By Matt Popchock
It was snowing this morning. I wish I were making that up.
My brother, a weather buff, denies it. But I could’ve sworn I caught a glimpse of The White Stuff.
Bottom line is, it’s dreary out here in the eastern suburbs, and throughout western Pennsylvania this Friday night. But every fall, with colder weather usually coincides hotly-contested playoff races as the WPIAL football regular season winds down.
“Mr. High School Sports” is live from Franklin Regional Stadium, on the campus of Franklin Regional High School, on this misty night for a big Week 8 showdown between the Panthers (5-0, 7-0), and the visiting Ringgold Rams (5-0, 6-1) in a battle for the outright championship of the Class AAA Keystone Conference.
We’ll be keeping an eye on two of the premier rushers in the district, each of whom will be critical to victory. Leading the Rams, the defending conference champs, is dual-threat quarterback “Quad” Law. Since he is the fourth person in his family to be named Percy, he took on the nickname Quad. He certainly makes it seem like there’s four of him out there; he ranks eighth in the WPIAL with 1,133 rushing yards and 13 TD’s.
But he’s battling a nagging leg injury, so it’ll be interesting to see how effective he is against the second-best scoring defense in the WPIAL. Ringgold needs productivity from him, because Franklin Regional’s ground attack is ruthless. Leading the charge is Dane Brown, the leading scorer in the WPIAL with 23 total TD’s. Brown ranks fourth in the district with 1,256 rush yards.
We’ll have updates from this and other Week 8 games throughout the night. Twenty-eight playoff spots down, 36 to go. Game on!
6:55 – The senior night crowd rises and roars as the Panthers take the field…
6:58 – Franklin Regional will take the football and attack right to left on your computer or mobile device to start the game.
7:02 – TOUCHDOWN FRANKLIN REGIONAL! Dane Brown gets touchdown number 24 on the second play from scrimmage on one of the best runs you’ll see all year. Bounced out to the right, hesitated, and waited for defenders to over-commit, and kept his footing up the far sideline. Graham Schilling completes a fake extra point to Carter Henderson, and just like that, it’s 8-0 Panthers…10:56 left, 1st quarter.
7:05 – Chris Spahr, Ringgold’s “other” quarterback, is brought down for a sack by Sean Miller. Demetrius Louis, on the next play, nearly turns another terrible snap into a huge run.
7:10 – Panthers, still up 8-0, moving the ball in Ringgold territory early in the 1st, thanks to a Miller fumble recovery…
7:11 – TOUCHDOWN FRANKLIN REGIONAL! Fake to Brown, handoff to the fullback, Kevin Wilhelm, who scoots right up the middle for a 22-yard score, his 6th TD of the year. Mike Roberge’s extra point is good, and the Panthers, who own the No. 1 offense in Class AAA, are already up 15-0 with 7:09 left, 1st quarter.
Quad Law was nowhere to be found on Ringgold’s only series thus far. If that leg injury is more serious than we think, it could be a long night; the Rams looked uncharacteristically sloppy when they first had the ball…
7:14 – Wow…another bad snap, and Dom Matarazzo recovers for the Panthers inside the red zone. They’re threatening to blow this one open without Ringgold’s bell cow able to play.
7:16 – TOUCHDOWN FRANKLIN REGIONAL! The Rams are being buried in an early avalanche of points, as Brown, whom Ringgold defended well last year in victory, has his second TD of the game, 25th of the year, on an 18-yard score. Big hole, again on the right side, darted through like lightning. Very impressive tailback. Extra point works, and Franklin Regional has three TD’s in under 6 minutes. 22-0 Panthers, 6:48 left, 1st quarter.
Quad Law is in uniform, stretching and warming up near midfield…
7:18 – 1st update of the night: Montour 7 West Allegheny 0, 1st quarter.
7:20 – On Quad Law’s first series: a sack, a botched snap (again), and a miss on a deep ball to a briefly open Alfon Cook. Rams’ defense really needs to take a stand here.
7:23 – Dane Brown has topped 100 yards…and it’s not even the end of the 1st quarter. Rushel Shell, eat your heart out.
