Franklin Regional rides big 2nd half past Plum

Friday, September 30, 2022 | 11:13 PM

Franklin Regional suffered a disappointing loss last Saturday in double overtime to Shaler. After the first half Friday in Murrysville, it looked like the Panthers may have been on their way to another disappointment.

But special teams play changed the momentum for Franklin Regional and led it to 31-28 victory over Plum in a Class 5A Big East matchup.

“Guys made plays,” coach Lance Getsy said. “That’s what we were looking for: guys to make big plays, and it really turned things around.”

The Panthers trailed 21-7 at halftime after Plum scored on three consecutive first-half drives.

Plum started the opening drive its own 20, and Eryck Moore capped an eight-play drive with a 40-yard touchdown run.

Moore led the Mustangs with 18 carries for 135 yards and the two first-half touchdowns, but the senior was shaken up on a fourth-quarter kick return and did not finish the game.

The Panthers answered on the ensuing drive, marching 65 yards and converting twice on third down and once on fourth down. Zach Bewszka capped the drive with a 2-yard run to tie the score 7-7.

“I thought our first drive was great,” Getsy said. “But a bad snap, penalties, things like that. We need to eliminate the little mistakes.”

Quarterback Sean Franzi converted a third-and-long on the next drive, and Moore took the next carry to the end zone from 58 yards for his 11th touchdown of the season. It was the first play of the second quarter and put the Mustangs back in front 14-7.

Plum scored again after Dom Beyer caused a fumble that Darian Nelson recovered and returned to the Franklin Regional 23-yard line. Nick Odom scored from 4 yards, and Plum extended its lead to 21-7.

The Panthers opened the second half with a big special teams play. Bewszka electrified the Panthers fans with an 82-yard kick return touchdown to pull Franklin Regional within seven.

Special teams again played a part in Franklin Regional tying the score.

After the Plum drive stalled, Ayden Hudock returned a punt 58 yards to the Mustangs 2-yard line. Quarterback Roman Sarnic, who was named Homecoming King prior to the game, scored from the 2 on fourth-and-goal to tie the score 21-21.

A short punt by Plum gave the Panthers great starting field position at the Mustangs 45-yard line. It took Franklin Regional one play to score its third straight touchdown as Sarnic hit Hudock on a slant pattern, and the catch and run put the Panthers in the lead for the first time 28-21.

Getsy said the chemistry between Sarnic and Hudock is great.

“Those two have been working together for all of their football lives. They are both great players for us, and we count on them for a lot of things. I wasn’t surprised that they were going to make a play.”

Sarnic completed 9 of 14 passes for 161 yards. Five of those completions went to Hudock for 136 yards and the score.

Franklin Regional tacked on a fourth straight score as sophomore kicker Joey Bayne drilled a 32-yard field goal halfway through the fourth quarter to make it 31-21. That made it 24 unanswered points for the Panthers and seven field goals on the year for the sophomore Bayne.

The Panthers defense held Plum’s offense to four punts in the second half until Plum drove and scored late. Franzi hit Nelson from 8 yards with 1:36 left in the game to pull Plum within 31-28.

According to Getsy, the Panthers defense has room to get better.

“Our defense is still so young. We had two seniors (Sarnic and Nick Petrucci) out there tonight. It’s just learning what’s coming at them and putting themselves in good position to make plays.”

Plum got the ball back with 21 seconds remaining, but time ran out on the Mustangs after Franzi scrambled to the Panthers 35-yard line.

The Mustangs (3-3, 1-2) have lost two of their last three games and travel to South Fayette for a nonconference game next week.

The Panthers (3-2, 2-0) are tied with Gateway atop the Big East. Franklin Regional hits the road next week for a conference matchup at Norwin.

“We’ll just look at the film and see what we have to get better at,” Getsy said. “I know our blocking wasn’t the best tonight. At times it was; at times it wasn’t. We just need to have 11 guys out there all wanting to make the big play.”

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