Franklin Regional upsets Class 5A No. 1 McKeesport | TribLIVE.com
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Paul Schofield
Franklin Regional's Justin Johns celebrates after the Panthers recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter against McKeesport Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in Murrysville.

Franklin Regional football coach Greg Botta conditioned his players a little harder the week prior to Friday’s game against No. 1 McKeesport.

Conditioning along with grit and desire helped Franklin Regional upset the Tribune Review’s top-ranked Class 5A team.

Nate Leopold scored on a 5-yard run with one second left, and Franklin Regional upset McKeesport, 13-7, in a Big East Conference opener for both squads.

The winning score was set up when senior end Jacob Shedd recovered a Konota Gaskins fumble at the McKeesport 11 with 1:09 left.

Three consecutive runs by Leopold gave the Panthers (1-0, 1-0) the thrilling win.

“We had timeouts left, and I didn’t know why coach wasn’t calling one,” Leopold said. “He just said run the play.”

Leopold plowed through the middle of the McKeesport defense and into the end zone. His brother Nick (Leopold) was the first one to greet him.

“I was letting the official know I wanted a timeout if he didn’t score,” Botta said. “I have to give Nate credit for his effort. It was a huge win for the inexperience we have.”

McKeesport hurt itself with three turnovers, 13 penalties for 105 yards and poor field position. The Tigers average starting field position was the 15-yard line. Their best starting position was their 28 in the second quarter.

“It was the Week 1 Blues,” McKeesport coach Matt Miller said. “This is the game I hate the most, and I wanted to get this one out of the way. I’ve been a big proponent of scrimmages. Maybe I should look into playing Week 0.

“They are a great team. Their kids are tough and they lasted longer than our kids.”

McKeesport had at least six players cramp up during the season half and a couple didn’t return. Franklin Regional had two players cramp up and both returned.

“It was an evenly matched game,” Botta said.”Matt does a tremendous job there. It was hard fought and well played. It was two excellent football teams.

“The two players that cramped for us were Matt (Hensley) and Bryce (Lauer). They didn’t condition as hard as the other ones (because of injuries). I knew it would be a factor like it was last year.”

McKeesport struck first in the second quarter when quarterback John Harper attempted a sneak then bounced to the left and raced 24 yards for the score.

The Tigers threatened later in the quarter behind the arm of Gaskins who completed a 39-yard pass to Branson Smith and a 16-yard pass to Layton Jordan to the Franklin Regional 8.

But a personal foul penalty against McKeesport forced Gaskins to attempt a 40-yard field goal, which fell short.

Franklin Regional’s offense, held to 53 yards in the first half, started to find a groove in the third quarter. The Panthers tied the score at 7-7 when Hunter Stonecheck caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Adam Rudzinski.

Rudzinski completed 10 of 19 passes for 106 yards.

McKeesport’s defense stopped Leopold on fourth down at the McKeesport 5 later in the third quarter.

And Lauer recovered a Harper fumbled at the Franklin Regional 40 to stop a Tigers’ drive.

“This was a huge win,” Lauer said. “The best thing was probably how our line played. We had a good rotation and a lot of guys stepped up.”

Harper rushed for 99 yards. The Tigers rushed 222 yards, but their longest run was 24 yards.

“We didn’t want to give up the big play,” Botta said. “We wanted to force them to drive down the field.”

Miller said poor field position was a big key to the game because it limited the Tigers’ play-calling.

On the fumble at the end of the game, Miller said “I probably shouldn’t have called that play.”

It looks like that extra conditioning paid off big for the Panthers.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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