Franklin Regional earns crucial win over Latrobe

Friday, October 16, 2020 | 11:22 PM

Franklin Regional isn’t ready for its playoff streak to end.

The seniors, in particular, want this touch-and-go season to keep going.

Trevor Brncic threw for 203 yards and three touchdowns, Colton Johns rushed for 102 yards and Jerraine Turner returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown as the Panthers dumped Latrobe, 27-14, on Friday night in a hard-hitting Class 5A Big East Conference game in Murrysville.

A fourth senior, Jeffrey Downs, had two touchdown receptions in the victory for the Panthers (4-2, 2-2), who move into fourth place with one week left in the regular season. The top two teams in each conference and two wild cards will make the WPIAL playoffs.

Franklin Regional is trying to secure a 17th consecutive postseason berth.

“We knew we had to win,” Brncic said. “We knew we had to beat Latrobe. Now we’ll focus on Penn-Trafford (next week). We’ll play them well and see how it goes. We’re focused on them now.”

Latrobe (2-3, 1-2) put up a late score just before the half to cut it to 14-7, but Franklin Regional quickly stamped out the momentum as Turner took the ensuing kickoff and raced 84 yards for a touchdown.

Suddenly, it was 21-7 heading to halftime of the homecoming matchup.

“That was huge for us there,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “We let them drive down our throats and score but we responded. We saw something (with the kick return team practice) we thought we could take advantage of and it worked perfectly.”

Franklin Regional had just allowed Landon Carns to convert a first down on second-and-22 — Tucker Knupp pulled in a 20-yard reception — and Dylan Gustafson picked up 20 more yards on a rush to set up the Wildcats.

Drake Clayton punched in the short score to make it a seven-point game.

But Turner found daylight, broke to the right and zipped down the near side for the game-changing score.

“I saw a bunch of guys on the right, and I knew I could cut it right up the field and go,” said Turner, who transferred last year from 5A Newman Smith High School in Carrollton, Texas. “I only had to beat the kicker.”

Turner, who missed two games with a broken wrist, also had an interception.

“He’s our fastest guy,” Brncic said. “We get his speed. We use him. We get around that edge. Set that wall, no one gets through. One-on-one, Jerraine all day.

The Panthers added to their lead late in the third when Downs made a nifty double-move, and Brncic, who completed 14 of 25 passes, pump-faked and delivered a spiral to him down the far side for a 38-yard score.

“There are playmakers for us all over the field,” Brncic said. “It’s not just me. We had young guys out there blocking; great job. Great route-running — everything.”

Sarnic caught six passes for 92 yards and the one score.

“(Brncic) has really found some rhythm with the receivers,” Botta said. “I know he’s under a lot of duress with our offensive coordinator Lance Getsy. But he is learning a lot and keeps improving.”

Down 27-7, Latrobe immediately cut into the deficit and seemed to get a spark after Downs’ score. Kyle Brewer took the ensuing kick but fumbled it forward. Somehow, he recovered, juked a few defenders and outran the Panthers’ coverage for an 80-yard score.

But the Wildcats could not get the ball into the end zone after that.

“I thought we made some adjustments and played better in the second half,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “It was a game of missed opportunities. Our defense played great and got stops. But we need to execute better offensively. Kyle made a great play on that return.”

The Panthers led from the start.

Franklin Regional attempted a low, pooch kickoff to open the game, and Mario Sarnic recovered.

Five plays later, Brncic zipped a pass over the middle to Downs on a slant and he took it to the end zone.

Downs had four catches for 80 yards.

“(Kicker) Caden Smith put it right where it needed to be,” Botta said. “We tried to pin them but saw a chance to try something there.”

Late in the second quarter, Brncic threw his second scoring pass, this one to Sarnic on another quick slant. The play covered 35 yards and the Panthers led 14-0.

The Panthers, plagued by penalties, bounced back from a 32-13 loss to Woodland Hills and improved to 2-0 at home.

Latrobe came in averaging 30.5 points and allowing 33.3. The Wildcats will play their second home game next week against Woodland Hills.

Carns threw for 137 yards, and Nate Stemmerich had three receptions for 96 yards for the Wildcats. Dylan Gustafson, who ran for 171 yards and three touchdowns last week against Connellsville, was held to 57 yards on 13 carries.

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

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