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Michael Love
Franklin Regional's DJ Riga stif-arms West Allegheny's Ryan DeLoach in the first quarter Friday Nov. 7, 2014, at Martorelli Stadium.

Franklin Regional started Friday’s WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal game against West Allegheny as well as it could’ve hoped.

On the strength of a 7-yard run by senior Brett Zanotto and a 10-yard touchdown pass from junior Santino Birty to fellow junior Todd Summers, the Panthers led the Indians, 14-9, early in the second quarter at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium.

West Allegheny answered to go up 16-14 and then recovered a mishandled kickoff to put itself in business again.

Another TD run, the third in the first half by Terence Stephens, put the Indians ahead 23-14. It was a lead West Allegheny would take into halftime.

“They hadn’t given up too many points this season, and we were gaining confidence with moving the ball on our first two drives,” Franklin Regional head coach Greg Botta said.

“When they scored to make it 16-14, we were getting the ball back, and I felt confident in our offense. But that botched kickoff and their touchdown off of it really took a lot of the wind out of us. But I was really proud of the kids. They never quit.”

West Allegheny scored two more times in the second half to set the 37-14 final.

The Indians move on to a date this Friday against No. 2 Thomas Jefferson, while Franklin Regional’s season ends at 7-4 overall.

West Allegheny ended Franklin Regional’s season for the second year in a row.

Last year, it was in the semifinals.

“On paper, that was basically the same team we played last year, minus (Tory) Delmonico,” Botta said. “They threw their whole arsenal at us (Friday). We knew in the middle part of the second quarter it was going to be difficult to stop them.”

Franklin Regional entered the playoffs as the No. 6 overall seed and the runner-up from the Greater Allegheny Conference.

The Panthers finished 6-2 in conference play.

“We met and exceeded our expectations for the season,” Botta said. “The kids played physical and tough in every game. I can’t say enough about how well they played the entire year. We’re a young football team, and I expect good things for next season.”

Botta said several players battled through injuries this season and fought hard to get back on the field. Others, Botta said, stepped up and played well when given the opportunity.

“During Friday’s pregame talk, I looked around and saw five or six guys with (protective) harnesses or braces,” Botta said.

“Others were out with broken bones and other injuries. The guys responded all year and stepped up at different spots on the field. Everyone persevered through adversity and really learned a lot about themselves. They learned important lessons they will carry with them the rest of their lives.”

Eleven seniors who made impacts on both sides of the ball will move on because of graduation.

“I am sad to see this senior class go, as I am with any senior class we have,” Botta said. “They have given so much to this program, and they will be missed.”

At the same time, Botta said he is excited to welcome back numerous starters such as in Birty, Summers and the entire offensive line.

Junior Jacob Ross led Franklin Regional against West Allegheny with 68 yards on 12 carries.

Birty was 5 of 16 passing for 94 yards, the one touchdowns and one interception.

“The expectations will be high next year,” Botta said. “They usually are. The players always set high expectations for themselves and for their teammates. The leadership begins with work in the offseason in the weight room and in conditioning workouts. There is a presence of mind by these guys to understand what their futures can be. I think you will see a team that will be driven next year.”

Botta said a group of about a half dozen seniors could be playing in college next year. Right now, Zanotto is the lone verbal commit (Maryland).

“It’s important now to get those seniors noticed. I know a couple of them want to keep playing,” Botta said.

Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at [email protected].

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