7:25 – Updates: Justin Kempka 49 yd TD catch…7-0 GCC over East Allegheny (late 1st)…Perry and Brashear scoreless after 1st quarter at Cupples Stadium.
7:27 – Though they were aided by an ill-advised personal foul, Ringgold’s defense does take a stand, as Taivon Crews picks off Nico Lodovico on an underthrown ball. The bad news is, Law is once again on the sideline as the Rams’ offense takes the field.
7:30 – Spahr is gang-tackled by a host of dark blue jerseys, including that of Carter Henderson, who caught that two-point pass earlier. Both QB’s and the center having quite a rough night for Matt Humbert’s team.
7:32 – An ugly end to the 1st quarter, but otherwise, a beautiful start by the hosts. Franklin Regional 22, Ringgold 0, after one.
Dane Brown with 122 rush yards, and the Panthers with six penalties. Ringgold’s offense has produced negative net yardage.
7:34 – Make that seven. Veteran coach Greg Botta can’t like what he sees. You don’t want to give a dying opponent any breaks when you’re in full control of the game.
7:36 – Lodovico punts for the first time with 10:27 left in the half.
7:37 – Updates: W. Mifflin 13 Char’ Valley 0 (end 1st)…GCC 7 East A 0 (end 1st)…West A and Montour tied 7-7 (1st).
7:38 – Spahr misfires on a screen near midfield, and once again, the Rams can’t do anything with the momentum their defense produced.
I’m told Law was in definite discomfort yesterday, so it sounds like that knee injury may be worse than let on…
7:40 – Pine-Richland up early on Woody High, South Fayette up early on Seton-LaSalle. Thanks to my buddy Melissa Carle (“Chick’s Picks”) from MSA for that one!
7:42 – Another update: Montour has taken a 14-7 lead on West A in the 1st.
Dom Patterson 24 yd TD catch from Adam Lynch…6-0 Brashear over Perry (2nd)
Thomas Jefferson 7 Belle Vernon 0…Ryan Ruffing 45-yd TD run
Weird play…Ben Groll of Franklin Regional hauls in a Lodovico pass and is whacked by Sam Martin, who recovers for Ringgold. 7:20 left, 2nd quarter.
7:45 – South Fayette’s early 7-0 lead, I’m told, came on a Trevor Florentini 3-yd TD run.
7:46 – Wow…Pine-Richland now up 14-0 over Woody High. Meanwhile, USC leads Bethel Park 7-0 midway through the 1st.
7:48 – Update: Knoch, thanks to a missed Highlands field goal, still leads the Golden Rams 7-0 (1st). Important game for playoff positioning in the GAC.
7:49 – Ringgold’s personal foul after a 3-yard run by Brown is the Rams’ second penalty of the night, if memory serves. Also, unless my eyes deceive me, Ringgold is not yet in the plus column in terms of offensive yardage…
7:51 – TOUCHDOWN FRANKLIN REGIONAL! Brown has the “hat trick!” 26 TD’s on the year, three tonight…and he’s also topped 200 rushing yards. He disappeared into the pile…then re-emerged from the pile and turned on the jets for a 62-yard score up the near sideline. Roberge converts, and it’s 29-0 Panthers, 5:44 left in the 1st half.
7:52 – Update: N.A. leads Shaler 7-0 in Northern Seven action, 1st quarter.
7:53 – Matarazzo recovers Louis’ fumble of the ensuing kickoff. Yikes…
7:56 – Ringgold forces a turnover on downs–just barely–inside their own 7 yard line. Can the Rams stop the bleeding before halftime? 3:38 left, 2nd quarter. 29-0 Franklin.
7:59 – Eight penalties now for the Panthers, who pick up a personal foul. Gotta think Botta will address that at halftime.
8:00 – Ringgold is finally “in the black” offensively, as Louis picks up 17 for a 1st down.
