Franklin Regional turns attention to No. 3 West Allegheny
Last year, Franklin Regional was one step away from Heinz Field and a chance to play for a WPIAL Class AAA championship.
But West Allegheny denied the Panthers a return to the title game for the first time since 2005’s magical postseason run to WPIAL and PIAA crowns.
On Friday, Franklin Regional will get another crack at the Indians, and the Panthers hope this year’s game, a quarterfinal contest set for Friday at 7:30 p.m. at North Hills High School, will be a different and happier story.
“The playoffs are a fresh start,” senior linebacker Andrew Brncic said. “It’s win or go home, and you have to be playing your best football now. It’s a lot of fun.”
The sixth-seeded Panthers defended their home turf Friday and dispatched No. 11 Belle Vernon, 20-0, in the first round.
“We had a really good week of practice, and I was very happy with how they responded against Belle Vernon,” Botta said.
“The kids played a very physical game, like I knew they would. They spent a lot of time on film, and they took the game very seriously. They take a lot of pride in playing at home. I think our record is 32-5 at home the last five or six years. It’s something that is very meaningful to them.”
West Allegheny, the No. 3 seed behind Central Valley and Thomas Jefferson, bounced back from a loss to Central Valley in its regular-season finale and breezed past Knoch, 38-0.
“These are the games you look forward to all year and why you prepare so hard,” said senior Nate Fleck, who had 10 tackles in Friday’s win over Belle Vernon.
“Losing to them last year adds a little bit more motivation for us.”
Botta said last year’s loss to West Allegheny, 21-12, was frustrating because of all the opportunities that were on the table to win that game.
“You can’t make mistakes at this time of the year and expect to win football games,” Botta said.
“We saw West Allegheny as a second-round opponent, but we knew we had to take care of Belle Vernon first. The AAA bracket is loaded like everyone thought it would be.”
Chayse Dillon powered West Allegheny with 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Andrew Koester helped the Indians’ balanced offensive attack with 113 yards through the air and one passing touchdown.
“We will have our hands full against West Allegheny,” Botta said.
“They fly to the ball on defense like nobody else and are very aggressive. Offensively, they try to out-flank you and out-man you. We had about 48 different offensive formations on the board (Monday). They are a very physical football team on the offensive side with the number of running backs they can throw at you. They are a multi-dimensional team we have to be very prepared for.”
Of the eight first-round games in Class AAA last week, the higher seed won seven times.
The Panthers were in that winning group with the help of a balanced defensive effort.
Seven FR defenders finished with at least six tackles, as Brncic and Brett Zanotto had 11 tackles each. Fleck’s 10 tackles were complimented by nine stops from D.J. Riga, seven tackles from both Brett White and Jordan Kestler and six more from Charlie Mazon.
“That’s been the case all year,” Botta said.
“In the playoffs, you have to have a lot of people contributing on defense.”
“We had a great game plan,” Brncic said. “We knew their offense inside and out, and it really helped us.”
Offensively, Zanotto had 56 yards rushing on seven carries and two touchdowns.
His pair of scores gives him 16 for the season.
Quarterback Santino Birty added 59 yards and a score on 11 carries. The rushing touchdown was his fifth for 2014.
Jacob Ross, who had 146 yards and two scores against Gateway, came back against Belle Vernon and carried the ball 17 times for 97 yards.
Botta said top receiving threat Colin Childs and running back Dom Giannangeli, both of whom missed the game against Belle Vernon because of injury, won’t play against West Allegheny.
“It’s tough not having Colin and Dom in there,” Botta said.
“We have a couple of guys banged up, but they are pushing through it. Everyone goes through that this time of the season. Having guys step up is a big factor going through the playoffs. In 2005, we had the 16 games, and we had several people step up who we didn’t think would be playing, and they helped us win a state title. It’s about taking advantage of an opportunity.”
Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at [email protected].