West Allegheny runs over Franklin Regional, punches ticket to Heinz Field
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With blowout victories in its first two playoff games, West Allegheny didn't face a lot of adversity.
The Indians dealt with some adversity Friday night and responded by doing what they do best: running the football effectively, making few mistakes — and winning the game.
Chayse Dillon rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns and caught another score, and No. 1 West Allegheny (11-0) overcame a 6-0 first-quarter deficit by beating Franklin Regional, 21-12, in the WPIAL semifinals Friday night at North Allegheny.
“We haven't been in that position a lot, but it's not like we haven't tried to practice it and prepare for it,” coach Bob Palko said. “That has a lot to do with the maturity of the kids and understanding that it's a four-quarter game. You've got to learn to manage the peaks and valleys of the games, and I thought we managed that pretty well.”
West Allegheny had a chance to take the early lead, receiving the opening kickoff and driving inside the Franklin Regional 10-yard line. But the Indians went backward in their next three plays, and DJ Opsatnik missed a 32-yard field goal.
When Franklin Regional responded by driving the ball 80 yards for a touchdown, West Allegheny faced its first first-quarter deficit since Oct. 11 against New Castle.
After that, Dillon took over. He carried the ball six times for 55 yards on the next drive, scoring from 5 yards out to give West Allegheny a 7-6 lead, and caught a 3-yard scoring pass with under 10 seconds left before halftime.
“It was the opportunity he had, and he took advantage of it,” Palko said. “I thought the offensive line did a great job.”
Meanwhile, Franklin Regional (10-2) hurt itself with some mistakes. The Panthers missed the extra point after their opening touchdown because of a bad snap, and another bad snap led to a short punt near the end of the first half, setting up Dillon's receiving touchdown.
Still, the Panthers battled back, marching 95 yards on a third-quarter drive to cut their deficit to 14-12 after a 51-yard pass from Charan Singh to Colin Jonov.
Singh overcame a shoulder injury to pass for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
“I'm proud of the way our kids responded,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “I'm proud of the way they came back time after time.”
Dillon gave West Allegheny a two-score lead with a 25-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Franklin Regional went on a long drive in the final minutes of the game, but West Allegheny forced Singh to fumble inside the 10-yard line with just over two minutes remaining. The Indians ran out the clock for the victory.
West Allegheny will face a rematch with Parkway Conference foe Central Valley in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game Saturday at Heinz Field. The Indians beat the Warriors 13-7 on Sept. 27.
“It was a nip-and-tuck game, could have gone either way,” Palko said. “It was one of those games. We've got our work cut out for us because they're an extremely talented team.”
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