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High school football notebook: Penn-Trafford, Franklin Regional overcoming injuries in advance of Big East matchup

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 4:18 p.m.
Penn-Trafford's Matt Wilkie runs the ball against Gateway on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017 during WPIAL football at Penn-Trafford High School.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Penn-Trafford's Matt Wilkie runs the ball against Gateway on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017 during WPIAL football at Penn-Trafford High School.
Franklin Regional’s Zachary Gordon (40) is brought down by Armstrong's Tanner Stivason (5) during their game Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, at Franklin Regional High School.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional’s Zachary Gordon (40) is brought down by Armstrong's Tanner Stivason (5) during their game Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, at Franklin Regional High School.
Jeannette head coach Roy Hall waits for all his players to get back in the shade before during practice in McKee Stadium on August 9, 2017.
Kyle Hodges
Jeannette head coach Roy Hall waits for all his players to get back in the shade before during practice in McKee Stadium on August 9, 2017.
Derry's Onreey Stewart eludes South Park's Rudy Mihoces during the second quarter Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, at Baldwin High School.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Derry's Onreey Stewart eludes South Park's Rudy Mihoces during the second quarter Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, at Baldwin High School.
Ligonier Valley's Jackson Daugherty
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Ligonier Valley's Jackson Daugherty

Unbeaten Penn-Trafford — 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big East Conference — expects to be at full strength Friday night.

“Everyone should be ready to go,” coach John Ruane said.

That's a scary thought for any of the Warriors' opponents, but what about the team they face Friday night in Murrysville? How's their injury report looking?

Franklin Regional (4-1, 4-1) hasn't had the same starting lineup on the field since opening night. The Panthers have been rocked by injuries that have thrown young players into the fire and sent game plans into a tailspin.

But coach Greg Botta said his team is healing. He said only three starters are likely to miss Friday's game.

“We even have some guys who can go one way,” Botta said proudly. “And we're not playing all these sophomores. We really had a lot of inexperience in the field and a lack of depth hurt us.”

Botta has been coaching for decades and has not encountered such a trying and unlucky year. But he is not complaining; he and his staff are making the most of the situation, the silver lining being their 4-1 record.

“That's football,” Botta said. “That's the way the game is. You just have to make sure the next guy is ready to play.”

Franklin Regional had nine starters out against Plum in a surprising 33-7 loss. The Panthers started four sophomores on the line against Armstrong, which also had its share of vacancies: 16 starters missed the game in total.

“They seem to be getting healthy and we have to prepare like they're going to be at full strength,” Ruane said of Franklin Regional. “They have been showing a lot of character in their wins.”

Penn-Trafford, ranked No. 2 in Class 5A by the Tribune-Review and No. 4 in the state by PennLive.com, looked quite leisurely in a convincing 28-0 win over No. 3 Gateway last week — the first time the big-play Gators had been shut out since 2010.

Ruane told his players that game was not their “Super Bowl,” and that they have to put it behind them quickly.

“It's really satisfying when you beat the team that beat you last year,” said Warriors senior lineman Logan Hawkins, who tweaked his knee on the first series last week and did not return. “But Saturday morning, it was gone. On to the next game.”

Penn-Trafford lost to Gateway last year, then fell to Franklin Regional and Armstrong, and missed the playoffs despite finishing 7-3.

Franklin Regional might be banged up, but it is no trap game. Ruane chuckled at the question.

“No way. They're 4-1 for a reason,” he said. “They have overcome a lot and they're a strong team.”

Penn-Trafford has leaned on its defense, which has allowed just 31 points (16 to Latrobe). It has three shutouts.

“I can't say enough about what John and his staff have done over there,” Botta said. “They really have something. They might be the best in the state.”

The matchup to watch will be Penn-Trafford's front three — Will Mayr, Logan Hawkins and Cam Elma — and how they contain Panthers senior linebacker Bryce Lauer, one of the most productive tacklers in 5A.

“Coaches have hyped it up a lot,” Hawkins said. “I have been looking forward to this matchup. (Lauer) is such a physical player. He is a rare one; he goes at it.”

Lauer has had four games of 20-or-more tackles and last week be broke Brett Zanotto's career tackles record, with 298.

“We've had two or three guys blocking him at a time,” Botta said of Lauer. “That has allowed other guys to make plays. We have to have other guys help Bryce.

“We need to get good field position, play perfectly and avoid penalties. If we don't do those things, they'll beat us by 45 points.”

Zanotto has the program's single-season mark of 157 tackles. Lauer has 91 through five games.

“We have to find a way to match (Lauer's) physicality,” Ruane said. “But their defense isn't just him we have to worry about.”

Happy accident

It's been said the best teams get the luckiest bounces. Last week, on the opening kickoff, Penn-Trafford senior linebacker Matt Wilkie called an onsides kick — by accident.

Wilkie let a “code word” slip out and the Warriors reacted accordingly and squibbed it. As fortune would have it, the Warriors recovered — and rolled from there.

Ruane was asked if he's ready for any more surprise calls this week.

“As long as they work,” he said.

New No. 1

Jeannette moved to No. 1 in the Tribune-Review Class A rankings, a by-product of its dominating play and former No. 1 Clairton getting stunned by Imani Christian, 18-6.

Jeannette (6-0, 4-0 Eastern Conference), which travels to Springdale Friday night, has outscored its opponents 283-75. But don't expect the team to take any games off because of the lofty ranking. The Jayhawks also are No. 6 in the state now.

“That target on our back just got a (heck) of a lot bigger,” Jayhawks coach Roy Hall said.

Clairton (4-1, 3-1) is gone from the state's top 10. Jeannette travels to Clairton on Oct. 27. But three games await before that showdown.

Hall is putting the ranking in context for his players.

“From experience we take it one game at a time,” he said. “We go by some of the things that we went through in the past. We tell the kids some examples like when college teams are ranked No. 1 and they get knocked off. Just like the NFL or any other sport: somebody's always waiting to knock you off. Look at the New England Patriots of this year so far.”

TV game

PCN will televise Friday night's Class 4A Big Nine clash between Trinity (3-2, 2-2) and host Belle Vernon (5-0, 5-0) at James Weir Stadium.

The PCN Game of the Week, which kicks off at 7 p.m., will be presented by the Cal (Pa.) broadcast crew.

Derry products

Derry has only given up 68 points, the second-fewest total in Class 3A (Aliquippa has surrendered a razor blade-thin 10), and the Trojans (5-1, 3-1) have yet to allow a point in the fourth quarter this season.

Takeaways are nothing new to a defensive-minded team, but the numbers are impressive. The Trojans have forced 18 turnovers, including 12 interceptions.

Justin Flack and Onreey Stewart have four picks, while Justin Huss and Matt McDowell have two apiece.

Jackson five

Ligonier Valley's Jackson Daugherty broke the school record last week with five touchdowns in the Rams' 42-0 win over West Shamokin. He ran for three scores and caught two more, tallying 276 yards of offense.

Daugherty has been a triple threat. He has rushed for 440 yards and eight touchdowns, thrown for 239 yards and five scores and has 15 receptions for 343 yards and four TDs.

The Rams (6-0) are ranked No. 6 in the state in Class 2A.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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