Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford to battle for playoff positioning in Big East Conference
It is tough to spot differences between Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford.
Both teams have dual-threat quarterbacks, talented skill-position players, a number of athletic two-way contributors and even proficient kickers.
So assuming a number of areas cancel each other out, what will prevent a stalemate; what will be the difference when they line against one another Friday night in the Class 5A Big East finale in Harrison City?
“Turnovers will swing this game,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “I know it sounds cliche, but we have to make the most of our possessions and take care of the football.”
Another thing the teams have in common: They both have clinched playoff berths but Friday’s result will help to sort out positioning for the postseason.
New No. 4 Penn-Trafford (7-2, 5-1), on a seven-game winning streak, is tied for second with McKeesport but could still earn a share of the conference title with a win and a Gateway loss to McKeesport.
The top two teams get home games in the opening round.
“There is a lot to play for,” Ruane said.
Franklin Regional (6-2, 4-2) is in fourth place but could finish higher with a win. The Panthers are headed to the playoffs for the 15th consecutive time.
“We need to play like we did in the second half last week (against McKeesport),” Panthers coach Greg Botta said. “I challenged our guys, and they didn’t quit. We got down early, and they put their heads down, but I was proud of the way they turned it around.”
Franklin Regional was subjected to the mercy rule by halftime last week and fell to the fast-paced Tigers, 36-16.
“We have to start fast this week,” Panthers senior quarterback Adam Rudzinski said. ”(McKeesport) scored 15 points in 10 seconds. If we don’t make mistakes and don’t commit turnovers, we’ll win.”
Penn-Trafford has been one of the hottest teams in the state. An 0-2 start is long forgotten, and the Warriors are churning out yardage with productive scoring drives.
Their defense has been a brick wall of late.
“Our chemistry has mixed well (since early in the season),” Warriors junior quarterback Gabe Dunlap said. “We have to stick to our game plan this week. It should be pretty even throughout. We just have to play at a really high level and be ready.”
The Warriors are averaging 38.4 points and 409.1 yards per game.
“John is a class guy who runs a class program,” Botta said. “They do everything well. They only run four or five plays, but each one has 1,000 different formations. It’s driving our defensive coordinator crazy.”
The teams split their last two meetings.
Last year, Penn-Trafford running back John Gay IV, now at Air Force, reshaped the conference clash in Murrysville with a late touchdown run and a game-saving tackle as the Warriors escaped, 20-13. They went on to earn the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL playoffs and made the title game before losing to Gateway.
The previous season, Franklin Regional scored a rare win at Warrior Stadium, 21-16.
“The last two games have gone down to the wire, so why would you expect any different this time?” Ruane said. “We both do a lot of similar things.”
Dunlap has passed for 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns, and has rushed for 589 yards and six scores. Junior Caleb Lisbon leads the ground attack with 790 yards and 11 TDs, while senior Dimitri George has 29 receptions for 552 yards and six TDs.
“That No. 3 (Dunlap) could be the x-factor,” Botta said.
Senior Niko Rosso anchors the defense at linebacker. He has 60 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.
Franklin Regional couldn’t be more balanced offensively. The Panthers have 1,215 yards rushing and 1,212 yards passing.
“They are very athletic,” Ruane said. “That back five in their secondary can all run. They have a lot of quality guys.”
Rudzinski has thrown for 1,126 yards and 16 touchdowns and has 280 yards rushing.
Junior Zach Gordon leads a number of rushers with 357 yards and sophomore Brandon Zanotto has 273.
Seniors Mike Evans (21 receptions, 488 yards, 7 TDs), Nick Leopold (20-303-6) and Devon Powell (9-251-4) are the receiving corps.
Defensively, junior middle linebacker Justin Johns has 90 tackles, and sophomores Colton Johns and Jack Pedrosky each have four sacks. The Panthers have 19 sacks as a team and 10 interceptions.