East Xtra: Franklin Regional turns 'O' line into strength

Brad Everett's high school football notebook

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Agitated and frustrated. Those were two of the words -- and likely the most family-friendly -- Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta would use when describing how he felt about his revamped offensive line in August and September.

Nowadays, Botta is raving about a group of players who at one time looked like a weakness, but have improved to the point where they are one of the team's biggest strengths.

When Franklin Regional (9-1) takes on West Mifflin Area (9-1) Friday in a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal at East Allegheny's Churchman Stadium in North Versailles, Botta will send an offensive line onto the field that he feels very confident in.

Why wouldn't he be? Franklin Regional has been wearing teams down with a rushing attack that has amassed more than 700 yards the past two games, including 360 in a 42-21 first-round win against Montour.

Two months ago, attaining this type of success might have seemed far-fetched. After all, the Panthers graduated their entire offensive line from last season. In addition, senior guard Adam Mihoci, who was expected to anchor this season's group, injured his knee in the second game and is out for the season.

Hope was not lost, however, and the perseverance is now paying dividends.

"My two line coaches [Chris Capozzoli and A.J. Strum] did a tremendous job and the kids pulled together," Botta said. "We knew it would be a growing process. We had three sophomores who really stepped up. These guys have matured quickly."

The starters consist of senior center Matt Babbit, senior tackle Sam Sedivy, sophomore tackle Charlie Mazon, sophomore guard Jake Pickup, senior guard Josh Sabo, senior tight end Dylan Wallace and sophomore tight end Jake Lauer.

It helps that the Panthers have some excellent skill-position players running behind that line. Senior quarterback Charan Singh, a wide receiver last season, has been the catalyst. Singh rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns and passed for two more scores against Montour.

A week earlier, senior running back Paul Emanuele exploded for 200 yards and three touchdowns against Derry. Singh, Emanuele and junior running back Brett Zanotto have each rushed for more than 500 yards this season.

"[Singh] does a great job running, but he's also a good passer," West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. "He's going to be somebody we focus on. We have to make sure our people are in the right place."

Singh and his cohorts will look to attack a West Mifflin defense that has struggled defending the run the past two games. Thomas Jefferson quarterback Chase Winovich rushed for 246 yards against the Titans two weeks ago. Then, last week, Moon's Cole Blake burned West Mifflin for 309 yards and five touchdowns, but the Titans rallied for a 47-42 win.

While West Mifflin tries to find a way to contain the Franklin Regional running game, the Panthers are confronted with an equally challenging problem: Slowing down Jimmy Wheeler.

Wheeler leads the WPIAL in rushing with 2,381 yards and has scored a WPIAL-best 35 touchdowns. He is coming off one of the best games of his career, as he ran for 359 yards and six touchdowns against Moon.

"Stopping Wheeler is one of the most difficult things to try to do," Botta said. "They're aggressive and physical. That's why they're 9-1. They don't get fancy. The just pound the ball at you."

Work of Art

There wasn't much pretty about the Woodland Hills offense in the first half of last week's 35-14 win against Pine-Richland, but the second half turned into a "Work of Art."

Art Thompkins, who was filling in for injured starter Miles Sanders (foot), rushed for three second-half touchdowns and finished the game with 136 yards on 19 carries.

Coming into the night, Thompkins, a junior, was third on the team in rushing with 37 carries for 249 yards. Thompkins has now scored nine touchdowns. Sanders is questionable for Friday's game against Seneca Valley.

Odds and ends

Greensburg Central Catholic's 49-0 loss to South Fayette was the program's worst defeat since moving up to Class AA in 2002. ... Tyler Mellors rushed for 221 yards and four touchdowns in Mount Pleasant's 48-14 win against Valley. It marked the seventh time this season Mellors has scored at least three touchdowns. He's found the end zone a Class AA-best 28 times.

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