Franklin Regional defense stands tall to hold off Kiski Area

Friday, September 8, 2017 | 10:54 PM

Franklin Regional lineman Bryce Lauer ran all by himself unaware a whistle had blown the play dead well behind him and after a 99-yard jaunt that ended in the opposite end zone.

Instead of celebrating a touchdown, he had to race back toward his own goal line where Kiski Area was set with a crucial fourth-and-goal midway through the fourth quarter.

Aware of the situation, Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta called timeout.

Lauer caught his breath got back into the middle of the defensive line and helped stuff Bryson Venanzio at the goal line to thwart the best threat Kiski Area had in the fourth quarter. The play preserved a 19-14 victory for Class 5A No. 4 Franklin Regional Friday night in a Big East 9 game at Vandergrift's Davis Field.

“The intensity was there. We had just had three big stops before it,” said Lauer about the goal-line stand. “We just had to finish it. That's what we did.”

Trailing by five with just over seven minutes remaining, Kiski Area had first-and-goal at the Panthers 4, but was stuffed on four consecutive runs.

“That was the game changer right there,” Botta said. “I was thinking about how we could score again once they went up, but our defense held. We pride ourselves on defense. We always have. All 11 guys on the field did their jobs on that goal line stand.”

Franklin Regional's Blaze O'Block intercepted a desperation throw from Ryne Wallace in the final minute at the Cavaliers 37 to seal the victory.

Anytime it looked like Kiski Area (0-3, 0-2) had seized momentum, Franklin Regional (2-0, 2-0) had an answer.

After Ryne Wallace found Jack Colecchi on a 42-yard pass that gave Kiski Area a 14-13 lead early in the third, Franklin Regional responded with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped off by an Adam Rudzinski 5-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Stonecheck. The touchdown put Franklin Regional ahead for good.

Rudzinski, a junior, passed for 215 yards, three touchdowns and was intercepted twice.

“(Rudzinski) is learning,” Botta said. “He's a young junior who hasn't played at the varsity level before. He hung in there tonight. They were bringing the kitchen sink at him and we knew they were going to do that. I was a little more pleased with our pass protection tonight over last week.”

For Kiski Area it is the third straight game that it has lost by single digits and had an opportunity to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.

“We killed ourselves with penalties again … simple mistakes,” Kiski Area coach Sam Albert said.

“Again, I can't fault the kids' efforts. Our defense played unbelievable again. We had opportunities and just didn't capitalize on them. We had first-and-goal at the 4. We should've got in, but they pushed us back. That's the third week in a row that we're one play away from winning the game.”

Wallace and Venanzio split time at quarterback for Kiski Area again and both played well. Wallace hit Colecchi with a pair of touchdown passes, and Venanzio completed 5 of his 6 attempts for 76 yards.

Rudzinski connected on a 51-yard pass to Mike Evans that put the Panthers at the Kiski Area 18. On the next play, Rudzinski found Nick Leopold in the end zone to put Franklin Regional in front 6-0. After a blocked punt set Franklin Regional up with great field possession, Rudzinski hit Tyrese Kohlman with a 33-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 13-0 early in the second.

Kiski Area got on the board in the final minute of the first half. After an 11-yard run on a fake punt by Jared Custer kept the drive alive, Wallace hit Colecchi with a 7-yard strike for a touchdown.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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