The Owen Warhorses weren’t expecting an easy road back to a winning record when they hosted Franklin on Sept. 27, but the offense got behind the wheel and put the team on cruise control.
Led by junior quarterback Caleb Scott and senior wide receiver Geordan Haggins, the Warhorses improved to 3-2 with their best offensive performance of the season.
Owen came into the contest with an even 2-2 record after splitting a pair of games the previous week. The team came home from North Henderson on Monday, Sept. 16 with a 13-0 victory in a make-up game before heading to Brevard days later, where they fell 20-0 to the Blue Devils.
Franklin, a Mountain 6 Conference team, came into the contest 0-5 after a 49-0 loss to 2018 Western Highlands Conference runner-up Mitchell.
The Warhorses wasted no time getting on the scoreboard against the Panthers when senior Caleb Wells kicked a field goal early in the first quarter. Then the floodgates opened.
Junior running back Shavoy Harding broke through with a 32-yard touchdown on an Owen 4th and 2. The Warhorse defense ended the ensuing Franklin drive with an interception by junior Dequan Boyce, who returned it into the end zone before the touchdown was nullified by a controversial call.
Officials ejected Owen senior offensive and defensive lineman Jaylin Davidson for a vicious block on a Franklin player during the return. Owen head coach Nathan Padgett, who said after the game that he plans to appeal the decision, argued against the call on the field as a chorus of boos came down from the stands at Warhorse Stadium.
“I got a good look at the block,” Padgett said in an interview on the field after the game. “It happened near the play and the Franklin player was looking in Jaylin’s direction at the time. It was a clean block. Was it a hard hit? Yes, but it wasn’t illegal or dirty in any way.”
The Owen offense needed only one play to put the points back on the scoreboard when Scott hit Haggins for the duo’s first touchdown of the night.
The Warhorses increased their lead to 24-0 in the second quarter when junior Myles Tate blocked a Franklin punt and recovered it in stride for a touchdown. Harding, who finished the night with 46 rushing yards on 6 carries and a reception for 44 yards, scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to give Owen a 31-0 lead at the half.
Rain began to fall at halftime, as the Owen Marching Band took the field to perform, but the weather did little to dampen the Warhorse offense.
Scott hit Haggins for another long touchdown pass to extend the Owen lead to 38 early in the third quarter. Haggins finished the game with 3 catches for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Scott would add one more touchdown pass to Tate in the third quarter to extend the lead to 44-0. Franklin would go on to score a touchdown in the final quarter.
Scott finished the game with 8 completions on 13 attempts for 227 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also picked up 34 yards on the ground on 3 carries. Haggins, Harding and Tate delivered 2 touchdowns each.
The Warhorses were led on defense by junior Everette Vale, who had a team-high 7 tackles and a sack. Senior offensive and defensive lineman Saevion Gibbs brought consistent pressure up the middle throughout the night and finished the game with 6 tackles.
Padgett credited his players for responding to his challenge early in the week.
"It all started Monday," he said. "They didn't like me too much Monday. We really set the tone that day that we got to fix ourselves. We came in after a tough week, where we played two games in a few days, and we had a great practice Monday. Tuesday was even better, Wednesday was better than that and we were still improving as a team on Thursday."
Padgett called it the team's best week of practice this season.
"These guys came together and recognized that our worst enemy can be ourselves at times," he said. "We weren't perfect tonight, but we will enjoy this win right now."
The coach addressed his players at midfield after the game.
"I'm proud of you guys," he said. "You went out there, played hard and picked up a big win. No practice Monday."
Cheers erupted from the team as the players made their way to the locker room. The Warhorses, who have a bye week on Friday, Oct. 4, will need to take advantage of the rest before they open their conference season the following week.
"We have a tough road ahead, starting off against Mitchell, and then we have Polk and Heritage," he said. "Our conference is really good this year and we plan on taking it week by week. We don't want to look ahead, we want to go into that first game as 0-0. Our goal is to compete for the Western Highlands Conference."
Padgett credited offensive coordinator Anthony Lee for devising a game plan against Franklin that incorporated the many of the team's weapons on that side of the ball.
"Coach Lee does a great job of that, and I was really proud of our offense and quarterback Caleb Scott, Shavoy Harding, Dequan Boyce, Geordan Haggins, Blake Roberts and all of those guys," Padgett said. "But it all starts up front, so I have to give a ton of credit to our offensive line, because they really paved the way."
The coach credited that same unit for its work on the defensive side of the ball, as well.
"We played very well, defensively," he said. "We tackled better this week and we got to the ball and played Warhorse-style football. We had some big hits on defense."
The performance should provide the team with an increased level of confidence as it prepares to host the Mountaineers on Friday, Oct. 11.
"They're feeling good about themselves right now, and that's what I want to see for them," Padgett said. "We'll be back on the grind Tuesday."