High School Sports
Franklin Central guaranteed first winning season in a decade
In 2015, Franklin Central football coach Grant Lewis lost his first six games after taking the job. Two years later, he’s put together the best start since 2007, the program’s last winning season.
At 6-1 overall, 5-0 in Conference Indiana, the Class 6A No. 12 Flashes look and act a lot different these days, led by a 24-man senior class that’ll play its last regular-season home game Friday night against Terre Haute South.
“I have a wonderful coaching staff and administrative support so we can be tough on the kids, make sure they’re focused and hold them accountable, so they know what’s expected of them daily,” Lewis said. “Once you do that for a while, you can focus on progressing instead of dealing with headaches.
“When we took over, we were kind of notorious for not being very good and not having a lot of kids, but we’re proud to say that’s changed.”
In going 4-6 a year ago, the Flashes’ offense scored fewer than 20 points in five games. With a talented and diversified attack this season, they have none.
At quarterback, Dylan Bishop has completed 64 percent of his throws for 195 yards per game, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. Malieki Parks (475 yards, 4 TDs), Austin Benner (289 yards, 6 TDs) and Jaylen Wilson (254 yards, 2 TDs) have 70 combined catches.
“Bishop can throw or run on any given play, which helps us out, as does a great receiving corps,” Lewis said. “Opponents have to choose whether they want to try and stop the run or the pass, and that gives us an advantage.”
In the backfield, Michael Pitz (738 yards, 9 TDs) and Jaylen Brown (303 yards) provide a thunder-and-lightning approach.
“Both of them are freak athletes and do what they need to every single day,” Lewis said. “Brown’s our scat-back, brings speed and juke moves, while Pitz has some wiggle but wants to run right through you.”
The offense benefits from the blocking of Lutheran transfer Payton Ditchley (6-3, 280), who Lewis calls “one of the best linemen in the state,” as well as Payton Lamping (6-2, 270) and Keegan Cline (6-1, 290), who also provide matchup issues for the opposition.
On defense, linebacker Mario Koles averages 13.1 tackles per game, while Nate Talhelm goes for 9.1. The duo has a combined 12 tackles for loss.
“We knew Koles would be a stud player for us this year, flies to the football, very physical,” Lewis said. “Nate’s surprised us this year, and he’s a big part of our plans for the future.”
Peyton Keesee (34 tackles) leads the D-line as a run-stopper, while Steven Edwards (31 tackles) applies pressure from the edge. There’s plenty of experience at DB with Eli Weeks (61 tackles) and Austin McIntosh (51 tackles).
Outside of the team’s lone loss against 5A No. 1 Roncalli, the Flashes have put opponents away when they’ve needed to in the second half.
“We’ve had a lot of close games, and our kids have played 48 minutes in all of them,” Lewis said. “Whether it’s a last-minute field goal, a big stand or late drives, they’re confident and they’ll never quit.”