Lower Dauphin freezes out Franklin Regional in PIAA semifinals

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 | 9:41 PM

ALTOONA — Another state semifinal, another loss for the Franklin Regional boys soccer team. But not for the lack of a superb effort did the Panthers succumb on Tuesday night to District 3 champion Lower Dauphin in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals.

The Falcons, taking advantage of several rare opportunities to score, got goals from Daniel Fombu in the first half and Buck Diacont in the second while playing an effective defensive style throughout to thwart Franklin Regional’s ball-hawking attack for a 2-0 victory on a frozen turf at Mansion Park Stadium.

The loss for a second consecutive season denied the two-time WPIAL champion Panthers a chance to play in the PIAA championship game.

“It will take them a while to realize this, but I’ll remind them of just how tough it is to do what they’ve done,” Franklin Regional coach Rand Hudson said. “I’ve been around a long time. I know these chances are rare, and you’d like to get them when you can. They’ve been fantastic.

“We lost in the semifinals of the states this year. We lost in the semifinals of the states last year. We lost to Canon-McMillan in the WPIAL championship the year before that. That’s been our last three losses. They’ve been outstanding.”

Lower Dauphin (21-3-1) will face District 12 champion Archbishop Wood, a 2-0 winner over District 1 champion Strath Haven, in the PIAA Class AAA championship game Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium.

Franklin Regional, which outscored opponents 108-8 this season, started fast and played fast throughout, putting offensive pressure on Lower Dauphin, but couldn’t break through.

The Panthers (21-1-1) were turned back by the Falcons defense on numerous occasions, including three notable times by sophomore sensation Anthony DiFalco.

The slick forward did some fast maneuvering with the Panthers trailing, 1-0, inching closer to the net before centering a clever pass that wasn’t handled cleanly, and Lower Dauphin cleared the ball.

After Diacont’s goal extended Lower Dauphin’s lead in the second half, DiFalco took a long pass and attempted to square himself on the run for a shot but got tangled with Lower Dauphin goalkeeper Axel Grater in what resulted in a no-call as the ball trickled out of bounds.

Roughly 90 seconds later, DiFalco got loose in front of the net but sent the ball sailing over the goal.

Earlier in the half, Grater stopped Blake Cooper’s point-blank shot into the center of the goal mouth and held on for a spectacular save.

“They did get some opportunities on us,” Lower Dauphin coach Gerry Lynch said. “Our keeper made a fantastic save there on that sharp shot, and the one over the top of the net, phew!”

The weather conditions were not ideal, to put it mildly. The game-time temperature was 24 degrees with a slight wind. Ice crystals were everywhere on the turf. Some players wore tossle caps.

“I was not happy when I got here,” Hudson said. “This is the state semifinals. But everybody has had to play in these sort of conditions, so we did our best to weather it. Once they got ahead, we had to chase the game a little bit. It changes things. All they had to do was win the individual battles and not really try to score.”


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