With Walter Williams High School in Orange territory to start the game, three plays after a third-down conversion, senior defensive back Jake Defranco made a play that changed the momentum of the game, and ignited the start of a defensive showcase that led his team to a 21-13 victory.
The Bulldogs quarterback rolled to his left and lofted a deep ball down the left sideline that slowly dropped from the sky. DeFranco, who was covering the intended receiver, jumped through the air and snatched the falling ball to give his team possession. It was the first of four interceptions on the night for Orange High School.
Later in the first quarter with Walter Williams deep in Orange territory, Defranco again got the ball back for his team. This time, on fourth down, he executed a shoestring tackle on the Walter Williams signal caller to prevent a first down.
“Jake defranco is an absolute baller,” Orange head coach Van Smith said after the victory. “Bottom line, he’s a football player. He’s small in stature, but he’s got a heart the size of all outdoors. He’s tough as rawhide. He’s been injured to start this year and we’ve been without him. It was good to get him back.”
Yet not even Defranco could stop the trickery from Walter Williams in the second quarter. On first-and-10 at the 26-yard line of the Panthers, the Bulldogs quarterback threw a backward pass to his receiver, who found an open man down the right sideline. The receiver was able to walk the ball into the end zone for a 6-0 lead.
But Defranco made sure the Panthers got some momentum back. On the ensuing kickoff, he returned the ball all the way to his team’s 42-yard line to give his offense strong starting field position.
From there, Defranco got some help from sophomore running back Omarion Lewis, who picked up a first down for Orange that brought the ball into Walter Williams’ territory.
But just after it looked like the Panthers would score, quarterback Wyatt Jones threw a pass in the end zone that bounced off a receiver’s hands and into the hands of a waiting defender.
On the next play from the 20-yard line, Elijah Richmond ran the ball 80 yards for a touchdown to give Walter Williams a 13-0 lead.
The Panthers refused to let the Bulldogs score again, as they put up 21 unanswered points en route to the victory.
“Coach Smith always says we’re a touchdown and a turnover away and that missed field goal that they had really came back to them and we just kept fighting and got the dub,” Jones said after the victory.
With less than two minutes left in the first half, senior linebacker Owen Brimmer became the latest Panther to make a big play, picking off a pass from Walter Williams on first down to give his team the ball in the red zone.
A few plays later with the ball on the 4-yard line on fourth-and-1, Courtney Edwards scored a touchdown to put the Panthers on the scoreboard.
Coming out of halftime, the Panthers once again started strong. Early in the second half, senior outside linebacker Joe Kiger was the latest Panther to make a big play for the defense. With less than 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Kiger dove and intercepted a Bulldogs pass, giving the Panthers the ball at their own 49-yard line.
“I just told them, ‘I think we struggled defensively to start this year. I think it was about the second quarter, second half last week that are defense finally started showing up,’” Smith said. “Tonight I thought they played exceptional.”
On first-and-goal from the four-yard line Lewis was able to run the ball in and the extra point gave Orange a 14-13 lead.
But it was Jones, who took hard hits all night, who sealed the victory for the Panthers. With 5:28 left in the game, Jones trotted over to his head coach on the sideline. His thumb was in pain and he thought Smith might have to take him out.
Instead, Smith called a timeout to give Jones a long break. By the time the timeout was over, Jones was ready to go back in. One play later, he bulldozed his way into the end zone, pushing a Bulldogs defender down with a stiff arm and breaking a few more tackles along the way.
“God, I love that kid,” Smith said. He’s so tough, he’s so tough.”
After the score, the Panthers were able to prevent the Bulldogs from tying the game and left Auman Stadium with their first win of the 2019 season.
“We play Riverside and then it’s on to conference so we’re hoping to just build our momentum and keep it going,” Jones said after the game.