Franklin Regional slows down Blanks, escapes North Hills with win

Friday, October 20, 2017 | 10:51 PM

It wasn't pretty game, but thanks to some staunch defensive play, a steady rushing game and one big play in the passing game, Franklin Regional outlasted host North Hills, 21-13, to earn a WPIAL Class 5A nonconference victory at Martorelli Stadium.

On offense, senior Nate Leopold spearheaded the Panthers' ground game with 92 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Leopold's contributions were especially important in the second half as Franklin Regional (6-2) owned the lead and killed the clock by running the ball on 25 of its 27 offensive plays.

Defensively, the Panthers limited the leading rusher in Class 5A, North Hills' Melvin Blanks, to 74 yards on 22 attempts. Blanks entered the game averaging 6.9 yards per carry.

“I have to say that North Hills is a sound team, and coach (Pat) Carey does a great job with them. We knew we'd have our hands full. I saw Blanks play four games where he just ran all over the field,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said.

“But we gave (senior linebacker) Bryce Lauer a little more rest on offense, and I thought that was important for his play on defense. We were just able to get to the ball. We pride ourselves on our defense at Franklin, and they came up with plays when we needed them to.”

One play that made a major difference for Franklin Regional was a 47-yard touchdown hookup from junior quarterback Adam Rudzinski to Devon Powell that gave the Panthers a lead that they would not surrender.

Rudzinski hit Powell on a 5-yard out route, and the wideout turned and burned the Indians cornerback who covered him. From there, the junior receiver raced down the sideline before making a cutback move on a North Hills safety who appeared to have a good angle for the tackle.

It would be Powell's only catch of the night, though the two-way player recorded an interception in the second quarter.

“Devon was our player of the game last week. He's just got to keep coming into himself a little bit. He's only a junior, but he's very, very athletic,” Botta said. “He played a tremendous game, and I'm really proud of him.”

Rudzinski completed 7 of 10 passes for 116 yards and a score.

For North Hills (4-5), Blanks and quarterback Will Hirt ran for a score. The Indians often went to the wildcat offense with success, but coach Pat Carey's team was constantly swamped by a Panthers defense that prevented big plays.

“We run the ball, that's what we do well,” Carey said. “They were able to defend it pretty well … They put guys in the box to stop our run and we tried to attack it in different ways. We just came up short.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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