Benjamin Franklin football falls short in 3A quarterfinals

Benjamin Franklin junior defensive back Danner Bowen (12) attempt to intercept a pass intended for Northwest Christian senior wide receiver Brady Wijbrandts during the first half of their Division 3A state quarterfinal football game on Friday Nov. 9, 2018. (Photo Courtesy of Ralph Freso)

Benjamin Franklin High School football battled long odds to make the playoffs, after an injury-plagued September left the Chargers with a 3-4 record.

They battled back with four straight wins to reach the 3A quarterfinals. Once there, though, a two-touchdown second-half deficit against a top seed that could slow down the Chargers’ signature double wing rushing attack was a bit too much to overcome.

No. 1 Phoenix Northwest Christian (11-1) stopped Franklin’s last drive of the half with an interception at its own five. Then the Crusaders shut down the run to open the second half and scored on their opening drive to take a 21-7 lead.

That forced the Chargers to pass more than usual out of a spread set. Northwest Christian forced a fumble that led to a touchdown, then returned an interception for another score in its 35-7 victory Friday, Nov. 9.

“If we could have scored right before the half and tied it up, that would have been great. We had the big play on that wrinkle we threw in. We tried some other wrinkles just to hit it quick. It wasn’t meant to be tonight,” Benjamin Franklin Head Coach Dave Jefferies said.

Crusaders senior tailback Aren Van Hofwegen carried 23 times for 112 yards and caught a 44-yard touchdown pass to lead the home team.

Van Hofwegen jump started the offense on the second drive Friday night. His 22 yards on five carries set up senior fullback Zack Heidel with a five-yard touchdown run off tackle for a 7-0 lead.

But kicker Ben Ogan was the true catalyst for the Crusaders’ first touchdown. After the Chargers defense opened by forcing a quick three-and-out, Ogan boomed a 54-yard point to knock the visitors’ 20.

Benjamin Franklin (7-5) picked up a first down before having to punt it back. But the kick only traveled 15 yards, allowing the Crusaders to start at midfield.

“(Ogan) has changed our special teams. Our special teams are so much better with Ben punting and kicking. I’m glad the game next week is on turf too,” Northwest Christian coach Dave Inness said. “Ben’s been awesome. He takes it to another level. The ball makes a weird noise when he comes off his foot.”

Another Benjamin Franklin punting problem set up the home team’s next touchdown. Junior quarterback Danner Bowen also is the team’s punter and kickoff returner.

His second punt of the night bounced directly off a blocking lineman and back into his arms. He ran for four yards but needed 13.

The Crusaders took over at the Chargers’ 28. Van Hofwegen converted on two third-down plays and junior quarterback Jonathan Metzger burrowed in from a yard out.

Earlier in the second quarter, the Chargers scored on their first completed pass of the night. Bowen rolled right, sucked the defense in and tossed a throwback screen to senior tailback Chandler Miles for an 11-yard touchdown.

Benjamin Franklin senior running back Chandler Miles (5)( runs the ball as Northwest Christian senior defensive back John Zha (22) looks to make the tackle during the first half of their Division 3A state quarterfinal football game on Friday Nov. 9, 2018. (Photo Courtesy of Ralph Freso)

With 2:47 until half, the visitors abandoned their base double wing offense for a spread. After an exchange of punts, junior tailback Zach Jefferies took a direct snap and connected with Bowen on a 35-yard bomb.

The Chargers tried another halfback pass with Miles in the final minute. But junior cornerback Cameron Adams easily corralled Miles’ have at his own 4 yard line.

Northwest Christian then made sure it earned both sides of the line in the third quarter. Three Franklin runs yielded -4 yards and a quick punt.

Van Hofwegen carried four times for 37 yards to start the drive — including an assertive stiff arm. A holding call wiped out a fifth carry for 11 more yards.

“We were telling each other the whole time on defense that we were not comfortable with this lead and we were going to keep smashing them in the mouth. We don’t give up,” Van Hofwegen said. “We stopped them two times and knew we had them under control. But we kept going to make a statement.”

Two plays later, Heidel scored another five-yard touchdown on the ground.

“The linemen just kind of went, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ And Aren was bouncing to the outside,” Coach Inness said. “And there was a third and super-long and we got that pass. That comes down to the offensive line getting it done. I was proud of the way Metzger threw it in the second half.”

Four plays later the Crusaders forced a fumble and senior defensive lineman Matt Cadriel fell on it at the Chargers’ 48.

“I didn’t see who caused it. I just saw the ball and dropped on it. I knew if we could get a touchdown, that would finish the game,” Cadriel said.

Again, a hold threatened to erase Van Hofwegen’s work on the ground. This time, though, the senior leaked out of the backfield on a wheel route, took Metzger’s toss, broke a tackle and was off to the races on a 44-yard touchdown.

Early in the fourth quarter, Adams ended any hopes for the visitor by picking off a hanging pass and dashing 58 yards for the return touchdown.

The Northwest Christian defense limited Miles to 27 yards on 10 carries and Coach Jefferies to 22 yards on 12 carries.

“We learned a valuable lesson back in the day from Doug Meyers at (Arizona Lutheran). That dude is the guru (of the double wing). The key is setting the edge with the two outside backers. You also have to be super aggressive with your linebackers and safeties – Dusty and Aren were thumping all night. You almost have to be too aggressive at times,” Coach Inness said.

While the future is now for the senior-dominated Crusaders, this year’s tribulations will pay off for future Chargers teams. Coach Jefferies said a lot of young kids now have four of five games of varsity experience.

Miles was the only viable option at times. A lot of juniors were injured and will be back, and for most of the season the team had a freshman starting center.

“There a great team and they’re going to be one of the top teams in 3A next year, with those guys coming back. We’ll worry about that then,” Coach Inness said.

Coach Jefferies is looking forward to next year, but said he owes a lot of the Chargers playoff success the last two years — semifinals in 2017 and quarterfinals this year — to the kids who arrived in the program at the same time he did.

“Each group of seniors add a little piece that’s theirs,” Coach Jefferies said. “This is the group of kids that was freshmen when I got here. I was able to see them go through all four years of high school and they’re a great group of kids.”

Editor’s Note: Richard Smith is the sports editor for Independent Newsmedia’s West Valley Preps.

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