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Franklin Regional football off to 'unreal' start

| Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional's Colin Jonov returns an interception for a touchdown during the second quarter against Mars Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 in Adams Twp.

Franklin Regional football coach Greg Botta wasn't sure what to expect when the season kicked off this fall, but he didn't exactly see a 2-0 start coming.

Two weeks into the season, however, that's precisely where the Panthers find themselves.

For the second straight week, Franklin Regional went on the road and knocked off a conference opponent, shutting down Indiana in a 31-0 victory at Andy Kuzneski Field on Friday.

“We went into the season with a lot of question marks, a lot of players who were inexperienced and untested and going with the three toughest games right in a row,” Botta said. “We've had injuries during the course of the scrimmages and the first couple of games, and a number of kids have stepped it up (after) waiting for their turn and waiting for their opportunity and (have) performed quite admirably.

“I'm really thrilled with how they're playing.”

The Franklin Regional defense shined against Indiana, holding the Little Indians below 100 yards until a late fourth-quarter drive when the game was well in hand.

Through two games, the Panthers have allowed just 13 points and have forced seven turnovers. Junior Brett Zanotto leads the team with 26 tackles, including five for loss, while senior Adam Mihoci has 17 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. Senior Colin Jonov intercepted another pass against Indiana and has four through the first two games.

“We're blessed with kids who believe in (defense), and they take every game with personal pride,” said Botta, who also credited defensive coordinator Frank Cortazzo for the defense's play through two games. “They're going to try to keep the opponent out of the end zone. They're playing well.”

Against Indiana, cornerbacks Jonov and Charan Singh and safety Jordan Kestler shut down the Little Indians' passing game, as quarterback Sean Thompson completed just 2 of 14 passes. Botta said the front eight also played well.

“Our corners had zero tackles,” he said. “If your corners have zero tackles and the safety has one, that means the front eight are doing their job against that veer option. I can't be more pleased with how they performed.”

Offensively, the Panthers are beating teams with a committee approach in the backfield. Four different Franklin Regional players — quarterback Singh and running backs Paul Emanuele, Dominic Giannangeli and Zanotto — scored rushing touchdowns against Indiana.

Singh also completed 7 of 11 passes for 85 yards, and the Panthers also didn't commit any turnovers.

“I put Charan at quarterback for a lot of reasons, and one is he's an athlete,” Botta said. “Every time he touches the ball, something good happens. He makes plays out of nothing. ... (And) the running back situation at Franklin's going to be good for a few years.”

Botta also praised the work of the completely new offensive line, led by two-way lineman Nick Fazio as well as fellow seniors Mihoci, Matt Babbit and Josh Sabo-Pediconi. Sophomore Charlie Mazon stepped up in place of injured senior Sam Sedivy on the line, while sophomore Jake Lauer did the same for the injured Dylan Wallace at tight end.

“It's kind of unreal the way things are transpiring,” Botta said.

While Franklin Regional started out 2-0, the Panthers will face another stiff test this week with a game against Highlands at 7 p.m. Friday at Franklin Regional Stadium. The Golden Rams defeated Hollidaysburg and Hampton to begin the season and are also playing in memory of Ryan Richards, a senior who died in a July vehicle accident.

“They're playing inspired football,” Botta said. “I had to play against Knoch when they played inspired football (after the death of former player Tim McNerney last year). It's a tragedy, what happened out there. They're wearing No. 25 on their helmets, and they're on a mission right now. That's always concerning to me.”

Highlands forced four turnovers in a 26-7 victory over Hampton last week, and the Golden Rams also got 91 yards rushing from Elijah Jackson.

“It's going to be smashmouth football to say the least,” Botta said. “That's what I've got to prepare my kids for. They've got a huge offensive line ... but what they do have is tremendous skill at the running back position, at quarterback, (and at wideout). It's going to be a football game.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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