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Franklin Regional back to .500 after dramatic victory |

Franklin Regional back to .500 after dramatic victory

Michael Love
| Tuesday, September 27, 2016 3:45 p.m
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional's Bennett Verona (15) is chased down after a long punt return during the first quarter against Kiski Area on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Murrysville.

Faced with an 0-2 deficit after two Big East 9 Conference games, the Franklin Regional football team has righted its ship.

Two weeks ago, the Panthers stopped rival Plum to get into the win column.

Last week, the Franklin Regional defense held the WPIAL’s leading rusher, Zane Dudek, to 136 yards on the ground.

The Panthers were able to rally in the fourth quarter as they overcame a 10-point deficit to pull out a 24-20 victory.

They handed the River Hawks (4-1) their first loss of the season.

“In our games against McKeesport and Kiski Area, we spotted teams points in the first quarter, and we were down against both Plum and Armstrong,” Franklin Regional head coach Greg Botta said.

“They started in the hole all four games, but these kids aren’t quitters. They are tough, physical kids who always work to overcome obstacles. They showed that against Armstrong, and I am very proud of them. That was a nice win against a pretty good football team.”

Franklin Regional is back in the playoff hunt. The Panthers still have work to do, though, as they are 2-2 in the conference and are looking up at Kiski Area (4-0), Penn-Trafford (3-0), McKeesport (3-1), Armstrong (2-1) and Gateway (2-1).

“That game against Armstrong could’ve gone a number of different ways a number of different times,” Botta said.

“One comment that (Armstrong head coach) Frank Fabian made that was in the paper talked about us being the more physical team. I don’t know about that, because (Armstrong) was pretty physical, too. They were in our backfield just as much as we were in theirs.”

Botta praised his team in the face of injuries to key players. Senior lineman Mike Babbit and senior tight end and linebacker Doug Rudzinski are done for the season because of injuries. Fellow senior Josh Heberle, another lineman, saw his season end in the preseason.

Senior lineman Eric Festa, Botta added, played against Armstrong while under the weather.

“I didn’t think he was going to play, and he ended up having a great game,” Botta said.

“But we’re down to second- and third-string players on the offensive line who stood up and did what they needed to do. That’s what this is about — everyone contributing in their own way.”

Dudek came into the game with 1,205 yards rushing in four games, but the Panthers held him 164 yards under his average. He did have 102 yards receiving and two TD receptions.

“It came down to preparation,” said junior linebacker Hunter Stonecheck, who finished tied with fellow senior linebacker Bennett Verona in total tackles with 13.

“We got a red No. 33 jersey for the (scout team) running back, and we were keying on him all week. Wherever he was on offense, we were making adjustments. We were really prepared. (Dudek) was getting frustrated.”

“(Defensive coordinator) Frank Cortazzo had a tremendous game plan in place,” Botta said. “We slowed (Dudek) down, and they had to throw the ball to him.”

Senior quarterback Simon Behr rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns and added a touchdown pass to Adam Grajewski in the come-from-behind triumph.

Grajewski hauled in his second touchdown in as many weeks and finished with five catches for 100 yards.

Junior Dom DiFalco booted a 32-yard field goal to help the FR cause.

This week, Franklin Regional hosts a Connellsville team hoping to get its first conference victory after four straight setbacks.

The Falcons have been outscored 195-21 the past four weeks in conference losses to Penn-Trafford, Gateway, McKeesport and Kiski Area.

“We are struggling offensively, and we had a long offensive meeting on Saturday,” Botta said. “We wanted to be on the same page about who are playmakers are, how we are going to get the ball to them and how we are going to put more points on the board.

“We are taking this game very seriously and don’t want to look ahead. Connellsville is big and physical. They are a team that can keep pounding on you if you don’t take the ball and score. Kiski got up on them early (last Friday). We have to do the same.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review sports reporter. You can contact Michael at 412-856-7400 x8632, or via Twitter .

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