Franklin Regional looks to stay healthy, put rare losing season in rearview mirror

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Thursday, September 3, 2020 | 10:41 PM


Injuries have proven costly to the success of the Franklin Regional football program the past few seasons.

The Panthers usually have the players to compete with anyone in Class 5A as long as they stay healthy. That hasn’t occurred recently.

Franklin Regional went 4-5 in 2019, suffering its first losing season in 15 years, and key injuries were the big reason.

Pennsylvania Hall of Fame coach Greg Botta is looking forward to his 27th season, but will it be his last?

Botta won’t say. He is focused on getting his team ready for what he hopes is another successful fall.

Since Botta took over in 1994, Franklin Regional’s program has become one of the best in WPIAL Class 5A. In between losing seasons in 2019 and ’04, the Panthers went 126-51. Botta has 173 career wins.

Franklin Regional has numerous holes to fill, especially along the offensive and defensive lines.

Botta said he must build around senior Dylan Llewellyn, a three-year starter at guard, and huge sophomore Josh Pelusi (6-foot, 305 pounds) at tackle.

“We have to replace most of our line,” Botta said. “We have some guys who saw varsity action and others vying for three or four positions. A lot of the guys are showing promise.”

Because of the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions, Botta said progress has been slowed.

“We also have a brand-new offense we’re learning,” he said.

One spot that he is not worried about is quarterback, where senior Trevor Brncic returns. Brncic completed 78 of 154 passes for 978 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Botta wants his quarterback to cut down on turnovers. He threw eight interceptions.

“Trevor has to take charge,” Botta said. “He’s got to make better decisions. He got rattled a few times last season.”

Brncic has a lot of targets returning in seniors Jermaine Turner (19 catches for 329 yards), Mario Sarnic (13-144), Jeff Downs (18-178) and Brandon Zanotto (9-155).

Other players Brncic could target are sophomore tight end Nicholas Petrucci, who has excited Botta with his progress, junior Caden Smith and senior Austin Gillespie.

Zanotto and senior Colton Johns will be counted on to replace Zac Gordon at running back. Gordon was the Panthers’ workhorse, rushing for 872 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. Junior Zach Bewszka is another player who could be in the mix in the backfield.

Botta will be counting on senior defensive end Jack Pedrosky, a three-year starter, Johns at outside linebacker, senior Patrick McMillen at inside linebacker, Pelusi at tackle and Sarnic, Brncic and Turner in the secondary.

The defense could be a strength if Botta finds the right replacements.

Botta said the conference will remain strong despite losing McKeesport and Plum to Class 4A. Woodland Hills replaced those teams in the Big East Conference.

Schedule

Coach: Greg Botta

2019 record: 4-5, 3-3 in Class 5A Big East Conference

All-time record: 291-255-12

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Gateway*, 7

9.18, at Fox Chapel, 7

9.25, at Bethel Park, 7

10.2, Connellsville*, 7

10.9, at Woodland Hills*, 7

10.16, Latrobe*

10.23, Penn-Trafford*

*Class 5A Big East Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Trevor Brncic

78-154, 978 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: Zac Gordon*

139-872 yards, 10 TDs

Receiving: Jermaine Turner

19-329 yards, 1 TD

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Franklin Regional was known as Franklin Township from 1921-40.

• The Panthers have won seven conference titles, the most recent being the Greater Allegheny Conference crown in 2013.

• Franklin Regional was WPIAL Class AAA champion in 2005, defeating Thomas Jefferson, 31-14. The Panthers were PIAA champions the same season, defeating Pottsville, 23-13.

• Franklin Regional has made 20 WPIAL playoff appearances, including the past 16 seasons. It’s playoff record in 20-19.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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