Franklin Regional sees successful season come to end
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The Franklin Regional football team didn't want its season to end — even after it was already over.
The Panthers (10-2) saw their postseason run come to an end with a 21-12 loss to No. 1 West Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals last week at North Allegheny High School.
“The boys didn't want to leave the stadium Friday night, and Saturday they hung around for a long time watching the film of the game,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “They knew that we had a great opportunity, and it just didn't turn out that way. We left a couple mistakes on the field, and that cost us a crucial contest. But overall, I thought they played with heart and character, and they never quit.
“I told them it should take a while for this to sink in — not just this game but the whole season.”
Franklin Regional, which began the season with much uncertainty after the graduation of 17 starters from last season, came within nine points of making its first WPIAL championship game appearance since 2005.
Crucial mistakes cost the Panthers against West Allegheny (12-0), the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion. A bad snap caused a missed extra point in the first quarter, and a short punt allowed West Allegheny to score right before halftime to take a 14-6 lead.
But Franklin Regional kept battling back. The Panthers scored on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Charan Singh to Colin Jonov to cut their deficit to 14-12 in the third quarter. After West Allegheny scored again to take a 21-12 lead, the Panthers drove inside the West Allegheny 10-yard line before a late fumble effectively ended their comeback attempt.
“This is a game at this level where you can't make any mistakes,” Botta said after the game. “We made a few — some costly at certain times. West A, I give those guys all the credit. They have big, physical kids that just keep coming at you. They took advantage of our miscues and our opportunities.
“I'm proud of the way our kids responded. I'm proud of the way they came back time after time. Even down two scores, that was a nice drive coming down the field (at the end).”
Botta said the game against West Allegheny typefied the type of effort his team showed all season. Singh, who injured his shoulder in Franklin Regional's quarterfinal victory over West Mifflin, still managed to put on his best passing performance of the season with 201 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought he was exceptional,” Botta said.
For a team that finished 10-2, Franklin Regional faced its share of adversity this season. Aside from the 17 graduated starters, the team was beset by injuries to expected key contributors throughout the season.
“It was like one thing after another,” Botta said. “But someone always seemed to step up, and that just shows how everyone's got to be waiting for an opportunity and when it comes they've got to make the most of it. Our kids did that.”
The Panthers were led by a strong senior class that included returning contributors Singh, Jonov and Paul Emanuele. But Botta said just as many seniors stepped up after playing mostly junior varsity last season, and even seniors who served mostly as special teams players or backups were strong contributors to the Panthers' success this season.
“(The seniors) remember, as 9- and 10-year-olds, (Franklin Regional playing at) Heinz Field,” Botta said. “They wanted to get back there in such a worse way, and that was the shame of it all. But these seniors showed the true perspective of this program — the hard work, the dedication, the biding your time until your opportunity comes, and then when your opportunity comes, know it's not going to be given to you but you've got to earn it.
“They exemplified all of that. When their time came, they stepped it up and did that. And I think that's what these underclassmen have to do. They have to understand the same thing.”
While victories over Mars and Indiana were key early on this season, Botta said a 17-0 loss to Highlands in Week 3 might have been Franklin Regional's most important game.
“We learned a lot from that game,” he said. “We learned if you don't execute and you leave opportunities on the field and you become selfish by committing personal fouls — I think we had five of them — then you're going to lose the football game. I think that game, of all the games, is the one we learned from the most.”
While a strong core of players will return next season, Franklin Regional will again lose a heavy crop of seniors.
Botta said the returning players can learn from what they saw this season.
“This season here was truly one of my most rewarding because of where we started off and where we ended up,” he said. “That just shows the character of this team.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.
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