plays.”

Since the Tornadoes won’t overwhelm opponents with speed or size, they’ve had to strictly employ another old school basic – discipline.

“They’re athletic enough, but they just have to stick with their responsibilities,” Glew said. “If they don’t cheat on their assignments, than we can win. When we cheat, that’s when we’ve lost.”

But this defense isn’t made up of plodding robots simply doing their jobs. Franklin has playmakers all over the field. On the line, Jipson and Grevior have developed a knack for penetrating and sniffing out the ball. Benwell has lived up to the expectations of a middle linebacker and is the team’s leading tackler. And in the secondary, safety Jake Jameson can line up up just about anywhere he’s needed, corner Brandon Butterworth can defend the pass or move down to the line as an end, and corner Isaias Muniz plays with both smarts and toughness beyond his size on the other edge.

Individually they’re all solid players, but there’s no doubt they’re better together. Benwell said he didn’t expect to be playing for a state title when the season began, but he knows what transformed the Tornadoes into a contender.

“We worked together as a team,” he said. “We kept pushing and pushing all year, pushing as a team.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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