Franklin Regional gets dose of perspective on eve of PIAA soccer semifinal

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Monday, November 11, 2019 | 8:14 PM


Franklin Regional’s boys soccer team practiced Monday evening under the lights in Murrysville as Veterans Day faded into night.

It was the eve of the state semifinals and the Panthers had a fairly light, non-contact workout.

Coach Rand Hudson, however, saw fit to make the gathering about more than one-touch mechanics and striking the ball crisply.

The coach embraced the opportunity to teach his team a lesson in perspective.

“So many people put their lives on the line and still struggle today with things they went through,” Hudson said of war veterans, some he knew personally and some he met at a church function. “All you’re doing is going to play a game. It’s in hostile territory, yes, but it’s still only a game.”

The highly touted Panthers (21-0-1) are set to take on District 3 champion Lower Dauphin (20-3-1) at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona in the Class AAA semifinal.

The winner gets Strath Haven or Archbishop Wood in the state final at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.

Franklin Regional already has negotiated with its ego, if there ever was one to begin with, to try to stay as grounded as possible, despite the team’s No. 23 ranking nationally by TopDrawerSoccer.com. The back-to-back WPIAL champions were focusing on their next prize with a soft reflection on those who fought for their freedom.

Chatter, at least for a time, was more about storming the beaches of Normandy than taking another step closer to Hershey.

“One of our former players, Shane Popko, is in the Navy. My grandparents were in World War II. My dad was in the Army,” Hudson said, thumbing through photos on his cell phone. “(Freshman midfielder) Sam Dawson’s mom flies a (military) helicopter. She flew it over practice once. Today is about them.”

Franklin Regional made it this far last year but lost to West Allegheny, 2-1, at Fox Chapel. A new opponent awaits Tuesday night in Lower Dauphin, which knocked out West Allegheny in Saturday’s quarterfinals, 3-2.

Ryan Sanson, Daniel Fombu and Josh Koteles all scored in the second half as the Falcons overcame a 1-0 deficit in a game also played at Mansion Park.

Franklin Regional has found plenty of success by playing the ball wide. It remains to be seen if that strategy will work against Lower Dauphin, which won PIAA AAA titles in 2016 and ’17.

“They’d played with a deeper center back,” Hudson said. “We’ll see how we adjust to that. If we get to the corner, the center back comes over and if we draw him, maybe we can get it to the other side.

“We’re playing a team that just played at this stadium and we’ve never been there. I might pull out the Hoosiers scene (about the same playing-field dimensions) to help with our comfort level.”

Franklin Regional posted its 17th shutout of the season with a 2-0 victory over previously unbeaten Cathedral Prep in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Anthony DiFalco, the WPIAL’s Class AAA player of the year, scored twice.

The Panthers have outscored six playoff opponents, 30-3.

Lower Dauphin lost to Palmyra, 2-0. Palmyra edged past Canon-McMillan in the PIAA first round, 1-0.

“We have all the motivation we need (after losing in this round last year),” said Franklin Regional senior midfielder Garrett Beaver, who moved to outside back in the last game. “We’re two games away from our goal. We made it this far. We’re not going to lose.”

Beaver has a veteran tag, or sorts, as one of four seniors who saw time in last year’s state semis.

“Each game gets tougher at this time of year,” Beaver said. “The weather is getting colder and late fall turns to winter. We have to be ready for all of that.”

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

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