Franklin Regional boys post another shutout, move to WPIAL soccer title game

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Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 8:22 PM


To put what the Franklin Regional boys soccer team is doing in perspective: The Panthers have not allowed a goal in 840 minutes of game time.

They have 10 straight shutouts. South Fayette was the last team to sneak one in on a direct kick — on Sept. 24.

Impressive, but the goal-busters don’t really want to talk about it.

“It’s a pretty amazing stat to accumulate as far as the goal-less time,” Panthers coach Rand Hudson said. “I’m glad you’re keeping track of those things. We try not to.”

The streak continued, nonetheless, as the WPIAL champions earned the right to defend their title.

Blackhawk was the latest opponent to get snarled by the top-seeded Panthers, who rang up a 3-0 victory in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals on a drippy Saturday afternoon at Hampton’s Fridley Field.

The Panthers posted their 16th shutout of the season and limited the No. 12 Cougars (12-4-4) to three shots on goal.

“They’re No. 1 for a reason,” Blackhawk coach Jerrod Rebich said. “They pressured the absolute heck out of us. From top to bottom, they are loaded.”

Franklin Regional (18-0-1) will get a rematch with No. 7 West Allegheny (14-5-1) for the title Thursday, Friday or Saturday at Highmark Stadium. Franklin Regional also clinched a PIAA playoff spot.

An early goal was nice, but a second one really gave the Panthers some space to operate and play their possession style.

Sophomore Anthony DiFalco zipped his 29th score of the season past Cougars senior goalkeeper Matt Adler (10 saves), who at first grabbed the ball but saw it slip out of his hands and into the net, in the 61st minute.

“That gave us a lot more momentum,” DiFalco said. “That made them have to attack more.”

Conditions like Saturday’s can be a nightmare for keepers.

“We talked about that at halftime,” Hudson said. “It’s so wet, and the ball is going to be hard to handle. Let’s get things on frame and make him make a save and go for rebounds. If you compare it to hockey: simplify the game, get to the net. It might take a dirty goal.”

The Panthers, ranked No. 34 in the latest TopDrawerSoccer’s national “Fab 50,” outshot the Cougars, 20-3. Junior Gianni Diacopoulos made a pair of saves for Franklin Regional, including a swat of a quality attempt that resembled his late save against Trinity in a sweat-it-out quarterfinal (1-0).

Senior midfielder Connor Hudson capped the scoring with a penalty kick with 3:30 to play.

Coach Hudson said senior Nolan Scholze had a “monster game.”

Scholze scored the first goal in the 24th minute — a low, left-footed rip from just outside the box. He has scored in every playoff game.

“When teams pack it in on us, we want to get that one early, and then we know things will come when teams can’t just sit back and wait for the PKs,” Scholze said. “That’s always really important to us.”

Scholze said the pregame strategy was to shoot low and shoot hard.

The Panthers gave Blackhawk quite a bit of respect. The Cougars upset No. 4 Belle Vernon to reach the semifinals for the first time in school history.

“They were very skilled,” Hudson said. “We had a few scary moments. It was a great effort against a very good team. If they’re a 12 seed, I’m the Wizard of Oz.”

Blackhawk starting defender Noah Dworakowski took a ball to the face early in the second half and was down on the turf for several minutes. He did not return.

“That changed some things we did,” Rebich said. “We talked about how big it would be if we scored the first goal. We could not switch the point of attack.”

Blackhawk will play Hampton (15-4-2) on Thursday in the third-place game for a spot in the state tournament.

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

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