FRANKLIN, Pa. – For the first six quarters of the season, the Warren Dragon offense was stagnant.
In the second half against Franklin on Saturday night, they exploded.
James Swanson accounted for 332 yards of total offense (251 rushing, 81 receiving) as the Dragons scored 35 points over the final 17 minutes in a 35-12 win over Franklin.
“It was a tale of halves,” said Warren coach Mark Morelli. “The first half we played as bad as we could play. The second half, the biggest thing that helped us in the second half is that our senior leadership stepped up. Our halftime was on the spirited side, and the kids took that talk that we had at halftime and put it towards our play on the field.”
The pivotal point may have actually come in the second quarter.
The Knights (1-2) were knocking on the door inside the Dragons’ 5-yard line, leading 6-0 and looking for more. The Dragon defense stood tall however, and stopped the Knights at the 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal.
“At that point we started to understand and realize that Franklin came to play,” Morelli said. “Once we made that stop, we slowly started taking over the game.”
Swanson broke off a 70-yard run on the ensuing play, but the Dragons were unable to turn it into points. No matter, as there were plenty of those in the second half.
“Again, it’s the same issue we had last week; we have to come ready to play for four quarters,” noted Morelli. “That means blocking, tackling and doing the fundamentals. We have to get more physical up front, and in the second half we did.
The fireworks were fast and furious in the second half for Warren. Ben White took the opening kickoff back 91 yards for what looked to be the first Dragon touchdown of the season, but it was called back because of a penalty.
That initial Dragon drive stalled, but it was the only one in the second half that did.
Warren forced a Franklin punt, and the Dragons went 45 yards in two plays, with quarterback Micah Passmore calling his own number from 7 yards out with 4:46 to go in the third quarter. A low snap on the PAT caused holder Carter Pascuzzi to improvise, and he did so to perfection, flipping the ball to Cedric Arline II for the 2-point conversion and an 8-6 lead.
The offensive explosion continued, as Franklin put the ball on the ground on two of its next three offensive snaps, and the Dragons took advantage of the short fields.
On a brilliantly designed play from the Franklin 19, Alex Borger took a pitch from Passmore, who carried out a perfect fake, and Borger tossed the ball to a wide-open Swanson for the score.
The second score came more traditionally, as Swanson broke free from 34 yards out.
“They’re the heart and soul of our team,” Morelli said of Passmore and Swanson. “They’re warriors. They knew in the second half their teammates were relying on them. If they’re going to challenge their teammates at halftime, then they themselves have to back it up with their own individual efforts, and they came through big.”
The Dragons were driving to go up three scores in the fourth quarter, but a fumble gave Franklin the ball back and Hunter Marstellar flipped a pass to Cole Buckley, who made a man miss and scampered 35 yards to make it 21-12 after the missed PAT with 8:16 to go.
Again, the Dragon offense responded.
Swanson had yet another electrifying run, a 50-yard touchdown that essentially sealed the game, and freshman Tommy Nyquist found the end zone from a one yard out to cap the scoring.
It was part of an effort that saw the Dragons amass 356 yards on the ground and outgain Franklin 454-167.
“We told the kids after the game that you just showed us by scoring 35 points in the second half what you’re capable of doing,” Morelli said. “Now you have to do that every week.”
The Dragon defense, meanwhile, was disruptive and dominant, led by a group that included Easton Hultberg, Alan McAllister, Alex Zarcizny, Blake Arnold, Derek McMeans and Donovan Fiscus, among many.
The Dragons also overcame a whopping 20 penalties in the win.
“We have a veteran team,” Morelli said. “A good senior class that is capable of leading. I feel like we’re still trying to find our legs with everything, all the adversity that we’ve had. We’re still working on that, and as things move forward, we’ll get there.”
The Dragons have a massive test this Friday, when defending D-10 5A champion Oil City (3-0) comes to town.
“We’re going to find out exactly where we stand,” Morelli said.
Warren 0 0 21 14 – 35
Franklin 6 0 0 6 – 12
F – Aaron Burkhart 1 run (PAT failed) 6:51
W – Micah Passmore 7 run (Carter Pascuzzi to Cedric Arline 2-point conversion) 4:46
W – James Swanson 19 pass from Alex Borger (Alex Zeigler PAT) 3:20
W – Swanson 34 run (PAT failed) 1:35
F – Cole Buckley 35 pass from Hunter Marstellar (PAT failed) 8:16
W – Swanson 50 run (Zeigler PAT)
W – Tommy Nyquist 1 run (Zeigler PAT) :47
First Downs 16 10
Rushes-Yards 36-356 37-59
Passing Yards 98 108
Comp-Att-Int 7-16-1 8-15-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-2
Penalties-Yards 20-117 6-62
Rushing: Warren – Swanson 12-251, 2 TD; Passmore 15-61, TD; Borger 3-34; Nyquist 5-8, TD; Franklin – Heckathorne 11-31, Wible 5-24, Brandon 4-14, Burkhart 14-9
Passing: Warren – Passmore 6-of-15, 79 yards, 1 INT; Borger 1-of-1, 19 yards, 1 TD; Franklin – Burkhart 5-of-8, 50 yards; Marstellar 3-of-7, 50 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Warren – Swanson 3-81, 1 TD; Borger 2-19; Vega 1-5; White 1-(minus)7; Franklin – Adams 5-54; Buckley 2-46, 1 TD; Wible 1-8