SHORT GAP, W.Va. — North Marion head coach Daran Hays felt a bit uneasy on the bus ride to Frankfort Friday afternoon.
Frankfort head coach Kevin Whiteman felt the same at halftime Friday night.
Then Brady Watson and Co. took over in the third quarter, quickly turning a one-point game into a Frankfort 35-13 season-opening rout at Falcon Stadium.
Watson ran 13 times for 122 yards and three touchdowns and came up with two big third-down tackles in the third quarter that helped turn the tide for the Falcons, who outscored the Huskies 21-3 in the second half.
“Brady is an animal and the most determined football player I’ve ever coached,’’ Whiteman said of the 5-7, 180-pound junior fullback and linebacker. “I can’t say enough about him. He had a phenomenal game.”
Frankfort trailed 10-7 after the first quarter, led 14-10 at the half but would have trailed if not for consecutive touchdown-saving tackles of Chase Banker late in the half by Seth Logsdon, the first after a 38-yard run to the 25-yard line, and the next on an 11-yard run to the 14.
“We made too many mistakes tonight. I know it’s the first game, but that’s no excuse,’’ Whiteman said. The Falcons lost a fumble in the first quarter and had nine penalties for the game. “I was hoping we’d come out crisp on offense. We weren’t. We got a win but we know we’ve got a ton to work on and a long way to go.”
North Marion’s solid first half came after the team learned earlier in the day it would be without starting quarterback Drew Harker.
“We found out he had mononucleosis 15 minutes before the bus pulled out,’’ Hays explained. Banker, normally a wide receiver who had caught 54 passes for nearly 1,000 yards last year, started at quarterback.
“Chase had played some quarterback and we had gotten him some reps in August, but he had been slowed a bit by an ankle injury. Our hands were kind of tied because we had to change all our personnel in every (offensive) package, with our wide receiver now the quarterback. We ran a lot of wildcat stuff. We played hard early, and well enough that we probably should have been ahead at the half.”
Whiteman’s first-half disappointment was erased in the third quarter. Clinging to a 14-13 lead with just over nine minutes left in the period, the Falcons scored two touchdowns in a 1:29 span and took a 28-13 lead into the fourth.
The Huskies made three big mistakes in the second half, and each one showed up on the scoreboard.
The first was a 15-yard personal foul for a late hit on a punt return midway through the third quarter. Four plays later, Noah Bible ran untouched 16 yards on a reverse and, after a two-point pass from Cole Smith to Watson, the 14-13 lead was 22-13 with 3:18 left in the third.
The second was an interception by Tyler Crock at the Frankfort 38. Two plays later, Hunter Jenkins grabbed a Gage Shaffer pass near the North Marion 40, got a block from Crock, and turned it into a 62-yard touchdown play and 28-13 lead with 1:49 left in the quarter.
Three plays later, Jonny Hedrick recovered a fumble at the North Marion 45. Watson scored on a 21-yard run around the left end that made it 35-13 with 10:16 to play.
“Our heads went down, and then things got ugly,” Hays said of the third quarter.
Frankfort grabbed a quick lead, scoring on its first possession of the year. Cole Smith returned the opening kickoff 70 yards to the North Marion 25. After a 15-yard loss on the first shotgun snap, Shaffer hit Crock for a 25-yard gain and first down, and Watson ran the remaining 15 yards for the score.
North Marion answered on its first possession, going 53 yards in eight plays. Banker accounted for all the yards, running 6 times for 34 and completing a pass to Ryan Elliott for 19. Banker scored on a five-yard run to tie it 7-7.
A lost lost fumble on a mishandled snap was recovered by North Marion’s J.J. Rogers at the Frankfort 20, and Dylan Leary’s 23-yard field goal gave the Huskies their only lead, 10-7 with 4:27 left in the first quarter. Frankfort went back on top, for good, on a 41-yard run by Watson early in the second.
The Frankfort defense kept North Marion off the scoreboard the rest of the half and had four sacks, one each by Chaz Muse, Hunter Flanagan, Trent Hamilton and Smith in the first half.
Watson ran 13 times for 122 yards, Noah Bible ran seven times for 47 yards and Cole Smith returned three first-quarter kickoffs for 127 yards for Frankfort. Hamilton led the Frankfort defense with eight tackles and a sack. Watson had eight tackles, including two for two-yard losses on third downs in the pivotal third quarter.
Banker played a gutsy game for North Marion, running 20 times for 84 yards and completing 5 of 11 passes for 46 yards. John Michael ran seven times for 53 yards and Austin Stanley had eight carries for 49 yards. The Huskies led in total yardage, 307-279.
Frankfort plays at Moorefield Friday night.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org