Franklin Regional overcomes special teams gaffes, runs over Latrobe

Friday, September 6, 2019 | 11:10 PM

Franklin Regional dominated Friday’s WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference in every phase except special teams.

But a dominating ground game and an equally dominating defense was all the Panthers needed to defeat stubborn Latrobe, 42-21, at Franklin Regional Stadium.

Zac Gordon rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns, and Colton Johns added 131 yards and a score as the Panthers outgained the Wildcats, 363-63.

But what had Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta shaking his head was his team’s poor special teams play.

“We can’t allow that to happen,” Botta said. “That’s kid is a great athlete, but that’s something we’ll address.”

What kept Latrobe (1-2, 0-1) in the game was senior Kameron Stevens, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Braden Crosby.

“Our special teams played well, and Kameron hit the holes,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “But we couldn’t stop them when we needed to the most. We cut it to 28-21 and needed to make a stop and didn’t.”

Marucco said Franklin Regional (2-0, 2-0) dominated the line of scrimmage, and he was proud his team played hard to the end.

At times, Franklin Regional, which finished with 291 yards rushing, did whatever it wanted. Five of its six scoring drives were more than 53 yards. The longest was 76 yards.

Franklin Regional took the first possession and went on a nine-play, 54-yard scoring drive that ended with quarterback Trevor Brncic connecting on a 21-yard floater to Brandon Zanotto in the back of the end zone.

It took Stevens 14 seconds to tie the score as he took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards untouched to the end zone.

Early in the second quarter, Gordon scored on a 12-yard run to cap a 12-play, 73-yard drive. Stevens tied it 12 seconds later by racing 93 yards on the ensuing kickoff.

The Panthers took the lead for good midway through the second quarter when Justin Johns scored from the 3. Gordon’s 44-yard run highlighted the quick four-play, 53-yard drive.

“Our quarterback has to do a better job checking out of things when teams load up the box,” Botta said. “There were times were ran the ball well. When they were in things we thought we could run, we were successful.

“I was proud how the kids fought back. It was a nail-bitter at halftime, and it shouldn’t have been. No disrespect for Latrobe. We did dominate up front. We knew we could move people.”

Colton Johns’ interception set up the Panthers for a possible late score in the first half, but a bad snap on a 26-yard field goal attempt stopped that drive.

The Panthers made it 28-14 on their first possession of the second half as Gordon capped a seven-play, 76-yard drive with a 21-yard score.

Latrobe’s offense, which struggled the entire game, finally scored when Crosby and Stevens connected to make it 28-21.

But Franklin Regional quickly responded by going 65 yards in seven plays on its next possession to reclaim the momentum. It was Colton Johns scoring from the 16.

“I thought I played pretty well,” Colton Johns said. “I also made a few mistakes, but overall I ran the ball and all credit goes to the offensive line. They played extraordinary. I felt the defense executed well, too.”

Justin Johns called it a weird game.

“It was crazy,” he said. “That’s a lot on us. The kickoff returns really killed us. We have to prepare better.

“I felt like we dominated most of the game, but we killed ourselves with the two kickoffs. We had too many little mistakes that killed some plays.”

Gordon closed the scoring with an amazing run. He started left and then cut back to the right and ran to the sidelines, picked up a block and raced into the end zone from the 15.

“That’s a great 1-2 punch,” Botta said of his running game. “We have a big, strong running back, and we actually have a three-headed monster in Zanotto, who we didn’t use as much.”

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

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