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Conference champion Franklin Regional ready for postseason play

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional linebacker Kevin Slezak (left), pulls down Hampton quarterback Nick Grabowski, forcing a fumble, during their October 17, 2013 contest in Murrysville.

Franklin Regional football coach Greg Botta picked up one piece of hardware from his team's season Monday night.

Now his squad will focus on earning some more.

After earning a share of the Greater Allegheny Conference championship last week, Franklin Regional (8-1) will begin the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs with a home game at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Montour. The Panthers earned the No. 4 seed in Class AAA, the best of any team in the Greater Allegheny.

Botta, who had concerns about the inexperience of his team coming into the season, now believes the Panthers are ready for postseason play.

“You gradually want to get better,” he said. “It's week-to-week improvement — that's what makes a good football team, to work on our mistakes. Right now, we are. We're trying to find out where we're going to be after this game and before this game.”

The Panthers enter the playoffs Friday in the midst of a six-game winning streak dating back to September. In that span, Franklin Regional outscored its opponents, 247-39 — including 205-19 over the past five weeks.

Franklin Regional ended the regular season last week with a 55-0 victory over last-place Derry. Senior Paul Emanuele rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns in that game as Franklin Regional piled up 471 yards of total offense — including 405 on the ground. Sophomore Dom Giannangeli, junior Brett Zanotto and senior Charan Singh also rushed for touchdowns, and Singh tossed two touchdown passes to Colin Jonov.

“I saw the guys doing what they needed to do,” Botta said of the game. “You never worry about the opponent, you worry about what you do. We were trying to work for perfection that week, as far as our skill work and our playing. We didn't want to commit a lot of turnovers, which we didn't do, and just tried to maintain possession of the ball (on offense) and get as many three-and-outs as we could (on defense). For the most part, we did that.”

Montour, the WPIAL Class AAA champion in 2011, comes into Friday's matchup with a 5-4 overall record. The Spartans qualified for the playoffs as the fifth-place team from the Parkway Conference.

The Spartans are led by a dual threat quarterback in Tynen Greer, who passed for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 590 yards and nine scores. Running back Cole Macek rushed for 567 yards and six touchdowns, and receiver Donald Payne caught 20 passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns.

“I really don't know much about them,” Botta said after the brackets were announced Monday evening in Green Tree. “I haven't seen them on film at all, but I know (coach Lou Cerro) does a great job with those kids. They're a very physical football team, and capable of putting points on the board. So we've just got to wait until we break them down to see how good they really are and how we match up against them.”

Because the identity of their opponent was a mystery Monday afternoon, Botta said the Panthers worked on skill improvement and special teams work at practice.

“(I just want the players) to maintain the same attitude they've had all year long and try to limit mistakes and take advantage of opportunities when they come up,” Botta said. “In the playoffs, those opportunities come very rarely. You've got to take advantage.”

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

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