Wildcat sets tone for No. 5 Franklin Regional in Week 1 win
The Franklin Regional football coaching staff spent part of the offseason devising a Wildcat scheme designed to take advantage of the skilled players in its backfield.
Friday night, the Panthers surprised the defending Greater Allegheny Conference champions with it.
Class AAA No. 5 Franklin Regional made an early statement with the Wildcat, using it to set up the first touchdown in a 20-13 win over Mars at the Mars Athletic Complex.
“We were going to put a Wildcat package in (this season), but we didn't know when it was going to be,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “We figured, why not against one of our best opponents?”
Franklin Regional used the Wildcat on its first offensive plays, with junior running back Brett Zanotto acting as the trigger man. He ran three times for 17 yards out of the formation and completed a 43-yard pass to quarterback Charan Sungh. Zanotto capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run from a more traditional set.
The rest of the night, Franklin Regional kept the Mars defense off balance with an up-tempo, read-option offense.
On a night where the humidity caused several players to come down with cramps, the scheme took its toll on the Mars defense.
“We have a ton of speed on our team, and that's our game plan — run and gun and just run teams down,” said Colin Jonov, who intercepted three passes for the Panthers, returning one for a touchdown.
The Franklin Regional defense also contained Mars running back Josh Schultheis, limiting him to 92 yards.
“We knew who Josh was this year,” Botta said. “I didn't know who he was last year, so we prepped for him.”
Owen Nearhoof threw for 207 yards for Mars, but tossed three interceptions -- all to Jonov. The Planets finished with four turnovers.
“Good teams take advantage and seize the moment when we have the opportunity,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “We did not do that tonight.”
After Franklin Regional scored on its opening possession, Mars answered on its next drive, overcoming four penalties on an 11-play, 80-yard march. Running back Jason Lozzi scored from 15 yards out to cut the Planets' deficit to 7-6.
The Planets had a chance to take the lead on the next drive, but Lozzi fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line.
Their next turnover was more costly. After a missed Franklin Regional field goal, Jonov intercepted a Nearhoof pass on third down and weaved across the field for a 34-yard score.
Jonov intercepted Nearhoof's desperation pass on the final play of the first half.
Franklin Regional widened its lead to 20-6 on the opening drive of the second half, going 75 yards on 15 plays and scoring on a 1-yard Zanotto run. Zanotto finished with 67 yards on 13 carries.
The Planets cut into the deficit with a 10-yard pass from Nearhoof to Travis Ganter late in the fourth quarter and had the ball one final time, but Jonov intercepted Nearhoof on the final play of the game.
“We've been preparing since January for this team,” Zanotto said. “They have a tough offense, and we executed well today.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.