The fourth-ranked Patriots trailed early. And even got punched in the mouth. But how they responded says everything about this year’s squad.
It had the makings of a trap game.
Sandwiched in between matchups between Livonia Churchill and Livonia Stevenson was a Week 5 trip to Westland John Glenn.
The Livonia Franklin football team entered the week with a 4-0 record, and coach Chris Kelbert had just been recognized as the Detroit Lions’ High School Coach of the Week.
The Rockets have been the league’s punching bag for a while now. It would have been easy to disregard them and get caught looking ahead to the Spartans, especially with the Livonia City Championship on the line.
And preparing for John Glenn is a lot like Army or Navy week for college football teams. Former state-champion Ottawa Lake Whiteford coach Jason Mensing has installed his wing-T offense at John Glenn. You don’t see too many Division 1 or 2 schools in Michigan running such an old-school system nowadays. And if a metro Detroit opponent is running the veer, it’s usually out of the shotgun a la what Urban Meyer did at Florida and Ohio State.
Coming in unprepared against the Rockets is a surefire way to get punched in the mouth. Just ask Churchill that.
Actually, you could also ask the fourth-ranked Patriots that as well.
They got punched in the mouth early on Friday night.
John Glenn’s Xavier Spadacini recovered a squib kick to open the game. And then the senior threw a 28-yard half-back pass to Connor LeCourt for a touchdown.
Had Franklin’s Cordell Mabins Jr. not responded with a 1-yard rushing TD on the next drive, it might have gotten ugly for the Patriots, who had no answer for the oldest play in the wing-T playbook. Tyler Radley took a simple fullback trap 59 yards to set up QB Nick Wetmore with a 5-yard TD run to the pylon to put the Rockets ahead, 12-7.
“We knew Jason was going to come with something out of the ordinary, running that toss pass and opening up with that,” Kelbert said. “We knew that was going to be in the playbook somewhere. It was the right call at the right time.”
Trailing by five points and with the Rockets picking up momentum, it would have been a good time for Franklin to roll over and die. It would’ve been a good time to fall victim to the trap game.
The Patriots didn’t. There was just too much on the line.
For one, Kelbert and Mensing were teammates at Adrian College back in the day. Plus, two of Kelbert’s assistants were on that team. They didn’t want to lose to their old college buddy.
For two, Franklin has worked too hard to get to where they’re at right now. They’re coming off a state semifinal run in 2021.
And for three, well, actually, it’d be easier if Mabins Jr. explained that one to you:
“We want to win a state championship,” the senior running back said. “We’re undefeated right now, and we want to get it going, keep it rolling. We don’t like losing. …
“You wake up early mornings. You have late nights. And you just put the work in. You run hills. You get in the weight room. You work with your team and get team chemistry. It’s all off-season, and that showed tonight.”
On the ensuing possession, Mabins Jr. broke off a 55-yard run that set up himself for an eventual 1-yard plunge to put Franklin ahead once and for all.
What trap game?
Mabins Jr. went on to rush 25 times for 240 yards and five touchdowns en route to pushing the Patriots to a 51-32 victory over the Rockets.
A pair of interceptions from Dominic Simpson, including a 53-yard pick-six, a 44-yard field goal from four-star kicker Griffin Nowack and a 40-yard TD run by Michael Wesley iced the win.
“At halftime, we just told the kids that we’ve got to keep battling,” Kelbert said. “Offensively, we were able to move the ball for most of the game. We just had to get a little more physical with them in the second half.”
Mabins Jr., who’s 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, also had TD runs of 1, 18 and 7 yards.
“He wears on you,” Kelbert said. “Late in the game, when you tackle him, it hurts to come up and tackle him. As the game progresses, it really wears on defenses. And he just gets stronger and stronger as the game goes. He’s been tremendous for us all season long.”
It’s been three seasons since Franklin (5-0, 4-0) last won the City championship outright. A win over visiting Stevenson (3-2, 3-1) snaps that streak this week.
“We’re hype. We’re hype,” Mabins Jr. said. “We’re ready, and we’re going to get them.”
Brandon Folsom covers high school sports in metro Detroit for Hometown Life. Follow him on Twitter @folsombrandonj.