Franklin Regional beats Latrobe with 27 unanswered points

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Friday, October 15, 2021 | 11:22 PM


It may only take two conference wins to get into the WPIAL Class 5A football playoffs, so Friday’s matchup between Franklin Regional and Latrobe — teams that began the night with one conference win apiece — was soaked in importance.

It may have taken a comeback for the ages to get to that second win, but Franklin Regional pulled it off.

Somehow, the Panthers pulled it off.

Undermanned and down big at halftime, Franklin Regional rallied for 27 unanswered points to get by host Latrobe, 41-40, in the game of the night in the Big East.

The Panthers (3-5, 2-1) might call it the “Miracle at Memorial.”

The Wildcats (3-5, 1-2) will wonder for a while, what went wrong?

Caden Smith pulled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Connor Donnelly, who had a career night, and freshman kicker Joe Bayne connected on the extra point with 1 minute, 17 seconds remaining to make it 41-40.

With Latrobe driving to try to regain the lead, Zach Bewszka intercepted Bobby Fetter to seal the improbable comeback.

Given opportunities time and again, and Latrobe unable to drain the clock, the Panthers chipped away.

Donnelly completed 17 of 32 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns in a game the Panthers trailed at halftime, 40-20.

“Our kids fight. They have fought every game all year long,” Panthers coach Lance Getsy said. “Our defense stepped up, our offense did enough to get this win and our freshman kicker went out and kicked that extra point was huge. I had no doubt about their effort. I am so happy for our kids.”

“I am so proud of Connor because he really deserves this.”

The comeback began late in the third when Tyler Bewszka scored on a 13-yard run to make it 40-27.

As Latrobe kept giving the Panthers openings, Donnelly ran in for a 3-yard score with 6:04 left in the fourth. Bayne hit another extra point to cut it to 40-34.

After turning it over on downs and forcing a punt, the Panthers took over with just less than two minutes left. After a sack on first down, Smith ran for 11 yards, Donnelly hit Jared Ribar for 15 yards to set up a second-and-10 from the 20.

Donnelly rolled slightly left and tossed a rainbow to Smith, who came wide open in the left of the end zone. Bayne overcame a penalty on the initial point-after before calmly hitting the second attempt for a one-point lead.

Donnelly said he took on a leadership role to lead the comeback.

“We’ve never had an issue with effort,” Donnelly said. “We showed a lot of heart in the second half. We knew we had a chance. When we started rolling on offense, we started to put it together.”

The Wildcats erupted for 40 points in the opening two quarters and appeared on their way to a homecoming win. They were stunned by the result.

“It was tough to lose the momentum like that,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “We came out so strong and did a lot of good things early. But we couldn’t finish in the second half, and we gave them chances. Hats off to them for coming back the way they did in the second half. They made some plays and adjustments. We didn’t make plays at key times.”

Franklin Regional played without standout sophomore Ayden Hudock, who has a groin injury, along with Logan Donnelly, Garrett Deller, Joe Pelusi and Max Levin. Lineman Joe Purdue was injured in the fourth quarter but returned.

“I appreciate the great effort our kids bring every week,” Marucco said. “You just can’t express the disappointment that we’re feeling right now.”

Big plays propelled the Wildcats, who had their way with the Panthers early.

Kyle Brewer scored on a 69-yard touchdown pass from Fetter before Fetter dashed up the middle for a 54-yard score with 6:27 left in the second quarter to push the lead to 34-14.

Fetter threw for 135 yards and a touchdown and ran for 104 and two scores. Brewer had six catches for 110 yards and a TD and ran for one score.

Brewer took a jet sweep and ran it 15 yards for another score to make it 40-14.

Needing a spark, Franklin Regional went to trickery with a hook-and-lateral on the last play of the first half. Donnelly threw a short pass to Maddox Morrison, who lateraled to Tyler Bewszka, who took it 35 yards for a touchdown to cut it 40-20 at the half.

Latrobe jumped out to a 13-0 lead, using a commanding opening drive and a forced turnover. The Wildcats used misdirection and a deceptive offense to rush the ball effectively, with Drake Clayton scoring on a short run to make it 7-0.

After the kickoff hit off a Franklin Regional player and hit the ground, Latrobe’s Dominic Flenniken recovered it to set up the second score, a 24-yard burst by Fetter.

Franklin Regional scored on its first play from scrimmage on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Donnelly to Smith to cut it to 13-7.

Smith had four catches for 83 yards and two scores. Maddox Morrison, who had an interception, caught five for 98 yards.

Tyler Bewszka ran for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

Big kick returns led to two first-quarter scores.

Latrobe answered with a 2-yard score by Clayton to go up 20-7, but the Panthers added a big-play score on a 53-yard burst by Zach Bewszka, still in the first.

“Now we’re in the driver’s seat to hopefully make the playoffs,” Getsy said. “Things could happen still. At least we’re still in it. That was amazing to allow 40 points in the first half and zero in the second. Such a big turnaround. It was awesome.”

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

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