Even in win, room to improve for Franklin Regional football team

Franklin Regional wide receiver Nick Vento stiff-arms Highlands defender Robert Love en route to a first down in the first quarter at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison on Friday, Sept. 14, 2012.
Franklin Regional wide receiver Nick Vento stiff-arms Highlands defender Robert Love en route to a first down in the first quarter at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison on Friday, Sept. 14, 2012.
Photo by Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Matt Grubba
| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

It can be difficult to see how a 35-3 win isn't a great performance, but when the expectations are as high as they are on Franklin Regional's football team, every mistake is magnified.

The Class AAA No. 6 Panthers (2-1, 2-1) did end up easing their way to a 32-point Greater Allegheny Conference win at Highlands (0-3, 0-3) last Friday, but not until the team had fallen behind, 3-0, and scuffled to another slow start before taking over with 3:00 remaining in the first half.

“I kind of chewed them out after the game,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “There were a lot of mistakes and a lot of penalties that cost us opportunities to score. Highlands is an average team, but they came out ready to play. I felt we played down to them.”

Botta's middling assessment of his team's performance comes as the schedule is about to swing upward in difficulty, beginning with this Friday's 7 p.m. home game against Greensburg Salem (1-2, 1-2).

As the quality of opponent increases, the margin for error decreases. Against the better teams in the conference, Botta said, Franklin Regional can't afford to have the sort of starts that has led the team to be outscored in first quarters this year, 10-7.

“We had a big talk with our seniors about (starting games) on Saturday morning, and we talked about things we can do to rectify the problem,” Botta said.

“We have a list of things we're going to try and work on, and we're going to try to set practice up a little differently, just to change things up a bit.”

Greensburg Salem will pose some challenges for the Panthers, as the Golden Lions are coming off a 20-10 win over formerly ranked and unbeaten Hampton.

The Panthers clinched the Keystone Conference title last season with a 53-14 demolition of Greensburg Salem, but recreating that performance will require a much sharper FR effort.

“They gave (No. 7) Knoch a lot to handle in the first week (a 28-14 loss for Greensburg Salem),” Botta said. “In the Hampton game, they dominated.

“Their defense is very strong; Hampton's only touchdown was an interception return. They've got a ton of skill players and two quarterbacks that are good in their own right. They're hitting their stride early in the season, and I think they're going to give us all we can handle.”

It hasn't been all negative for Franklin Regional, which has done a good job of overcoming some early-season hardship.

Star running back Dane Brown did not play against Highlands with an ankle injury suffered during the previous game against Indiana. In his place, a trio of runners — senior Nick Vento, junior Paul Emanuele and sophomore Brett Zanotto — has performed well behind an offensive line that has continued to improve.

Vento finished with 50 yards on seven carries against Highlands, Zanotto had 44 yards on eight runs, and Emanuele ran for 38 yards on eight carries. Zanotto, Emanuele and quarterback Nico Lodovico all had touchdowns on the ground against the Rams, as the FR running game has stayed on course without Brown.

“Those guys really are doing a good job stepping in,” Botta said. “They combined for about 150 yards, and they're all different types of runners.

“Nick (Vento) has great vision; he sees a hole an hits it with speed. Zanotto is a more physical runner, but he also has excellent feet. Emanuele has tremendous speed, and he cuts very well. All of those guys have been waiting for their chance, and we're blessed to have all three of them ready to step in for us.”

Lodovico led FR with 77 rushing yards and 88 passing yards against Highlands, which includes a pair of touchdown passes to Colin Jonov and Carter Henderson.

As for Brown, he has been cleared to play and will be a game-time decision against Greensburg Salem. Botta hopes to have both Brown and senior center Luke Fleck back in the upcoming weeks, but said he will err on the side of caution with both of those players to avoid any setbacks.

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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