Freshman kicker boots winning FG as Franklin Regional edges Latrobe

Friday, September 7, 2018 | 10:36 PM

After trailing for the first 40 minutes, 44 seconds of their game against WPIAL Class 5A Big East foe Latrobe, Franklin Regional battled back to tie the score. Then, with 61 seconds left, the Panthers found salvation on the foot of a freshman

Just like his since-graduated brother, Dom, did last season, ninth-grader Anthony DiFalco booted what turned out to be the winning field goal from 27 yards to lift the Panthers (2-0, 2-0) past the Wildcats (0-3, 0-1), 17-14, at Latrobe’s Memorial Field.

The game-saving kick capped a frenzied comeback for coach Greg Botta’s team, which looked down and out after trailing 14-0 at the half.

“That’s this game,” Botta said. “I’ve been around this game a long time, and when you play this type of game against a physical team like Latrobe, it’s just a matter of hanging in there.”

“I feel for Latrobe and coach Marucco. He’s doing a darn good job. But for us, I just told the kids at halftime that I don’t want them quitting. Just don’t quit. If we lose, you at least have to fight. That’s what this is all about.”

Leading the charge for Franklin Regional was quarterback Adam Rudzinski, who shook off a slow first half to finish with 294 yards on 12-of-26 passing. He threw two touchdown passes an no interceptions.

Rudzinski displayed great touch on his deep passes in the second half, scoring first on a 30-yard throw to Devon Powell, then later on a 93-yard heave to Michael Evans. The toss to Evans tied the score 14-14. A few minutes later, he helped engineer the drive that would set up DiFalco’s winning field goal.

In addition to his strong performance at quarterback, Rudzinski also came up with a big interception on defense in the third quarter as Latrobe was driving in the Franklin Regional red zone.

“Adam made a couple of big plays to get us going at different points in the night,” Botta said. “He’s the leader of this football team, and I told everybody in the preseason that we’ll go as far as he can take us.

“It wasn’t just offensively. He got it done for us on defense, too. He ran around that field like a maniac. I can’t say enough about that kid.”

Evans finished the game with two catches for 142 yards and a score, and Powell had two receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown. Senior Nick Leopold caught four balls for 64 yards.

On the other sideline, Latrobe received a strong performance from quarterback Branden Crosby, who went 10 for 17 for 207 yards and one interception.

Wildcats wide receiver Zakharee Williams was the star of the first half, racking up 137 yards on four receptions and tallying 43 yards and a touchdown run on five carries.

Running back Logan Gustafson scored the other touchdown for Latrobe and rushed for 46 yards on 12 carries in a loss that had Wildcats coach Jason Marucco hunting for a silver lining.

“I just want to tell the guys on our team how proud I am of them,” Marucco said. “I’m proud of the effort for the entire night. We faced two pretty darn good opponents in the first two weeks, and some people had written us off but I think you saw tonight that they’re going to battle every week.

“We’re at the point where we have to learn how to win these games. Then, we’re going to take off.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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