2020. August. September. October. A familiar scene in Franklin high school athletics unfolded. The Saber football team was on a roll expecting an end of season playoff ticket. And then, a crushing defeat that brought devastating heartache.
On November 12, 2020, Mark Stewart wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
The high school football playoffs start Friday and Franklin was supposed to be a main attraction. The Sabers finished the regular season 5-0, and with just 11 miles separating them from Muskego, the two-time defending state champion, the hope was that the teams would be placed in a bracket together in the condensed, two-week postseason format.
The WIAA delivered, putting the Sabers in a foursome with the 7-0 Warriors, 7-0 Menomonee Falls and resurgent Arrowhead, which is 5-2. The four were seeded by computer and at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, the first-round matchup between No. 3 seed Falls and No. 2 seed Franklin was revealed.
It was the sure-fire game of the week. Then families began checking their emails later that morning. The news wasn’t good:
“At this point, the number of positive staff and student COVID-19 cases at Franklin High School has reached the 3% level of high concern, and we are moving forward with virtual learning for the next two weeks.”
The letter to Franklin High School families was from district administrator Judy Mueller. The move to virtual learning was bad news for the Sabers football team.
The next line in the letter spelled out the situation specifically.
“Effective Monday, November 9th, Franklin High School, including athletics and in-person activities, are temporarily suspended for the next 14 calendar days.”
Just like that, Franklin’s playoff run was over.
That was 2020. But in 2021, the Sabers would not be denied.
Before the season began the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote:
Going into the 2021 high school football season, no team in southeast Wisconsin looks better on paper than the Franklin Sabers.
The defending Southeast Conference champion returns nine starters on offense and depending on how you count them, six to eight on defense.
When you add in the Sabers’ track record of success – they’ve averaged 9.6 wins per season over the past decade – there is legitimate reason to believe the sky is the limit this season.
Opening game of the season. Sabers go on the road to face a tough Appleton North squad. Trailing by 17 in the 4th quarter Franklin mounts a furious comeback.
From the Journal Sentinel:
All that Myles Burkett saw was, out of his periphery, wide receiver Jacques Brooks getting a sliver of separation between him and his defender. The Franklin senior quarterback could sense a pass rusher from Appleton North bearing down on him.
There was no time to step into the throw. From North’s 42-yard line, flat-footed, Burkett floated a pass that reached the goal line. He was thumped onto his back by the Lightning defender and listened for the crowd’s reaction from the ground. For multiple seconds, all he heard was silence.
That’s because, on the other end, nearly 50 yards from where Burkett sat on the turf with a defender on top of him, Brooks had tipped the pass in the air and run back underneath it. But, sandwiched between two Lightning defenders, nobody could tell who had come up with the ball – except Brooks, who emerged with the pigskin clutched securely and triumphantly between his two arms.
“Honestly, it’s just crazy,” Brooks said. “Every single kid in America wants that if you play football. That’s your dream.”
The Hail Mary with four seconds remaining in the fourth quarter gave Franklin, the area’s top-ranked team, a 35-31 win over Appleton North.
The following week perennial power Fond du Lac fell to Franklin 39-13.
And wins, most of them by very big margins, kept coming. Was Franklin a team of destiny?
In the playoffs Franklin matched up against a familiar opponent and it was deja vu. Appleton North took a double-digit lead in the final quarter in a state semifinal.
Franklin 26, Appleton North 19. Franklin was going to Madison to play for the state championship. Their opponent? Sun Prairie.
Franklin 38, Sun Prairie 17.
No unelected health department bureaucrat, no unelected school district superintendent, no school board could derail the Sabers. Not this time.
Franklin finished 14-0 with its first state championship since 2006.
In winning the state title Franklin unified an entire community.
Journal Sentinel photo gallery.
RELATED: Franklin girls basketball also went to state, but lost to eventual state champion Hudson.
THE TOP 10 FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2021
1) FRANKLIN BRINGS HOME THE GOLD BALL
2) FRANKLIN REFUSES TO UNMASK OUR CHILDREN
3) FRANKLIN AND THE WAUKESHA MASSACRE
4) OVER AT FPS, POOR JUDY MUELLER
5) BALLPARK COMMONS ADDS TO QUALITY OF LIFE
6) WHERE IS SANDRA ECKERT?
7) WHERE ARE THE VACCINATIONS?
8) FPS & CNN
9) HOUSING BOOM
10) FRANKLIN POLITICS