Anthony DiFalco’s OT goal lifts Franklin Regional over West Allegheny, into WPIAL final

Monday, November 2, 2020 | 9:53 PM

With teams as evenly matched as West Allegheny and Franklin Regional, differences in high-stakes playoff games against one another usually are subtle to the casual observer.

It can be a miscue here or a bad bounce there that decides a winner.

But other game-changing plays can be more glaring — and much more exciting.

The difference in this one was a smooth give-and-go in traffic with 11 minutes, 20 seconds left in overtime. Anthony DiFalco passed to Blake Cooper, who touched it back to DiFalco, and the junior standout did the rest to keep the Panthers in the hunt for a WPIAL three-peat.

DiFalco buried a shot past West Allegheny keeper Jared Gola early in the extra frame to propel second-seeded Franklin Regional into the WPIAL Class 3A championship for the third consecutive year with a 2-1 semifinal victory Monday night over the No. 3 Indians in chilly Murrysville.

He was mobbed by teammates in the near corner as the Panthers celebrated another thriller against the Indians.

“In three years, that’s the first time we came back like that,” Franklin Regional coach Rand Hudson said.

“I kept telling the boys we can do this. We’re getting the better quality of play. We had to keep it on the ground, not in the air. My gosh, that one was a beauty.”

Franklin Regional (16-2) advances to play No. 1 Mars (17-0) at 8 p.m. Thursday at North Allegheny in the title game.

West Allegheny finished 15-2.

It was the teams’ fourth postseason clash in three years, and it was another game of inches decided by one goal.

“Like the announcer said,” Hudson said. “This is just what you’d expect.”

Franklin Regional defeated West Allegheny by one goal in each of the last two WPIAL championship games (1-0 and 2-1).

West Allegheny edged the Panthers, 2-1, in the state semifinals two years ago.

Reserve Billy Christafano, who checked in for injured starter Zach Johnson, got the winning play started on the wing. He moved the ball to Cooper, who weaved DiFalco into the conversation.

After some back-and-forth touches, DiFalco bolted through a crowd in front of the cage and capped the play with his 36th score of the year.

“I heard Tony screaming for it,” Cooper said. “He was saying, ‘Cross it.’ I just got it to him, and he finished it.”

DiFalco, who scored against the Indians in both of the previous title games, said the Panthers practice that type of action and it showed.

“They defended me so well,” DiFalco said. “We knew it was going to be close again. I bumped it to Blake, and he got it back to me. It paid off. This team has so much heart.”

West Allegheny, in the semifinals for the fourth straight season, was hoping to make the title game for a fourth straight time. The Indians are young, but dangerously talented. They start just one senior.

But their chances were less frequent as the game wore on.

Franklin Regional, which played in its third straight semifinal, had the better of the play in the first half, trying to create offense with long balls and wide passes.

After a scoreless opening 40 minutes, West Allegheny jumped on the board fresh out of halftime as Johnny Dragisich got a foot on a loose ball, coming out of a scramble in front of the net, and trickled a light-footed attempt past Panthers keeper Gianni Diacopoulos to make it 1-0 just 53 seconds into the half.

“They had a spot cross and caught us a little out of position,” Hudson said. “But our guys didn’t panic. They weren’t worrying.”

The Panthers responded with 32:47 to play when Cooper delivered a leaning blast into the top right corner of the net past Jared Gola for his 21st goal of the season to tie it 1-1 in the 48th minute. DiFalco had the assist.

“We’ve been playing together since were 6 years old,” Cooper said. “We want to keep this going and get the third title.”

Franklin Regional had 15 shots to the Indians’ 10 in regulation.

DiFalco has six goals and five assists over three playoff games. The Panthers have allowed eight goals all season.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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