Franklin Regional football airing in prime time
After a game filled with big plays, Franklin Regional will want to have a few more stored up for this week.
Coming off a 35-7 nonconference win at Belle Vernon, the Panthers will be in prime time Thursday, as No. 6 Franklin Regional will face No. 9 Knoch in a rematch of last year's WPIAL Class AAA semifinal that will be televised on Root Sports at 7 p.m.
The Greater Allegheny Conference game in Butler County will pit a pair of 4-1 teams with 3-1 conference records against each other, and the winner will hold on to a share of second place behind undefeated Mars.
The game has plenty of meaning for the Panthers, who have been motivated by their 9-7 loss to the Knights last November. A picture of the final score from that game hangs in the locker room, which stands as a reminder of how close Franklin Regional came to Heinz Field.
“We have the picture on the wall, but it's not the picture that motivates you, it's what happened at the end of that game,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “You have to take that motivation out onto the football with you.”
Botta said he team seemed a little flat in practice Tuesday, which he attributed to the lost day of rest caused by playing a day early. But the Knights will be in the same position as the Panthers, and fatigue shouldn't be much of an issue under Thursday night lights.
“It's been a long short week,” Botta said. “The JVs played Saturday, so they don't have a day off until this Friday.
“I think we were a little flat because we were tired, but I think they're going to be ready for the game.”
The game will be the Panthers' second televised contest in as many years. The team's WPIAL quarterfinal win over Hopewell — one week prior to the Knoch defeat — also aired on Root Sports.
The Knights are coming off their first loss of the year, a 20-17 loss to Hampton, one of the other teams in the logjam at 3-1 in conference play. Knoch has a pair of good runners in Ben Tackett and Michael Cunningham, and quarterback Dakota Bruggeman is a passing threat, despite throwing two interceptions last week.
From film of games this year and the memory of last year's playoff game, the Panthers should have a good idea of what Knoch's game plan will be.
“They run the same 3-5 defense, and they adjust it to a 3-4 to play Cover 2,” Botta said. “On offense, they're doing some of the same things. Mike (King, Knoch's coach) has been very successful, and he's not going to change much.”
The Panthers are coming of a game in which big their big-play ability overwhelmed Belle Vernon (1-4) and helped them play the entire second half under the mercy rule.
Colin Jonov scored first on a 32-yard pass from Nico Lodovico, and Dane Brown made a big play in his return from injury with a 47-yard scoring run in the first quarter.
Brown's return seemed to provide a lift to Franklin Regional, which Botta said played its first complete game.
“From the day I met Dane, he was a leader by example,” Botta said. “Not taking anything away from our other backs, but him getting back on the field shows his leadership, and the other guys react to seeing him back out there.”
In the second quarter, the defense took over for Franklin Regional, as Austin Duncan scored on a 9-yard fumble return and Charan Singh scored on a 51-yard interception return, his WPIAL-lead tying fourth pick of the year.
Singh closed the FR scoring with a 52-yard punt return, while the Panthers' defense held Belle Vernon off the scoreboard until late in the fourth quarter.
“People don't realize (Belle Vernon) outdid us in yardage, though a lot of that came against our JVs in the fourth quarter,” Botta said. “We only touched the ball 24 times (on offense) with our varsity group, and we scored on big plays from our defense and special teams.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.