Franklin Regional boys top West Allegheny to successfully defend soccer title

Saturday, November 2, 2019 | 4:29 PM

Hit the sweet spot.

That’s what raced through Franklin Regional senior Garrett Beaver’s mind as the soccer ball deflected off a defender and landed squarely in front of him.

When West Allegheny could not clear the ball after a Franklin Regional shot attempt, Beaver reared back and ripped the rebound into the net for the go-ahead goal in the 76th minute. The top-seeded Panthers, undeterred after surrendering a rare goal, held on and repeated as WPIAL Class AAA champions with a 2-1 victory over No. 7 West Allegheny on Saturday afternoon at Highmark Stadium.

The Panthers (19-0-1) edged the Indians for the second straight year in the title game. Last year, West Allegheny went on to win the PIAA title, defeating the Panthers, 1-0, in the semifinals.

Franklin Regional appeared headed toward another shutout — which would have been its 17th for the season and 11th in a row — but Caleb Miller scored for West Allegheny (14-6-1) on a direct free kick in the 70th minute to make it 1-1.

It was just the fourth goal allowed by the Panthers, all on set pieces, and ended a scoreless streak of 910 minutes.

This team has become so noted for its shutouts it could be called Franklin Region-NIL.

Miller curved a shot just under the crossbar to tie the physical matchup.

“I didn’t want to go to overtime,” Franklin Regional coch Rand Hudson said. “Credit to our boys. We were rattled. We felt hard-done-by, as did I, on that call and that goal. It would have been really easy to just throw in the towel and say it’s not going our way. To rally the way they did was great to see.”

What was even greater for Hudson was seeing Beaver score the winner.

Junior midfielder Zach Lorenz went out with an injury, so Beaver moved to midfield. Who knew he would be the guy to score the game-winner?

Hudson said the goal was extra special because Beaver’s father, Brice, was diagnosed with cancer around this time a year ago. The team gave Brice a medal after the game.

“I drive over that bridge (above the stadium) for work, and I look down at (Highmark Stadium),” Hudson said, tearing up. “It holds a special place. I think about that family and what they have been through. Cancer has impacted our program before. It was special to have (the Beavers) here today.”

On the go-ahead score, sophomore Anthony DiFalco, who also scored for the Panthers, passed to junior Luke Kimmich, who attempted a shot. But the ball bounced to Beaver, who launched it into the back of the net.

“It popped right out to me, and I just hit it,” Beaver said. “No time for placement … just hit it. I took one touch with the left foot and put it in. It was huge.”

Beaver was injured and did not play in last year’s final. Hudson had no hesitation moving Beaver to midfield.

“We have players who can play everywhere, and he was one of them,” Hudson said. “They just settled down and went to business with the pressure on. It was a piece of quality. For Garrett to take that so calmly in front of the net like that was tremendous.”

Franklin Regional seemed apprehensive after West Allegheny scored but reorganized its attack.

“We were angry more than anything,” Hudson said. “They’re relatively calm kids. … They just kind of brush things off. That serves you well. We’ve had some battles with teams this year, and nobody has pushed us harder than that team today.”

A scramble in front of the net nearly produced a goal in the first half when the ball pinged off the crossbar, but the Panthers instead settled on a penalty shot after contact in the box.

DiFalco fired left past diving goalkeeper Trevor Day, who tipped the ball before it found the back of the net.

It was DiFalco’s 30th goal of the season, and the Panthers took the 1-0 lead into halftime.

“It’s crazy to beat a really tough team two times in a row,” DiFalco said. “We felt the momentum go their way, and we had to fight through that and score the next goal. It got a lot more physical than what we thought it would be. They were really aggressive, and they worked their butts off.

“I thought we could have had a little more possession than what we did and attack more as a team, but we came out on top, which is all that matters.”

DiFalco scored the lone goal in last year’s WPIAL final when the Panthers celebrated their first district title under the lights at Highmark.

Gianni Diacopoulos made eight saves for the Panthers.

West Allegheny had five shots on goal and tried to take the finesse out of the Panthers.

“Last year when they beat us in the (PIAA) semifinals, it was hard work, turnover, goal — twice,” Hudson said. “They have a good system of play, and they work and work.”

West Allegheny coach Kevin Amos said the Panthers took advantage of their late chance. The Indians were in the WPIAL final for the third straight year.

“Our guys were a little tired,” Amos said. “Our kids played hard. We know we can play with anybody in the state. We had opportunities. Franklin Regional is very organized in what they do.”

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

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