"You're not ready!" chanted the Kenosha Indian Trail student section as the visiting Franklin Sabers took the field just before kickoff Friday at Jaskwhich Stadium.
It would turn out to be wishful thinking for Hawks fans.
Senior quarterback Sean McGuire tossed two first-half touchdown passes to receiver Nick Plath, and the Sabers (7-1, 6-0) held off a furious Hawks rally in the final two minutes to prevail, 28-21, over Kenosha Indian Trail (7-1, 5-1) in a battle between the top two teams in the Southeast Conference.
The victory clinches no worse than a tie for the league title for the Sabers, and their first crown since 2010. They have a chance to clinch the title outright in the regular season closer when they host Racine Park (0-8) at 7 p.m. Friday. The WIAA playoffs will follow.
Franklin will go in with a large head of steam following its critical win over Indian Trail, which was vying for a historic first league championship in just its second year of existence.
Indian Trail quarterback Zach Gianakos pulled the Hawks to within 28-21 on a 5-yard scoring toss to Michael Roach with 1 minute, 28 seconds remaining and would receive one final shot to tie the game at the Indian Trail 28 with 1:05 left in the game.
The Hawks were able to engineer a last-gasp drive to the Franklin 25-yard line, but an interception by Franklin linebacker Kyle Cortez with 19 seconds left sealed the game for the Sabers. Franklin forced four Indian Trail turnovers on the night, including three interceptions.
"Our secondary played really well tonight," Franklin head coach Louis Brown said. "Those interceptions were game-changing plays, and tonight that was the difference."
Two of those game-changing plays came in the third quarter as the Indian Trail running game came alive behind Gianakos and running back Andrew Jazdzewski. But two long Hawks drives ended in interceptions by senior defensive back Alec Jakubowski inside the Franklin 5-yard line as the Sabers were able to maintain their 21-7 advantage.
Gianakos finished with 213 passing yards and two touchdowns and added 150 yards and a score on the ground. The Hawks rushed for 246 yards on 34 carries, with the lion's share of those yards coming in the second half.
"We definitely had our opportunities," Kenosha Indian Trail head coach Mike McKay said. "We just weren't able to capitalize on them like we have all year."
Indian Trail nearly forced a red-zone turnover of their own in the fourth quarter as a fierce hit dislodged the ball from Franklin running back Chad Walton's grasp. But McGuire was able to recover the fumble in a sea of Indian Trail defenders to keep the Sabers drive alive.
Two plays later, McGuire found Walton on a screen pass for his third touchdown pass of the night to put Franklin ahead, 28-14. McGuire finished 20 of 31 on the night for 171 passing yards and added a touchdown run, while Walton racked up 66 yards on the ground. Nick Plath was McGuire's safety valve with an impressive 10 catches for 76 yards.
Franklin forced its first takeaway early in the contest, as a Sabers fumble recovery gave them possession near midfield on Indian Trail's opening drive. While they did not score on the next drive, the turnover would quiet the raucous Indian Trail homecoming crowd and serve as a sign of things to come.
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