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November 26, 2010

Venable's last-gasp run propels Franklin into state finals

RESITERSTOWN - There was no time. The fourth-quarter clock was winding down faster then a DVD in reverse, and the No. 20 Franklin Indians were trailing by five points with no timeouts. With 13 seconds left and the ball at the Huntingtown Hurricanes' 1-yard line, the Indians scrambled to the line. The class 3A state semifinals would come down to one final play.

Before the snap, Franklin running back Mark Venable (28 carries, 129 yards) quickly scanned the Huntingtown defense and saw the linebackers pinch in. The 1,000-yard rusher started screaming "Texas! Texas!", alerting his quarterback, Joey Dorsey. The third-year signal caller calmly nodded and audibled to a toss sweep.

He got the snap off right before the final horn.

"Joey listened to me and he tossed me the ball," said Venable, explaining the final play. "My lead blocker, Anthony Taylor, and my line got out in front of me. Then I saw a seam open up in the defense. From there, I just took it in."

Venable's 1-yard plunge with no time remaining brought Franklin (11-2) back from a 14-0 fourth quarter deficit and gave the Indians a thrilling 15-14 victory over the No. 21 Hurricanes (9-4). The hometown crowd, some 1,500 strong, erupted in euphoria and rushed the field.

Amid the hysteria, coach Anthony Burgos emerged, overcome with emotion. For the first time since 1978, his Franklin Indians were heading to the state finals.

"This group has so much leadership and character it is unbelievable," said Burgos, still quivering 20 minutes after the game ended. "To win a game like this ... in this fashion ... I'm blown away."

Venable's miracle run was the exclamation point on a dizzying fourth quarter surge. Franklin scored three times in 5:43 after barely penetrating the red zone for the first 43 minutes.

The turning point came after Huntingtown went three-and-out deep inside their own territory. The Hurricanes lined up to punt, but the snap came in low and punter Mark Smith couldn't handle it. The ball trickled out of the end zone for a safety.

On the Franklin sidelines, receiver Navassa Brown could sense the momentum shifting.

"That two points is going to be huge," yelled Brown, who had an interception and several huge catches. "That two points is going to win us the game."

Brown did his part to make sure his prediction proved correct. Immediately following the free kick, Dorsey took a shot downfield. Brown streaked behind the defense and hauled in a 54-yard pass before falling just shy of the goal line. Three plays later, Dorsey snuck in for Franklin's first touchdown of the game. The extra point cut their deficit to 14-9 with just 5:13 remaining.

"The ball was actually slipping out of my hands in the first half and I wasn't in a good rhythm," said Dorsey, who rebounded from a 2-for-9 first half to complete 9 of 18 passes for 111 yards.. "But I told my team I was not going to let them down. I proved that to them in the second half."

Tailing by just one score, the Indians defense rose to the occasion. They stuffed Huntingtown's ground game and forced a second-straight three-and-out. The Hurricanes punted and Franklin got the ball back at their own 20 with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.

Dorsey methodically led his team downfield before the Indians faced a do-or-die fourth-and-1 inside Huntingtown territory. Even though he was stuffed for a loss on the previous play, Franklin called Venable's number again. He charged up the middle and met a swarm of defenders head on. The Hurricanes dropped him right at the first-down marker, but the officials gave him a generous spot. First down.

"I was stopped short, but I stretched my arm out and I was able to grab the first down," Venable said.

With the clock running, Dorsey broke free on the next play. He gashed the defense for a 14-yard gain before stepping out of bounds at the Huntingtown 6.

"I actually thought I got in the end zone," Dorsey said. "But I turned around and hey marked me out at the 6. So we had to fight our way in with no timeouts. We got it done."

It almost didn't happen. The Hurricanes stymied Franklin on three straight runs, including a third-and-1 goal-line stand with less than 25 seconds remaining. But with the season on the line, Venable broke loose.

"We were in position. We hit [Venable] and we had the chance to stop him," said Huntingtown coach Jerry Franks. "But he's a good 'back and he broke the arm tackles and went in."

It was a disappointing end for the Hurricanes, who kept Franklin's explosive offense off the scoreboard for the first three quarters. After a scoreless first half in which both teams combined for just 194 yards and three turnovers, Huntingtown seized control in the second half. Senior running back Andrew Bose capped off two methodical drives with a pair of short touchdown runs, giving the Hurricanes a 14-0 advantage. And with the way their defense was playing, Huntingtown's lead looked insurmountable.

"The momentum was going their way, but I just told my guys, 'You have to believe in what we're doing,'" Burgos said. "A couple years ago Franklin might have given in. But not these guys."

Indeed, Franklin had already proven they could overcome large deficits. Just last week they charged back from a 14-point hole to upset North Harford, 28-21. Dorsey played hero in that game with four 1-yard touchdown runs, but this time he deferred to his running back.

"We're never down," Venable said. "Never. We keep fighting, we keep pushing."

Up two touchdowns, Huntingtown seemed content to run three plays and let their stifling defense take care of the rest. They went three-and-out on both crucial fourth-quarter possessions.

"What we called [in the fourth quarter] was not any more conservative then what we were doing the whole game -- or even the whole year," Franks said. "We had some injury problem that occurred during the game and we had to call plays according to what we had."

Regardless, Franklin took advantage. They stole the momentum and steamrolled their way into the state finals, where they will face Wilde Lake next week at M&T Bank Stadium. With a victory, the Indians will claim their first ever state title.

"This is history right here," Venable said. "Back in 2006 we were in position to go to states and we didn't get it done. But this is a different team. This time we're making history."


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