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Franklin Regional regrouping after tough loss

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Franklin Regional cornerback Charan Singh eyes the ball after stripping it from Mars Area running back Joshua Schultheis during their August 31, 2012 contest in Murrysville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional wide receiver Colin Jonov ropes in a 52-yard touchdown pass ahead of Mars Area defensive back Garrett Ashbaugh during their August 31, 2012 contest in Murrysville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

One game into the season, Franklin Regional finds itself doing something it hasn't had to do since October 2010 — bounce back from a loss.

Franklin Regional was beaten by Mars in its first game of the season, 21-17, in a battle of ranked Greater Allegheny Conference teams, and that puts the Panthers in the unfamiliar position of looking up from the bottom of the standings.

The last time Franklin Regional lost a regular-season or conference game was Oct. 22, 2010, when it dropped a 24-13 decision to Ringgold. Last week's win moved Mars (1-0, 1-0) from sixth to fifth in the Tribune-Review's Class AAA rankings, while Franklin Regional (0-1, 0-1), the preseason No. 2 team, fell to No. 6.

But rankings aren't what matters to the Panthers, who know there is a long season ahead. They hope to get back on track against Indiana (0-1, 0-1) at home Friday at 7 p.m. Indiana lost its opening game, 45-21, at home against Hampton.

“We're going to go into the film room and correct mistakes,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said.

“We're going to work on character. This is a character-building time. There's a lot of pressure on this team and a lot of expectations, but we didn't do anything, yet. We haven't earned anything.”

Botta said his long-term goals are still to make a push for a conference title, and most importantly, have his team prepared for the playoffs.

To do that, there are a number of things that need to be corrected, including solidifying a run defense that allowed 164 yards to Mars running back Josh Schultheis. That total is more than FR gave up to any single back in 2011 except one, WPIAL career rushing record holder Rushel Shell of Hopewell.

The Panthers also need to be more consistent in the passing game, as FR completed only one pass in the game, albeit a 52-yard scoring strike from Nico Lodovico to Colin Jonov.

But there also were positives to be taken from the loss to Mars. Franklin Regional finished with 266 rushing yards, including 178 by Dane Brown and 53 by Nick Vento, who provided an excellent second option as the Planets' defense tried to focus on Brown.

“I'm happy with our offensive line. I thought they did real well, and we ran the ball well,” Botta said. “Defensively, we did things well at times, but we just weren't consistent with what we did. We just have to be more consistent in all three aspects of the game if we're going to be contenders in this conference.”

Franklin Regional dug itself a hole against Mars by falling behind in the second quarter, 14-0. Alex Smith caught a 38-yard scoring pass from Owen Nearhoof to put the Planets on the board on their first drive, and Schultheis scored on a 1-yard run to extend the lead.

Schultheis nearly had a touchdown in the first quarter, as well, but Charan Singh stripped the ball from him at the 3-yard line, and Ryan Furr recovered for Franklin Regional. It was one of three turnovers Singh was involved in for the Panthers' defense, as he also caught a pair of interceptions on balls tipped by teammates.

FR got on the board with a 2-yard run by Brown with 29 seconds left in the first half, and the Panthers tied the game on their lone completion.

Brent Velasquez, making his kicking debut for the Panthers, knocked home a 26-yard field goal with 8:56 left in the game for a 17-14 lead, but Mars took the lead for good after a long kickoff return by Smith set up Schultheis for a 2-yard score with 5:44 to play.

“We had to try and stop the things (Mars) does well, and we did at times,” Botta said. “But we gave up some big plays, where usually we don't give them up.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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