Top-Ranked Evangel defeats No. 2 Franklin Christian on the road

Published 1:21 am Saturday, October 7, 2023

By CHRIS MEGGINSON | Special to the Reporter

FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Rolling hills in Middle Tennessee were a picturesque setting for the nation’s top 8-man football battle Friday night, as No. 1 Evangel Christian School escaped with a 30-27 win over No. 2 Franklin Christian School for its 26th-consecutive win.

“We really played well on the road. It was a lot of fun. Anytime you can go on the road like this and get a win, it’s good for your kids. We had a great following tonight. They had the LED lights flashing and jumbotron. It was a beautiful place to play.” said ECS head coach Tim Smith.

The top billing of 8-man football was tight through the first quarter. Evangel answered Franklin Christian’s 49-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass with a 34-yard touchdown run by Caeleb Austin to tie the game, 6-6. Grady Watkins caught Kemp Swords’ 2-point pass to give the Lightning an 8-6 lead. It was the first of three 2-point conversions in the game for Evangel.

A 50-yard touchdown pass and 2-point pass from Franklin put Evangel in a 14-8 hole at halftime.

“We were all very calm at halftime and told them we had to fix a few things, and we did,” Smith said. “We got the ball first in the second half and did exactly what we told them to do. We went straight down and scored and never looked back.”

Swords punched in the first touchdown of the second half with a 5-yard run and scored the 2-point run to lead 16-14. It was the start of 22-straight points for the Lightning.

Swords did it again in the fourth quarter, scoring from 5 yards out before completing a 2-point pass to Cade Joiner.

The drive was made possible by Joiner who converted a fourth-and-1 for a 43-yard gain to keep momentum on the visiting sideline. He finished with 70 yards receiving on four catches.

Swords’ third rushing touchdown of 18 yards in the fourth quarter proved to be the winning play. The junior QB finished with 97 yards rushing on 20 carries and completed 14-of-19 passes for 206 yards.

Franklin rallied in the fourth quarter, scoring on a 60-yard pass and 6-yard quarterback keeper with about 3:42 left to play in the game.

Swords helped the Lightning run out the clock, converting a fourth-and-1 at the ECS 25 with a little more than a minute to play. From there, he took a knee to close out the game.

Austin followed Swords’ lead on offense with 84 yards rushing on eight carries, and Zion Thompson had 60 receiving yards.

Hayden Black’s seven tackles and interception led the defense. Clay Stanton, Zane Barlow, Joshua Looman and Watkins each had four tackles.

Evangel (9-0) will host Southern Christian for Senior Night and Homecoming on Oct. 13 for its regular season finale before hosting postseason action Oct. 27.