Improbable comeback something Franklin Regional ‘will always remember’

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Saturday, October 16, 2021 | 2:34 PM


A couple of key plays led to Franklin Regional’s improbable second-half comeback Friday night at Latrobe, perhaps the greatest rally in the football program’s history.

The Panthers, ravaged by injuries, overcame a 40-14 deficit to beat the Wildcats, 41-40, in a pulsating Class 5A Big East matchup with playoff implications.

Some fans left early. They missed a good game.

The first play of note was a hook-and-lateral that seemed to spark the Panthers. Senior quarterback Connor Donnelly, who was 17 of 32 for 290 yards and two touchdowns, threw a 6-yard pass to Maddox Morrison, who caught it and lateraled to Tyler Bewszka. He took it 35 yards for the score to cut the deficit to 40-20 at the break.

“The hook-and-lateral is what started it all,” Morrison said. “Tyler is such a good running back, and I knew if I got it off, he was scoring. After that, we knew that we were still in the game. We just needed to fix some things.”

Panthers coach Lance Getsy said the staff installed the hook-and-lateral trickery two weeks ago but hadn’t used it. Assistant Steve Gross suggested it, and Getsy said, why not?

“It was the perfect time,” Getsy said. “Maddox Morrison made a great play. He pitched it before his feet hit the ground, and Tyler made a great run after. It gave our kids some hope and belief going into halftime. Momentum plays a huge role in football games.”

Next came another play by Morrison, who intercepted Bobby Fetter on 2nd and 11 at the Latrobe 7. Three plays later, Bewszka scored on a 13-yard run and it was 40-27 heading to the fourth.

After forcing a turnover on downs and a punt, Franklin Regional cut it to 40-34 when Donnelly, who willed the Panthers back, scored on a keeper with 6 minutes, 4 seconds left to cap a 10-play, 77-yard drive. Donnelly completed three consecutive passes, including a 43-yarder to Zach Bewszka to set up his score.

With Latrobe unable to add to its lead or run much time off the clock, the Panthers forced back-to-back three-and-outs before their go-ahead drive.

With just less than two minutes to go, Donnelly was sacked on first down by Aidan Sweeney, but he bounced back and hit Caden Smith for an 11 yards and Jared Ribar for 15 more.

After an incompletion, he waited for Smith to make a move on his defender on third down, then floated a strike to him in the front left of the end zone for a 20-yard score with 1:17 to play — 40-40.

Freshman Joe Bayne came on for the extra point. After an offside on the Panthers was declined, Bayne split the uprights on his second attempt for a 41-40 advantage.

“We went back into the locker room with our heads high (at halftime) and fixed up our defense,” Morrison said. “We came out ready to finish the game. It was a game that I will always remember down the road.”

Latrobe had a chance for the win as Fetter completed a pair of passes. But his third-down throw was tipped and intercepted by Zach Brewszka with 17 seconds left.

Brewszka was hit hard on the pick but held on to the ball to seal it.

“I hope just learning life lessons of how to overcome adversity, that is the biggest key for this team, and that is what I am most proud of,” Getsy said. “This was an unbelievable game for our guys.”

Franklin Regional didn’t attempt an onside kick the entire game and didn’t allow a first down in the second half until Latrobe’s final desperation drive.

“I got this”

Getsy didn’t have to draw up the tying play. Senior standout Caden Smith did it for him.

“He turned to me and said, coach, I got this,” Getsy said. “I said, ‘Got it.’ Called a play, he put a move on him on the inside, made him bite, broke it out, the kid fell and Connor made the throw. Caden wanted it.”

Smith peeled off his defender, who fell down, and was wide open.

“Connor just needs to get the game experience,” Getsy said. “It’s hard sometimes because we haven’t had a lot of offensive plays this year. He’s getting it. I gave him a hug after the game because I’m so happy for him.”

Donnelly expected Smith to make a big play with the game on the line.

“Caden has been a great player,” Donnelly said. “When we see that matchup, I’m looking for him all the time, a jump ball, I know he’s going to go up and get that ball, and he did.

“We knew the whole time this was a must-win game. That was our mindset coming out of halftime, and we got the win.”

Tale of two halves

Latrobe practically was unstoppable in the first half but could not finish drives in the second.

The Wildcats led 40-14 late in the second quarter.

“They came out and made plays and made some adjustments,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “We thought we had some answers, too. We just didn’t make plays at key times.

“We’ll have to get back at it, learn from it, coaches, players, everybody. They made plays and got stops when they needed it. We just didn’t finish.”

Kyle Brewer scored two touchdowns and Fetter, who just returned from a shoulder injury, had more than 100 yards rushing and passing.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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