Franklin Regional controls ground game, stuns top-ranked Gateway

Friday, September 16, 2022 | 11:06 PM

Franklin Regional already had momentum from a strong start. But when the Panthers added a purpose — to play for an injured teammate — nobody was stopping them.


Not even No. 1 Gateway.

With the straight-ahead strength of a dominant power running game, and an opportunistic defense, the Panthers upset the neighboring Gators, 16-7, on Friday night in the Class 5A Big East Conference opener at Panther Stadium.

Gateway (3-1, 0-1) came in ranked No. 2 in the state.

Franklin Regional (2-1, 1-0) forced four turnovers and blocked a punt to beat the Gators for the first time since 2016, ending a five-game skid.

“We executed everything in our gameplan,” Panthers 6-foot-9, 265-pound lineman Max Leven said. “We talked for two weeks about how it’s about us, it’s not about the other teams. We knew we could beat them.”

Franklin Regional defensive back Logan Donnelly was injured in the second quarter and was carried off on a stretcher before he was taken to a hospital by ambulance with a leg injury.

Panthers coach Lance Getsy said Donnelly broke his leg.

“We hung (Donnelly’s jersey) up in the locker room at halftime,” Leven said. “This was 100 percent for him. It’s a shame what happened. You can watch the film and see.”

Leading 10-7 at the time, the Panthers locked in defensively and ran right at the Gators, who simply could not slow them down.

“Their defense was good, but we knew our offense was better,” Franklin Regional quarterback Roman Sarnic said. “Tonight, our defense was too good for their offense.

“We wanted this for Logan. When I saw his leg, I was about to cry.”

Two backs racked up 268 yards on 58 carries.

Zach Bewszka ran for 142 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, Roman Sarnic added 126 yards on 28 attempts and Joey Bayne kicked three field goals for the Panthers, who scored 16 unanswered points.

“That’s all I had?” Sarnic said. “I thought I had more. I know I’ll be sore tomorrow.”

Bewszka added a late interception on defense.

Franklin Regional outrushed Gateway, 268-100, in one of the most impressive wins at Panther Stadium.

“We thought running the ball like we did gave us our best chance,” Panthers coach Lance Getsy said. “The kids rallied around Logan for sure, but they won this game with their preparation and what they learned at practice.”

Gateway opened the scoring with a 16-yard scoring pass from Brad Birch to Leonard Sherrod on third-and-16. Anez Jordan set the Gators up with a 63-yard gain on an option pitch from Chris Livsey, who started at quarterback.

But Franklin Regional had some success running the ball against the Gators defense early, with Sarnic and Bewszka picking up big gains. The success carried over. And the belief it could win grew.

“We weren’t scared,” Sarnic said. “We didn’t think Gateway was as good as we heard. We think we can be a powerhouse team. We showed that tonight.”

A drive stalled deep in Gators territory late in the first quarter, resulting in a 27-yard field goal by Bayne.

Franklin Regional had Gateway looking ordinary in the first half and kept pressuring Birch. Troy Slezak forced a fumble early in the second quarter for the Panthers, who took over at the Gators’ 8.

Two plays later, Bewszka ran in from the 8 to put Franklin Regional ahead 10-7.

The game was stopped with eight minutes to play in the second quarter when Donnelly was injured after a teammate landed his leg.

When play resumed, Gateway was moving the ball when Sarnic hit Jordan for a 7-yard loss, setting up a pooch punt by Birch. But the kick was blocked by Anthony Devola, and Franklin Regional took over.

“Our defense responded time and again,” Getsy said. “It’s that physicality. When you hit people, good things happen.”

A 7-yard drive was stomped out, however, when Jordan intercepted Sarnic on third-and-goal from the 15, and the Panthers held on to a 10-7 edge at the break.

Heath Silva intercepted Birch to open the second half, and the Panthers cashed in with a 34-yard field goal by Bayne for a 13-7 lead.

Franklin Regional went on a few long drives to eat up clock, and Gateway tried to get something going with some deep throws by Birch, who was 8 of 22 for 71 yards and three interceptions.

“Our ball-running in the second half was much better,” Sarnic said. “It gave us control of the game.”

Bayne’s 22-yard field goal made it 16-7 with 11:20 left in the fourth.

Austin Kerns also had an interception in the final quarter for the Panthers.

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

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