Franklin Regional boys defeat Thomas Jefferson to reach 1st WPIAL final
With each chapter Franklin Regional pens in this, its finest season, the boys soccer team continues to make history.
Senior midfielder Zack Snider had a career night with three goals and senior Justin LeDonne and freshman Anthony DiFalco had one score apiece to power the top-seeded Panthers past No. 12 Thomas Jefferson, 5-1, in the WPIAL Class 3A semifinals on Monday night at Norwin.
“As a program we’re trying to build a culture,” Snider said. “This is a great team win, everyone contributed and you love to see that.”
Franklin Regional (17-0-1), which dominated play from the start and weaved in a number of substitutes to keep things fresh, will play in the WPIAL championship for the first time in the sport. It will meet No. 2 West Allegheny (19-1) on Thursday, Friday or Saturday at a time to be determined at Highmark Stadium at Station Square.
West Allegheny, which Franklin Regional scrimmaged to a 1-1 tie in the preseason, held off No. 3 Mars in a thrilling shootout Monday night in the other semifinal.
“We talked about how this needed to be a real team effort,” Franklin Regional coach Rand Hudson said. “We needed to get an early goal. Zack was on it; he had a great night.
“These seniors have been in the playoffs every year, so they have gotten a little farther each time. We’ve gotten over some humps that were difficult in the past. They’re feeling confident, and they’ve got the bright lights, big city coming up.”
Franklin Regional also clinched its first trip to the PIAA playoffs.
Thomas Jefferson (15-5-1) will play Mars (18-2-1) in the WPIAL third-place game for a trip to the PIAA playoffs.
Snider found the net just three minutes in as he emerged from traffic in front, headed the ball off the crossbar, then headed it again into the net for a flash, bang, 1-0 lead.
“We always work on keeping the possession so that was big for us,” Snider said. “The early goal always helps.”
With the Panthers controlling possession and threading the needle to fit their style, Snider struck again in the 21st minute.
He delivered a laser shot at goalkeeper Jack Wessel, who stopped the shot initially, but could not hold on and the ball dribbled into the net as he turned around to find it.
A Panthers’ defense that has allowed just four goals and posted 13 shutouts limited the Jaguars’ chances -- the Panthers also beat them twice in Section 3 play.
“We’re a great team and we work hard,” Snider said. “We were rewarded for our work.”
LeDonne headed home the third goal in the 33rd minute before DiFalco was the last to touch the ball on a series of textbook passes to make it 4-0, seven minutes into the second half.
Thomas Jefferson didn’t get a shot on goal until the 67th minute, but Jeremy Lucas made a diving stop.
Snider’s third score came in the 71st minute.
Matt Rozanski scored for TJ with 4:02 to play to turn away the shutout.