Playoff berth on the line when Penn-Trafford, Franklin Regional collide

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023 | 6:14 PM


The WPIAL playoffs don’t officially begin until Nov. 3.

But for the Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional football teams, the playoffs start Friday in Murrysville.

The Warriors (4-5, 3-1) and the Panthers (6-3, 3-1) will battle for second place in the WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference behind Gateway (5-4, 5-0), with the winner earning a berth in the playoffs. The top two teams automatically earn a spot in the playoffs, and the third-place finisher could earn one of the two wild-card berths.

Last year, Penn-Trafford needed a victory over Franklin Regional and had enough wild-card points to qualify for the playoffs. The Warriors won in overtime, 28-21, forcing Franklin Regional, which already had clinched, to settle for sharing the conference title with Gateway.

This time around, the teams control their fate.

“I like it because we control our destiny,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “That’s why we are treating this game as a playoff game. We know what we have to do and that’s exciting.”

Ruane feels because his team denied Franklin Regional a chance at the undisputed conference title, they will use last year’s game as motivation. Penn-Trafford has won the previous six meetings and leads the all-time series 14-8.

“My players are excited to battle them,” Franklin Regional coach Lance Getsy said. “Even though they held the upper hand the past few seasons, the games are competitive. It makes for an exciting game as a player to play in and for me to coach in.

“We want to win the game. We don’t want to have to worry about wild-card scenarios.”

Both teams are coming off tough losses in Week 8.

The Panthers fell to North Hills in a game Getsy sat quarterback Chase Lemke during the second half after he got dinged up. Getsy said Lemke will be ready for Friday’s game.

The Warriors turned the ball over four times and committed other mistakes in a loss to North Allegheny.

North Allegheny is, obviously, a good football team,” Ruane said. “We would have liked to play better, but we turned the ball over and made too many silly mistakes.”

The teams run similar offenses. Both like to run the ball and mix in the pass.

Penn-Trafford’s two-headed running attack, with junior Tasso Whipple (1,179 yards, nine touchdowns) and freshman Ben Grabowski (627 yards, 10 touchdowns), has produced 1,806 yards and 19 touchdowns.

The Warriors also throw the ball as junior quarterback Jonny Lovre has completed 80 of 156 yards for 1,061 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Carmen Metcalfe is his top target with 38 catches for 478 yards and two touchdowns. Whipple has 15 catches for 260 yards and three scores.

“We might be a little run heavy, but we’d like to be 50-50,” Ruane said. “Jonny has done a lot of good things, and he’s improving every week. We’re also getting more comfortable with some of our first-year receivers.”

Ruane said losing quarterback Derek Carr, who was splitting time with Lovre in Week Zero, has hurt on both sides of the ball.

“Derek was a good dual threat for us, and he was playing excellent defense as a safety,” Ruane said. “There was nothing good about losing Derek because he was helping us both sides of the ball. All it did was to expedite Ben into the lineup.”

Franklin Regional’s ground attack is led by juniors Kyle Dupill and Jude Gentile. Dupill has rushed for 1,129 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Gentile had gained 322 yards and scored twice.

The Panthers’ passing game is led by Lemke, a junior who has completed 63 of 119 passes for 1,112 yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior Ayden Hudock leads the receivers with 36 catches for 699 yards and nine touchdowns. Austin Kerns has 10 catches for 149 yards and two scores.

“They are a strong running team,” Getsy said. “They do keep it balanced with an effective passing game. It’s going to come down to who makes plays and the least number of mistakes.

“Last year, we were leading and came up with a big interception in the fourth quarter. On the next play, we turned the ball back over to them, and they put together a game-tying score. We have to play better if we want to win.”

The series

Penn-Trafford leads the all-time series, 14-8. Here’s a look at the last 10 meetings:

2022: Penn-Trafford, 28-21 (OT)

2021: Penn-Trafford, 49-7

2020: Penn-Trafford, 56-7

2019: Penn-Trafford, 21-0

2018: Penn-Trafford, 30-14

2017: Penn-Trafford, 20-13

2016: Franklin Regional, 21-16

2003: Penn-Trafford, 34-0

2002: Franklin Regional, 7-0

2001: Penn-Trafford, 35-0

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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