STANFORD — Frankfort coach Craig Foley said his Panthers are improved defensively, and that was evident Friday night as defense spearheaded a convincing, 34-14, romp over the host Lincoln County Patriots on a sweltering night in the Death Valley Bowl.
The Frankfort defense limited the Patriots to some 265 yards, and even that is deceptive.
After an early 55-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Dalton Godbey to sophomore running back Tanner Mcaninch put Lincoln County on top 7-0, the hosts did very little, especially in the second half when the (slightly) smaller and decidedly quicker Panthers seized control.
“Defensively we’re still growing,” Foley said. “But they did a good job tonight. I think we’re quicker across the board, and we might be a little stronger. Schematically we did some crazy things in the past that caused some problems for the other team ... right now we’re a little more basic.”
It was defense that helped Frankfort take control Friday after the Panthers tied the score at 7-7 late in the first quarter on an 18-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback DeShawn Newton to senior jack-of-all-trades running back Jalen Washington.
On the Panthers’ ensuing offensive series (offensive literally and figuratively), Foley’s team compiled nearly a half dozen of their dozen penalties on the night, most of them procedural issues. That finally stopped what should have produced a go-ahead score for FHS, forcing the Panthers to line up to punt.
FHS botched the snap from center, and the Patriots took over on their own 45-yard line, feeling good about their fortunes.
But Washington and the Panthers erased Lincoln’s short-lived momentum in a heartbeat. On first down, Godbey dropped back to pass, was pressured by the Panthers’ line, and Washington stepped in front of a receiver to pick off the pass and race some 52 yards for a touchdown.
Senior Bailey Spade’s second straight point-after kick made it 14-7 Frankfort, and you could feel what precious bit of air Lincoln County had leave Death Valley.
The FHS defense then forced a three-and-out by the Patriots, and that led to a 25-yard touchdown run by Washington and a 20-7 Panther lead at halftime.
“It wasn’t all on me,” Washington said of the interception. “It was our defensive line getting pressure to the ball.”
But Washington was savvy enough to take advantage.
“Coach kept telling us to play the under route ... play the under route, and you’re going to get it,” said Washington, who scored four of Frankfort’s five touchdowns. “And I got it.”
“That’s Jalen,” Foley said. “He’s going to make big plays for us. We had picked up all week in practice that we needed to roll somebody into the flats in certain situations, and Jalen read it and did what he was told to do, and a big play came out of it.”
Both parties agreed that pick and score was a big momentum shift for the visitors.
“It was a big change for us when we took the lead,” Washington said. “Everybody’s heart started pumping, getting us into the game, and we went from there.”
“We thought if we could get one more good score on them, that we might take them out of the game, and we did,” Foley echoed. “They got frustrated. And they really couldn’t get anything going offensively.”
Washington added a 52-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, with a two-point conversion coming on a pass from junior quarterback Anthony Robinson to senior running back Rontez Mitchell, and it was 28-7. That made it game, set, match, Frankfort.
Senior fullback Jalen Acree — all 6-foot-1, 265 pounds of him — added a 7-yard touchdown run late to round out the scoring for the winners.
Washington finished with an unofficial 140 yards rushing, while Acree added 65 yards and Robinson 47.
Robinson and Newton shared quarterback duties for the Panthers and both were effective.
Foley declared the quarterback battle still open.
“Going into this week, DeShawn had just as many reps as Anthony,” Foley said. “We were waiting for somebody to step up to take it.
“Each one brings something different to the table. DeShawn has a little more savvy about him, and he’s a little quicker. Anthony is just a big old brute (6-3, 235 pounds) who has a pocket presence because he’s done it for a year or two.”
Whatever QB is in there, this Frankfort team could be even better than last year’s state semifinalist.
“I just like our team,” Foley said. “I think we’re a scrappy bunch of guys. We can move ... all of our guys can run. I’m real excited.”
Washington said the Panthers are also very determined after getting so close to a state title a year ago.
“We’ve been waiting on this since we were in the seventh grade,” Washington said. “The seniors — this has got to be the year we win state.”
Frankfort has a bye this week. The Panthers play at Shelby County on Sept. 5.