Tyreese Williams’ time has come at Franklinton – and he is more than happy to take advantage of the opportunity.
Williams, a senior, shared the backfield load over the previous two years on the Red Rams’ varsity football squad, but he has blossomed as Franklinton’s unquestioned feature back this fall.
Williams continued his rapid ascent Thursday as he delivered 243 yards on the ground – the second-highest total of his career – while helping the host Red Rams outlast Princeton by a 38-27 margin in non-league action.
Williams tacked on a trio of touchdowns while helping the Red Rams pick up their second straight decision – and improve to 2-1 overall. Princeton, which has shown a penchant for scoring but is still in the process of resolving some defensive issues, fell to 1-2.
“When I took the job here (in the offseason), Tyreese was the first player to give me a chance,” said new Franklinton coach JeVar Bransome. “He didn’t have to do that. He has been a captain and a leader for us, and he is really trying to make this work.”
Williams’ night was typified on one play – a 45-yard touchdown burst in the second quarter that saw him break six Princeton tackles en route to the end zone. To Bransome, Williams’ heroics reminded him of an unbelievable touchdown run former Seattle Seahawk Marshawn Lynch delivered in the NFL Playoffs several years ago against the New Orleans Saints.
The sequence also signified much of the Bulldogs’ defensive work, both Thursday and through three contests. Princeton seems to have defenders in the right places, but has been trouble finishing off plays.
“We have got to find a way to do a better job of coaching tackling the correct way,” said Bulldogs coach Travis Gaster.
For the second straight week, Franklinton held on to a slim lead late in the second period, but with the other team driving toward a potential score in the closing minutes. And just like last week’s victory over Louisburg, Franklinton regained possession and scored on a field goal as time expired by Jordan Vitale. Josiah Trotter’s interception helped set up the Red Rams near midfield in the final two minutes, and Vitale would come through with a 38-yard field goal at the horn to give the Red Rams a 24-13 cushion at intermission.
With the momentum secured, Franklinton continued to surge when Justin Carver took the opening kickoff of the second half 68 yards for a touchdown. Williams added a 64-yard touchdown burst later in the third period, and the Red Rams were in charge at 38-13.
THREE TO KNOW
Tyreese Williams, Franklinton: Long-time Franklinton football observers knew Williams had the potential to be a big-time running back, but he has split time the past two campaigns with Ricky Person, who has received a slew of Division I scholarship offers. But when Person transferred to Heritage this summer, the full-time job belonged to Williams. In addition to his 243 yards, Williams tacked on touchdown bolts of 30, 45 and 64 yards while also piling up plenty of second-effort yardage.
“(Person) was a big factor for us,” Williams said. “But now we see that it isn’t just about one player. It’s a team thing for us. I needed to show up and be a leader for this team. There was pressure for me to lead by example, but I had to step up and do that.”
Earl Gibson, Princeton: Gibson had a big game for the Bulldogs and drew raves from members of the Franklinton coaching staff when the clubs met in the post-contest handshake. Gibson offered a touchdown burst of 63 yards in the first 1:06 of the outing and later scored on a speedy 82-yard kickoff return.
Jordan Vitale, Franklinton: Vitale, known more for his soccer prowess for the Red Rams, has been an instrumental part of Franklinton’s early success. He has nailed key field goals at the end of the first half in each of the past two games. In addition to his three-pointer, Vitale nailed three extra points Thursday.
But he received the most attention from his teammates by saving a touchdown with a one-on-one tackle during a Princeton second-half kickoff return. When Vitale returned to the sideline following his heroics, he was greeted with a season’s worth of helmet slaps from the other Red Rams.
BY THE NUMBERS
6: Princeton’s offense was derailed by six holding penalties, one of which nullified a touchdown. The Bulldogs also threw two interceptions and were unsuccessful in a fake-punt attempt.
“We can’t have a lot of penalties and negative plays,” Gaster said. “That is not what our offense is designed to do. We can’t afford to get behind and get off-schedule. We also have to focus on playing four full quarters together. If we do that, we can be a pretty good football team.”
233: Franklinton rushed for a whopping 233 yards in the first period. That frame ended with the Red Rams holding a 21-13 lead.
93: The Bulldogs have allowed a combined 93 points over the past two weeks, including a 55-54 heartbreaker last week against Midway. In Gaster’s estimation, Princeton’s points allowed total will decrease considerably when the Bulldogs master the art of wrapping up and securing tackles. That wasn’t a good combination Friday as Williams is known for his toughness and ability to break initial tackle attempts.
143: Franklinton quarterback Kyeon Spencer amassed 143 total yards – 109 on the ground and 34 through the air despite being bothered by cramps. Spencer offered one of the most important plays of the game as his 65-yard touchdown keeper provided a quick response – just one play later – to Gibson’s outing-opening heroics.
THEY SAID IT
“I keep telling our players to trust the process,” said Bransome, a former assistant at Hillside and Rolesville. “It’s still a work in progress. We are happy with the last two weeks, but we have plenty to improve on. What I am trying to express is that we need to expect to do well. When you raise your expectation level, your players will rise to meet those expectations.”
Franklinton will have a Herculean task next Friday as the Red Rams will entertain perennial 1A powerhouse Tarboro, which piled up 62 points on Franklinton last season. Princeton will look to reach the .500 level during a home showdown versus backyard rival North Johnston.