Penn-Trafford stays unbeaten after topping rival Franklin Regional

Friday, October 6, 2017 | 10:54 PM

Everything Penn-Trafford did Friday night against Franklin Regional seemed troublesome and trying, a far stretch from the previous six games when the Warriors sliced and diced through defenses with a power running game and dominating defense.

Franklin Regional came in with a game plan that was as effective as it was physical, and it almost worked against the Warriors, ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL and No. 4 in the state in Class 5A. But the Warriors needed a last-quarter surge to finish the deal.

Warriors senior John Gay IV made his mark in the fourth, breaking loose for a 48-yard touchdown with 8 minutes, 49 seconds remaining and adding a touchdown- and game-saving tackle 20 seconds later as Penn-Trafford escaped with a 20-13 victory at Panthers Stadium.

Gay finished with 145 yards on 12 carries, and also caught a scoring pass for the Warriors (7-0, 5-0 Big East Conference), who could move to No. 1 with West Allegheny falling to Upper St. Clair, 21-20.

The loss spoiled a brilliant game from Panthers' senior Nate Leopold, who ran for 163 yards on 22 carries. Franklin Regional, which led 7-0 and trailed 13-7 at halftime, had chances to score touchdowns but had to settle for a pair of field goals.

The Panthers (4-2, 4-2) played without three starters and have battled injuries to several players for several weeks.

Penn-Trafford was averaging 33.8 points a game.

“We just didn't finish in the red zone,” Leopold said. “We had three trips inside the red zone and six points; that's going to lose you a football game against a team like Penn-Trafford.

“Games like this come down to the little things.”

Warriors coach John Ruane preferred “earned” over “escaped” to describe what his team did in Murrysville.

“You need to be in a game like this,” Ruane said. “It was a playoff-type game; both teams were pounding each other. We were fortunate to pop one and play with a sigh of relief, I guess.

“I think it was an evenly-matched game. We had an uncharacteristic first quarter. We earned the win. We made one more play than they did in the end.”

Penn-Trafford played without standout center and nose tackle Logan Hawkins, who was expected to play but watched the game from the sidelines in shorts and a game jersey. He was a late-week scratch with a leg injury.

His absence was felt, but the Panthers still did not have an easy time getting defenders like standout Bryce Lauer to the quarterback.

“Our guys never quit, and their drive and perserverance was unbelievable,” Panthers coach Greg Botta said. “Their drive not to quit is what I want to see in these guys. Tonight was an example of what this team's about.”

Gay called Franklin Regional “a playoff team” and also said the Warriors had to earn every inch.

“They had a great defense; it was hard to get out of the backfield,” Gay said. “It's all thanks to my line allowing me to get into the open field. I was able to cut back.”

Franklin Regional dominated possession in the third quarter, limiting the Warriors to three offensive plays and tying it 13-13. But Gay finally busted loose to give the Warriors a slight cushion.

“We wanted to keep the long runs away, but Gay hit one and we overplayed it,” Botta said. “Our linebacker got caught in the wash, and he broke it.”

Leopold escaped the Warriors' defense — which had only allowed 31 points all season — and bolted 43 yards. But Gay made sure he didn't get 44 — or more — dragging Leopold down at the P-T 30.

“Everything in my body told me I had to catch him,” Gay said. “I tried to turn on my speed to get him. Luckily, I did.”

Franklin Regional turned it over on downs when a fourth-quarter pass fell incomplete but still had one more chance with two minutes to play, trailing 20-13. The Panthers drove to midfield, but the Warriors forced a fumble, and Mitch Nedley, starting in place of Hawkins, recovered with 1:16 left to seal it.

“Credit Franklin and coach Botta. They know what they're doing,” Ruane said. “They're in games like this every week. They out-physical people. After halftime, they took it to us. Fortunately, our defense dug in their heels inside the 10-yard line a few times, which was the difference for us.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Franklin Regional opened the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run by Stephen Johns. The Panthers had just turned it over on downs to waste an interception by Bradley Brncic.

A personal foul and horse-collar penalty on Penn-Trafford helped the Panthers.

Dimitri George made a tough catch in traffic and the Warriors ran five straight times before Laffoon ran in from 2 yards to make it 7-7.

Gay led the Warriors down the field, starting a late second-quarter drive with a 20-yard run. He also capped the drive with a 17-yard reception in the end zone. Lauer blocked the extra point and Penn-Trafford led 13-7.

The Warriors ended the first half with another big defensive stop, sacking quarterback Adam Rudzinski for a 15-yard loss.

Dom DiFalco capped a lengthy drive to open the second half with a 26-yard field goal. The Panthers ran Leopold eight times during the series.

DiFalco added a 29-yarder to tie it 13-13 with 13 seconds left in the third. The Panthers again couldn't get a touchdown after a nice punt return by Tyrese Kohlman.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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