Big East Conference heavyweights McKeesport, FR set to square off

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017 | 6:45 PM


Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta spent most of Tuesday watching the McKeesport offense on video.

Then he sat his defense down in front of a TV screen and showed them what happened in the first quarter of last year's game against the Tigers, discussing what the Panthers had to do as they prepare to kick off the season against the No. 1 team in Class 5A.

The unranked Panthers and Tigers square off in a Big East Conference clash that could turn out to be a titanic battle. Both teams enter their first game of the season with uncertainty along the offensive and defensive lines. But the Tigers have a lot of talent and speed.

McKeesport doesn't return a starter up front, and Franklin Regional's lone starter is senior center Bryce Lauer.

“I'm definitely pleased with how they performed in our two scrimmages,” McKeesport coach Matt Miller said. “They were good against Central Catholic and better against Highlands and Indiana.

“But with no experience returning, there are still concerns and worries. It was better for us not to play in Week Zero. We needed the extra work in practice.”

Botta said scrimmages against Norwin and Bethel Park were beneficial for his players to help them get acclimated to varsity competition.

“The line showed some fight and grit,” Botta said. “We had a lot of inexperienced kids. I'm a little worried about our depth because of our lack of size.

“Our size is in our sophomores, and we told them continue to work hard because they're needed. We challenged the kids all summer.”

McKeesport used two quick scores last season to defeat Franklin Regional, 14-7. In that game, Lauer had 23 tackles.

Miller said devising different blocking schemes to slow down Lauer is essential if the Tigers hope to open with a win.

“Franklin Regional is so well coached,” Miller said. “They have tough kids that will play us tough. I'm preparing for a tough battle.”

The Tigers are led by quarterback Johnny Harper, who moved from wingback, and running backs Layton Jordan and Carlinos Acie. Offensive lineman Alex Meadows, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound guard, is getting NCAA Division I looks, according to Miller but didn't start last season.

Botta said new defensive coordinator Mike Pipak is working hard designing a scheme to slow down the quick Tigers.

Pipak is a former coach at Northgate.

“We have to go against a team that is on a fast track,” Botta said. “We have to get ready to play at the level and that speed. It's something we practice throughout the week to do.

“I think our skill is pretty decent, and they'll be around for a few years. The two scrimmages showed us some good things and some bad. It was better for us not to play a game. We went through some game situations against Bethel Park, and I was pleased with what we did.”

Franklin Regional is starting a new quarterback, junior Adam Rudzinski. The running game will be handled by Nate Leopold, Steven Johns, Tyrese Kohlman and Mike Evans, while Leopold is the most experienced receiver.

But in the opener, a lot will be determined on what team controls the line of scrimmage.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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