Just getting out of the first round in the football playoffs won’t be good enough for Franklin Road Academy this year.
That’s if seniors Jake Wallstedt and Connor Maitland have anything to say about it. As sophomores, the two watched as the Panthers didn’t even make the playoffs. Last year, as juniors, the two helped FRA qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2004 and then won once before being eliminated.
As FRA (7-3) prepares for a DII-A playoff opener against Harding Academy (6-4), 7 p.m. Friday at home, Wallstedt and Maitland, the Panthers’ two offensive leaders, earlier this week took a look back and a glance forward.
“In our opener against Baylor, we lost 35-14, but that was a team that beat us 40-0 the year before,” Maitland, the Panthers’ quarterback, also an outstanding receiver, said. “We had two good wins, then we played at Knoxville Webb, the defending state champs. We were playing a great game, we were down 21-14 and we drove to the 10-yard line before the referees let the clock run out. Then we beat Ravenwood, a Class 6A team. We had a 21-7 lead against DCA, but they rallied to beat us.
“So we know we’re a good team. We’re right there, we just need to close games out.”
Maitland has a combined 1,031 yards of offense, 746 yards rushing and seven touchdowns with 285 passing and six touchdowns. He also has 11 receptions for 165 yards.
“We feel like our program has gotten better since we’ve been here,” Wallstedt, one of Nashville’s leading rushers with 1,213 yards, 6.3 average, to go with 15 touchdowns, said.
The two have rushed for almost 2,000 yards combined. Both gained more than 100 yards in the last week’s regular season finale, a 35-6 win at Ezell-Harding.
“Coming off last year, our team has great chemistry and togetherness,” Wallstedt said. “We’ve gotten better and better as the season has gone along. In the game vs. DCA, we got the big lead, but we have to learn how to finish better.”
About his rushing yards, Wallstedt said, “That’s a credit to our offensive line, those guys have really done the job,’’ he said. “And our receivers, like Dalton Ponchilla and Jackson Wills, have really stepped up.”
Wills also has kicked 20-of-22 extra points and 4-of-7 field goals.
All of that (FRA is averaging 27.7 ppg) has offset the loss of versatile star and Mr. Football finalist Doug Page (now at Tennessee Tech) who did virtually everything on offense.
“We’re more versatile this year, everybody is stepping up,” Maitland said.
“This year, it’s not so obvious what we’re going to do,” Wallstedt said. “We have a very good balance of running and passing.”
Looking ahead, Maitland said, “If we’re able to win Friday, we go down and challenge the No. 1 team in the West (undefeated St. George’s, 10-0) next week. We’ve played some really good teams already, so we’re battle tested.”
“Harding Academy should be a good game, and we know we’ll have to step up the tempo,” Wallstedt said. “Then we’ll see how far we can go.”
Former Mr. Football winner (at Brentwood High in 1998) and ex-Kansas passing star Bill Whittemore, the FRA quarterbacks coach, has been a big plus for Maitland’s passing progress.
“After I hurt my shoulder and began re-hab, coach Whittemore was there encouraging me throughout,” Maitland said. “He’s been a huge factor in my improvement.”
Two of FRA’s 10 seniors, Wallstedt and Maitland have played a major part in leadership.
“They’ve been a huge part of our team’s growth, not just this season but the previous two years,’’ said coach David Pack, who has guided the Panthers to two straight playoffs. They completely understand the big picture and what we’re trying to do.
“First and foremost, our goal is to qualify for the playoffs, then next is to take those steps we need to do to win for four straight weeks.”
If Wallstedt and Maitland have their way, they will be making a long trip into November.
Brentwood High at Smyrna
Franklin at Oakland
Overton at Blackman
McGavock at Mt. Juliet
Marshall County at Maplewood
Page at Chatt. Red Bank
Macon County at Lipscomb
CPA at Goodpasture
Grundy County at Pearl-Cohn
East Lit at Smith County
Columbia Academy at Nashville Christian
Father Ryan at MBA
Pope JPII at Brentwood Acad.
St. Benedict at BGA
Jackson Christian at DCA
Harding Academy at FRA
Ezell-Harding at SBEC
(Davidson Academy, bye)