In a game that had a playoff feel between two postseason contenders in Division II, the Marion-Franklin High School football team rallied for a 20-17 victory over host Canal Winchester on Friday, Sept. 9, scoring two touchdowns in the final five minutes.
Junior Joe Alverson's 78-yard punt return with 2 minutes, 18 seconds remaining gave the Red Devils the win, as they improved to 3-0 while the Indians fell to 2-1.
"I give all the credit to my teammates. They gave me some good blocks," Alverson said. "My teammates made it happen."
Marion-Franklin coach Brian Haffele knew with Alverson back to return the punt, anything could happen.
"I have all the confidence in JoJo," said Haffele, whose team has reached the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons. "He got a nice block from Rasan (Harding) and cut back and got through the first line of defense and I knew he had a chance."
Canal Winchester had taken a 17-8 lead when Noah Ising kicked a 23-yard field goal with 9:47 remaining, and the Red Devils turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing drive at the Canal Winchester 23-yard line.
But Marion-Franklin's Deshannon Shaw intercepted a pass by Alex Fox pass on a third-and-4 and returned the ball to the Canal Winchester 18.
Red Devils quarterback Corry Benson, who sat out the first two series for unknown reasons, scored on a 6-yard run with 4:22 left to cut the lead to 17-14.
The Marion-Franklin defense then held and forced the punt that Alverson returned for the winning points.
"That punt return was a real killer and so was the interception," Canal coach Shawn Hinkle said. "We talked to the kids all week about being smart with the football and protecting it."
The Indians scored their only points in the first half when Fox connected with Austin Whitlach for a 25-yard pass with 5:24 left in the second quarter.
Canal Winchester had started that drive on the Marion-Franklin 36 after a short punt and needed just four plays to score.
The Red Devils went ahead 8-7 late in the half when Benson hit Darien Williams for a 48-yard touchdown with 1:29 left in the second quarter.
Benson - who had thrown for 443 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 176 yards and two more touchdowns in the first two games - was held largely in check.
He finished with 30 yards rushing and was 9-for-21 passing for 163 yards and one touchdown.
The Indians regained the lead at 14-8 on a 10-yard pass from Fox to David Hawkins midway through the third quarter. Fox finished 15 of 29 passing for 174 yards and ran for 38 yards. Jaquan Ransome led Canal Winchester with 59 yards rushing on nine carries.
"It's been our forte this year to not give up," said Haffele, whose team has won its first three games by a combined nine points. "Sure, we've got to be able to execute better, but you can't replace heart. We haven't put a full game together yet this season, but the effort has been outstanding."
MARION-FRANKLIN 0 8 0 12 -- 20
CANAL WINCHESTER 0 7 7 3 -- 17
CW--Whitlach 25 pass from Fox (Ising kick)
MF--Williams 48 pass from Benson (Storey pass from Benson)
CW--Hawkins 10 pass from Fox (Ising kick)
CW--Ising 23 FG
MF--Benson 6 run (pass failed)
MF--Alverson 78 punt return (run failed)