North/East Xtra: Knoch, Franklin Regional ready for big football exam

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There is one downside to playing on television on a Thursday night for members of the Franklin Regional football team rather than having a traditional Friday night game.

Sunday was not the customary day of rest for the Panthers. Instead, they began preparing for their next game a day earlier.

"We had to bring the kids on a Sunday, which they weren't too happy about, but then it evens up because we'll give them Friday off," Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. "They can go on dates or watch football somewhere else and get a chance to do things on a Friday night they wouldn't normally get a chance to do during the season."

Franklin Regional and Knoch will have their work cut out for them Thursday night in a key Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference game at Knoch's Knights Stadium in Saxonburg that will be televised by Root Sports.

Both teams are 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the conference, where they are in a four-way tie for second place with Hampton and Hollidaysburg. Mars Area is in first place with a 5-0 record.

Franklin Regional and Knoch come in on different ends of the momentum spectrum.

Franklin Regional began the season ranked No. 1 in WPIAL Class AAA by the Post-Gazette but was beaten at home by Mars, 21-17, in the season opener. The Panthers responded by winning four games in a row.

Knoch won its first four games before losing at Hampton, 17-14, last Friday night.

"One of the great things about football and sports in general is that it gives you a chance to learn through adversity," Botta said. "Losing the opener was a tough way to start the season, but our kids learned some lessons from it and have gradually gotten better each week since that game."

Knoch coach Mike King was also glad to get back to work a day earlier, hoping the early start would wipe away the taste of the season's first loss after the Knights won their first four games by an average margin of 28.8 points.

"You don't learn a whole lot in blowouts," King said. "We need to learn to adjust in close games. We have to refocus. It's a good chance to put the last game behind us and focus on Franklin Regional, which has an outstanding team."

Until the loss at Hampton, Knoch had done well with a reshuffled offense that features running back Ben Tackett and quarterback Dakota Bruggeman. The two seniors were wide receivers last season when Knoch advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA championship game, where it lost to Montour.

Knoch reached the final by edging Franklin Regional, 9-7, in the semifinals. These teams were in different conferences last year, before the WPIAL realignment cut Class AAA to just three sections this year.

Tackett has rushed for 615 yards on 82 attempts, an average of 7.5 yards a carry. Bruggeman has completed just 28 of 64 passes for 44 percent but has been productive with 526 yards and seven touchdowns.

"Tackett is the real deal, a really good athlete," Botta said. "The quarterback is good, too. They present a real challenge."

Franklin Regional's defense, under first-year coordinator Frank Cortazzo, who joined the staff from South Allegheny, has been up to all challenges since the 21-17 loss to Mars. The Panthers have allowed 10 points in their past four games and the first-team defense has not given up a touchdown during that span.

That defense is also capable of making big plays. The Panthers scored on an interception return by cornerback Colin Janov and a fumble return by linebacker Austin Duncan last Friday, helping them rout Belle Vernon Area, 35-7, in a non-conference game on a night when the offense managed just 137 total yards.

King knows his team has its hands full against Franklin Regional's defense but also figures his team could gain a bit of an emotional edge by playing host to a televised game.

"I think it's every kid's dream in Western Pennsylvania to play on the Root Game of the Week," King said. "I know our kids are excited about it. Everyone in the community is excited about it and I'm sure Franklin Regional is, too.

"Hopefully, we'll put on a good show for the people watching because it should be a good game."


• Game: Franklin Regional at Knoch.

• When: 7 p.m. today.

• Where: Saxonburg.

• Skinny: Second place in the Greater Allegheny Conference is at stake.



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