Big East title remains possibility for Franklin Regional, McKeesport

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 | 5:51 PM

Franklin Regional and McKeesport have secured spots in the upcoming WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

But both teams have eyes on a bigger prize: the Big East Conference title.

“If we win our final two home games (McKeesport on Friday and Penn-Trafford on Oct.25) we’ll tie for the conference,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “It’s going to be a challenge for our players. McKeesport and Penn-Trafford are very good.”

McKeesport can tie for the title by winning its remaining two games, Franklin Regional and Gateway, and getting help from Franklin Regional in Week 9.

It should be an interesting two weeks in the conference.

Franklin Regional (4-2, 3-1) has been dealing with all sorts of injuries. Junior running back Brandon Zanotto has an ankle injury that has kept him out a month, but he is day-to-day.

Junior running back/linebacker Colton Johns missed a couple of games but has returned.

Botta said he can’t do anything about the injuries except wait for players to be cleared to play.

His focus is devising a way to slow down McKeesport’s high-powered offense.

“There are a lot of things you need to do to beat McKeesport,” Botta said. “They execute the offense like no one I know.

“The most important thing is to be disciplined by assignments, and they have Deamontae Diggs (6-foot-6) and they throw it up to him. They beat us twice last year with big plays, and we have to find a way to defend that and defend the option.”

Diggs has caught only 11 passes but for 202 yards and five touchdowns.

Despite his impact, McKeesport is going to run the ball first. The Tigers have four runners, led by quarterback Devari Robinson, who have gained more than 225 yards on the ground.

Robinson, who has completed only 11 of 46 passes for 237 yards, has rushed for 829 yards and 22 touchdowns.

“We really don’t give Devari many opportunities to throw the ball,” McKeesport coach Matt Miller said. “We practice more running than throwing.

“But with that said, Greg’s defense always gives us problems with his 5-3 look. So when teams sell out to stop the run, we’ll look at our 6-foot-6 receiver to loosen them up. Franklin Regional is well-coached and has tough kids.”

Tyron Adams-Wagner has run for 550 yards, Vernon Andrews has 349 yards and Assad Robinson has rushed for 225 yards and five touchdowns.

The Tigers average 37.3 points and allow 16.1. The Panthers are averaging 25.3 and allowing 18.3.

Miller spoke highly of his quarterback and how he handles the team, especially the tricky flexbone offense.

“He’s a leader on and off the field,” Miller said. “He’s a good student and our trigger on offense.”

Franklin Regional had problems containing Gateway’s speed and lost 31-0 on Oct. 3 but bounced back to defeat Connellsville, 35-7, last week. McKeesport hasn’t allowed a point in wins against Indiana (50-0) and Kiski Area (46-0) the past two weeks.

“They have great skill, and I told the players we have to wrap up,” Botta said. “They play great defense, and we have to be able to create turnovers, capitalize on them and control the ball.

“Field position will be big. If we can drive the ball and keep it out of their hands, we have a chance. If they get us in three-and-outs, we’re in trouble.”

Senior running back Zac Gordon, the Panthers’ leading rusher with 729 yards and 10 touchdowns, is coming off a big game at Connellsville where he rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns.

Johns has rushed for 178 yards.

Quarterback Trevor Brncic continues to get better, according to Botta. He has completed 45 of 95 passes for 624 yards and five touchdowns.

His main receivers are Mario Sarnic (144 yards) and Jeffrey Downs (109), both with 13 catches. Junior Jerraine Turner is a big-play threat, averaging 24.3 yards per catch. He has seven catches.

“This is a game you need to win all three aspects of the game,” Botta said. “Special teams is important. We can’t give them a short field.”

Miller said he likes how his team is playing down the stretch.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of distraction this season,” Miller said. “But we’ve straightened things out, and we’re ready to make a big push here at the end.”

That push could lead to a conference title, but there’s plenty of football be played before that outcome is determined.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at or via Twitter .

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