Franklin Regional holds off West Mifflin to reach Class AAA semifinals
It was a play West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo was confident would work.
Faced with fourth-and-2 at the Franklin Regional 29-yard line with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining, Braszo called for the ball to go to star running back Jimmy Wheeler off right tackle.
But Wheeler met a wall of Franklin Regional defenders, led by linebacker Brett Zanotto, and he was stopped for no gain.
That play and a first-quarter goal-line stand helped No. 4 Franklin Regional hold on to defeat No. 5 West Mifflin, 14-12, in a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal game at East Allegheny's Churchman Memorial Stadium.
The victory puts Franklin Regional (10-1) into the semifinals against West Allegheny, which defeated Indiana, 38-7, at a site and time to be determined. West Mifflin, the WPIAL runner-up in 2012, finishes 9-2.
Everyone in the stadium knew Wheeler, who rushed for 226 yards on 38 carries, was going to get the ball.
“We knew Jimmy would get his yards,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “It was a matter of keeping him out of the end zone. That was our goal.
“They made one fourth-down play, but (defensive coordinator Frank Cortazzo) went into our goal-line defense, and the guys did what they needed to do.”
“We knew we had to stop them,” linebacker Kevin Slezak said. “Kudos to the defensive line, to the linebackers and safeties.”
Franklin Regional's defense also forced two fumbles, and the Panthers converted one into a score.
“It was our power play, and we usually get something out of it,” Braszo said of the fourth-down call. “They stacked us up there and made a good stop. They made the big stop when they needed to.”
West Mifflin missed two scoring chances in the first quarter. Casey Colagrande and Josh Sabo stopped Wheeler on another goal-line stand, and linebacker Nate Fleck recovered West Mifflin quarterback Karlyn Garner's fumble at the Franklin Regional 16.
Franklin Regional took a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter when quarterback Charan Singh scored on a 4-yard run.
West Mifflin cut that lead to 7-6 when Wheeler darted 22 yards for a score. Wheeler had runs of 58, 31, 22 and 16 yards in the first half.
But Franklin Regional blocked the extra point.
Midway through the third quarter, the Panthers' defense came up big again. This time Colagrande sacked Garner, who fumbled, and Nick Fazio recovered at the West Mifflin 25.
Colagrande got the touchdown to put Franklin Regional up 14-6 when he recovered a Zanotto fumble in the end zone.
But West Mifflin wouldn't go away. The Titans took advantage of a Franklin Regional penalty on a third-down pass, and Wheeler capped the 60-yard drive with a 1-yard run to make it 14-12 with 10:22 left.
It just wasn't enough.
“When you get down there, you have to score,” Braszo said. “It's a different game, and we didn't take advantage of it.”