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Franklin breakup, big plays spark Independence's tight win over Highland

After his team struggled to make fourth down stops for the first three quarters, Trey Franklin did his part to get the Independence defense off the field when it most mattered.

Franklin made two critical fourth down stops, including a pass breakup near the goal line, as the Falcons improved to 3-0 with a thrilling 26-21 win over Highland in prep football Friday night.

Star Falcon running back Evan Peaker had another big night, accounting for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 65-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, then put Independence ahead with a 50-yard burst 17 seconds into the fourth.

Highland converted a total of three fourth downs on two of their scoring drives, including a five-yard AJ Cleveland to Chris Gutierrez touchdown pass in the third quarter, which gave the Scots their first lead at 20-14.

But after Peaker's fourth-quarter touchdown run, Franklin made the first of his key defensive plays, stopping Highland's Zephan Stevens two yards shy of the sticks on a fourth-and-six passing play.

The Scots, who gave up eight plays of 30-plus yards on the night, surrendered back-breakers on the ensuing possession. Facing fourth-and-30, Independence quarterback LaDon Denmark found a wide-open Emiliano Rodriguez for 32 yards, robbing Highland of valuable possession time.

"(We had) a couple misalignments and just a failure of communication," said Scots' coach Michael Gutierrez, whose team also gave up a 95-yard touchdown run to Denmark in the first half. "Those are the things we've been preaching and sure enough they caught us at those times."

But Highland gained new life, blocking a 25-yard field goal try with 2:17 to play.

The Scots converted one fourth down on the drive, and nearly delivered a dagger on the following third down, when Cleveland escaped the pocket and threw a heave to diving receiver Quinton Jackson, who got his hands on the ball, but had it squirt loose when he hit the ground.

Cleveland attempted to create more magic on the ensuing fourth down. He rolled right, ran it back all the way to the middle of the field and threw across his body to the goal line for Eternal Goddard.

But right there when the ball arrived was Franklin, who got underneath Goddard and knocked the ball away, clinching a thrilling win with a breakup he wasn't initially confident he'd created.

"Oh my gosh, I thought he was going to catch it," Franklin said. "But when I saw him drop it I said 'what a relief. What a relief.'"

It was another thrilling win for the Falcons, who've have made second-half comebacks in two of their three wins during this perfect start.

"Our boys have shown all year ... when the pressure was the thickest is when they really step up," Independence coach Tyler Schilhabel said. "I think they thrive under that (and in) big situations they knew what they needed to do. It feels fantastic, especially getting a good win after a very quality team like that."