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It took three years, but finally, it has happened.
When the Kentucky High School Athletic Association realigned football in time for the 2011 season, many fans and media alike were looking forward to those Anderson County-Franklin County showdowns for the Region 3 championship.
After all, Anderson had begun making a name for itself under Coach Mark Peach, while the buzz around Franklin centered around an electrifying talent named Ryan Timmons. It looked like the Bearcats and Flyers were set to rule the region for several years.
Alas, Anderson won the region in 2011, while Franklin has had only one regular-season loss – to Anderson last month – in that time, but that post-season rematch for a regional crown had never materialized.
Until last Friday, that is. Anderson, the District 6 champion, survived a furious Conner comeback to advance to the regional final, 35-34. Franklin took advantage of South Oldham's inability to convert in the red zone to claim a 27-21 overtime victory in Crestwood.
It is the second consecutive year that Franklin has been to the regional final. Anderson has been to the Region 3 final in 2011 and this year, while making the Region 2 championship game in 2010.
Franklin prevailed at South Oldham when burly running back Chris Roberts scored from three yards out in overtime. Roberts riddled South Oldham for 228 yards on 19 carries and also scored on runs of 46 and 44 yards.
South Oldham, however, felt it was one that slipped away as the Dragons saw three drives inside the Franklin 20 stopped by turnovers and another end with a missed field goal attempt.
All of that matters little Friday night.
Neither does the fact that Anderson defeated Franklin 35-21 back on Oct. 18. In that one, Franklin jumped to a quick 14-0 lead but Anderson roared back.
In that one, Franklin got an early touchdown when quarterback Barrett Sanderson hit Lorenzo McCaskell for a short touchdown pass. Less than a minute later, Anderson's Ross Cox fumbled at his own 19, setting up another quick Franklin score, with McCaskell running it in again.
But Anderson settled down with a pair of long drives sandwiched around a 60-yard pass from Sanderson to McCaskell.
With Franklin leading 21-14, the Flyers called for a fake punt from their own 14. Anderson's Chase Sutherland got his hand on Zack Durham's pass, setting up the tying score with 28 seconds left in the first half.
Anderson dominated the second half to clinch the district championship. The Bearcats put together a 95-yard drive to go ahead 28-21, then put the clincher on the board when Cox intercepted a pass and capped the night with a one-yard plunge.
Friday night should be a dogfight and what happened five weeks before is history. Every game is different.
Anderson coach Mark Peach does not expect either team to do things dramatically different from the first time around. “When you get to this point of the season, you are who you are,” he says. “You can do a few things different and put in some new wrinkles, but that is it.
“Franklin County is a great football team. It will be a tremendous challenge for us.”
Keys to the game
Ball security. When the teams met the first time, Anderson turned the ball over twice while Franklin did once. All three turnovers resulted in scores for the other team. So far, in the first two playoff games, Anderson might have been its own worst enemy with crucial turnovers against both Cooper and Conner.
Franklin, on the other hand, was the beneficiary of South Oldham's carelessness and made the Dragons pay.
Controlling the line. When Anderson defeated Franklin earlier, the Bearcats won the battles up front. Friday, against Conner, the Bearcat defense harassed Drew Barker all night. Anderson is very good up front and this might be the Bearcats' biggest advantage against Franklin.
Speed. Franklin has lots of it in Chris Roberts and Lorenzo McCaskell. When the teams played the first time, McCaskell netted only 34 yards on the ground and Roberts had 15. Receiving, they combined for 88 yards on eight catches. Anderson must be able to contain them again as the Flyers hold a speed advantage on the Bearcats.
Franklin County leads the all-time series, which dates to 1970, 12-3. Anderson has never won two straight in the series with Franklin. Before winning last month, the Bearcats' last win over Franklin County came in 2002.
Anderson in regional finals
This year marks the fifth time Anderson has advanced to a regional championship game. Bearcat coach Mark Peach has taken part in four of them. He was a junior tackle at Anderson when the Bearcats lost to Danville in the 1987 Class AA regional final. He has been head coach when the Bearcats advanced to the regional final in 2010, 2011 and this year.
Anderson's other regional final appearance came in 1972.