Franklin Regional looking to slow down Gateway in Big East Conference showdown

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | 5:17 PM


Maybe it was good Franklin Regional couldn’t find an opponent to replace Albert Gallatin on the 2019 schedule.

After losing to Shaler, 28-17, in Week 4, last Friday’s bye week gave the Panthers a chance to heal, refocus and prepare for their toughest battle this season.

They will play at No. 3 Gateway on Friday in a WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference battle.

Franklin Regional (3-1, 2-0) is welcoming back junior running back/linebacker Colton Johns, who missed the Shaler game, and coaches are awaiting the status of junior running back Brandon Zanotto, who has an injured right foot.

Panthers coach Greg Botta needs everyone ready if they hope to give high-scoring the Gators (5-1, 2-1) a game. Gateway has scored more than 40 points in each of their five wins.

“Having the week off was advantageous to get these kids back for Gateway,” Botta said.

Since falling to Penn-Trafford, 28-7, in Week 1, the Gators have allowed only seven points — coming last week in a 40-7 victory against North Hills.

Botta put his team through extra pursuit drills this week to get ready for Gateway’s speed and quickness. Junior running back Derrick Davis, an elite Division I recruit, is one of the Gators’ offensive threats. He has rushed for 774 yards and 13 touchdowns on 52 carries.

“Since that Penn-Trafford game, we got some kids back,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “We got a couple offensive linemen back and linebacker Jordan Stancovich. Having him back helps the defense.”

Gateway defeated Franklin Regional twice in 2018 — 63-3 during the regular season and 35-0 in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals.

A crazy play in the first quarter of the regular-season game sparked the Gators. Leading 14-3 and facing third-and-3, Brandon Majocha hit wide receiver Courtney Jackson with a screen pass.

The ball slipped through the fingers of a Franklin Regional linebacker and into the arms of Jackson, who raced 73 yards for a touchdown.

“That was a big play for us,” Holl said. “But I expect another hard-fought game from one of our rivals. Greg is a great coach, and they’ll be prepared. They always are.”

Against Penn-Trafford, the Gators turned the ball over six times, and quarterback Bryson Venanzio threw four interceptions. He has bounced back, though. Venanzio has completed 90 of 135 passes for 1,356 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Forcing turnovers and slowing Gateway’s offense is Franklin Regional’s challenge.

“It’s good to get Colton back in the lineup,” Botta said. “We lost him for three weeks.

“Gateway has four game-breakers, just not Davis. We have to be disciplined, and we have to change things up to keep them-off balance. They have tons of weapons on the field, and they’re physical up front.”

Botta said the key to his team’s success is how well they throw the ball because he knows Gateway will try to slow the Panthers’ running game.

Zac Gordon has run for 507 yards and seven scores on 78 carries. Trevor Brncic has completed 29 of 61 passes for 335 yards and four scores.

“What we’d like to do is slow the clock down and limit their possessions,” Botta said. “We can’t afford many three-and-outs or it will be a long night.”

And Botta hopes not playing for nearly two weeks after a loss will make his Panthers hungry.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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