Franklin Regional 'in driver's seat' after Week 1 win
Franklin Regional football coach Greg Botta, a veteran of 20 years on the sideline, knows conference titles aren't won in Week 1.
At the same time, he didn't want to understate the importance of his team's season-opening win against Mars last week.
“It's going to be a tough conference, so for us coming in here and winning this first one, just like Mars did last year, it puts us in the driver's seat,” Botta said, minutes after the Panthers defeated the Planets, 20-13, at Mars Athletic Complex. “There's still a long way to go, but this win is big — especially coming up here and especially with the number of kids that started for the first time ever. I give those guys a lot of credit for stepping up and doing what we asked them to do.”
No. 5 Franklin Regional, breaking in 17 completely new starters and two more who switched position, avenged last season's 21-17 loss to Mars, who went on to win the Greater Allegheny Conference title.
A completely revamped backfield led the way to last week's victory.
Quarterback Nico Lodovico, who threw for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, graduated. So did Dane Brown, who rushed for 860 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and for more than 4,000 in his Franklin Regional career.
Without those two, the Franklin Regional offense hardly missed a beat. New quarterback Charan Singh, a starting wide receiver last season, and running backs Dom Giannengeli, Paul Emanuele and Brett Zanotto combined for 180 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“Don't get me wrong, I love Nico Lodovico,” Botta said. “He ran like a fullback. (But Singh) runs special. He's still young — he'll get better, I think, as the season goes on. You saw the number of running backs I was able to put through there, and that's important, too. Charan has a ways to go. I thought he played a good game. Our offense didn't make too many mistakes, and that was good.”
Zanotto, a junior who missed time last season with a broken ankle, led the way for the offensive attack by rushing for 68 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. He also completed a 43-yard pass out of a wildcat formation and led the defense with 13 total tackles, including two for a loss.
“Brett Zanotto is a man,” Botta said. “He'll be as good as Carter Henderson was in the middle. But I'll tell you what: He's a tremendous running back, too, and he's a skilled athlete. I brought him up as a freshman, (and) he was waiting his time. I just knew the capabilities he had.”
Defensively, Franklin Regional contained star Mars fullback Josh Schultheis, limiting him to 91 yards on 20 carries. Defensive lineman Adam Mihoci set the tone on the first play from scrimmage, dropping Schultheis for a 2-yard loss.
“He's a good running back,” Zanotto said. “We studied a lot on the Wing-T, we found out a lot of ways to stop him. Our defensive coordinator did a great job on the calls, and we (executed well).”
Colin Jonov, who missed most of the second half of the 2012 season with stress fractures in his back, returned in a big way. He intercepted three passes, returning a second-quarter pick 34 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 14-6 lead.
“It was definitely big for the team,” Jonov said. “We needed it, (and) I needed it.”
While Botta was pleased overall with the play of his team, he did see some areas that need improvement. Franklin Regional allowed several third-down conversions and nearly allowed Mars to make a late-game comeback, surrendering a touchdown with about two minutes left. Mars got another chance, but Jonov intercepted a pass on the last play of the game.
The Panthers also had three turnovers called back by penalty: a 76-yard pass from Singh to Jonov, a 55-yard punt return by Singh and a 58-yard run by Giannengeli.
Franklin Regional will look to move to 2-0 on the season when the Panthers travel to play Indiana at 7 p.m. Friday. The Little Indians defeated Hampton, 33-7, last week.
“The season's far from over,” Botta said.