8:02 – Updates:
W. Mifflin 27 Char’ Valley 0 (half)
Summit 14 Shady Side 7 (2nd)
Seneca 7 N. Hills 0 (end 1st)…N. Hills hasn’t missed playoff since ’98
GCC 14 East A 0 (half)
Kittanning 6 Hampton 0 (2nd)
Mt. Pleasant 7 Waynesburg 0 (2nd)
8:03 – The Rams finally have a pulse thanks to some nice running by Louis–despite dropping the ball six times on the night–and a nice catch by Cook from Spahr…
8:04 – Update: OLSH 3 Avonworth 0 (2nd). Hopewell 21 Ambridge 0 (2nd)…Shell with 131 rush yards and all 3 TD’s. He now has 36 straight 100-yard games, unofficially (will check later).
8:08 – Another timeout by Ringgold. 13 seconds left in the half. 4th and 7 from the Panthers’ 12.
South Fayette leads LaSalle 7-6 after 1st.
8:09 – Matarazzo breaks up Spahr’s on-the-run attempt near the goal line, and the Panthers will genuflect to end the 1st half. Franklin Regional 29, Ringgold 0 at the break.
8:11 – Some halftime updates:
Thomas Jefferson 23 Belle Vernon 0 (1st half)
Penn-Trafford 14 Indiana 14 (2nd)
Montour 14 West A 10 (half)
NA 7 Shaler 3 (end 1st)
Plum 6 Fox Chapel 0 (half)
McKeesport 7 Hempfield 0 (1st)
Gateway 7 Connellsville 0 (2nd)
8:14 – More updates:
USC 27 Bethel Park 0 (2nd)
KO 14 Brgtwn. 7 (half)
Beth-Center 28 W. Greene 0 (end 1st)
Geibel 6 Carmichaels 0 (end 1st)
BREAKING NEWS: Wayne Capers (Char’ Valley) apparently has ANOTHER leg injury with 1:37 left in the 1st half. Only 3 plays for him tonight.
Clairton 16 Ft. Cherry 0 (2nd)
Mt. Pleasant 7 Waynesburg 0 (end 1st)
New Castle 7 Moon 0 (end 1st)
Washington 14 South A 0 (1st)
Special thanks to Mike Kovak of the Washington Observer-Reporter for the assist!
8:22 – Some unofficial 1st half numbers:
207 rush yards for Dane Brown to go with the three TD’s. With Law out, Louis has stepped up his game; he has 68 rush yards before lost yardage from turnovers. The problem is, Law being a non-factor has simply made Ringgold, as a team, a non-factor tonight. Franklin Regional’s defense is giving it to them with one less star player to worry about.
By the way, only Clairton had allowed fewer points than the Panthers have (32) coming into Week 8. In my Week 8 preview I think I may have erroneously said 25 (if so, sorry, folks!).
8:23 – Updates: Avonworth up on OLSH 14-3 in the 2nd. And yes, Shell does indeed have 36 straight 100-yard games (national record is Billy Sims’ 38). Clairton up 22-0 on Ft. Cherry on a punt return. Gateway up 13-0 on Connellsville in the 1st half. Knoch up 10-0 on Highlands at half; Knights have 4 1st downs, including 3 on opening drive.
8:26 – Melissa says Jeannette is up 21-0 on Brownsville in the 2nd. Jayhawks on a collision course for conference title bout with GCC next week.
8:29 – Law, by the way, had -3 rush yards, per book keepers here. Spahr with 40 yards passing, four completions. Ringgold with five 1st downs, three on penalties, unofficially.
8:31 – More updates: Uniontown 6 Derry 0 (3rd). Penn-Trafford and Indiana 14-14 at half. Gateway 20 Connellsville 0 at half. Mars 21 Valley 0 (half).
South Fayette leads LaSalle 7-6 at half.
Mt. Pleasant leads Waynesburg 21-0 at half.
8:34 – P-G’s Mike White telling us Luke Hagy, the Mount Lebanon senior tailback and Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year for last season, has chosen Cornell. Tremendous athlete, good kid. Wish him well.
8:36 – Special thanks to Mike for this one too: Central Valley up 21-0 over Blackhawk in the 1st half.
Ringgold, meanwhile, takes the kick, attacking left to right to begin the second half.
8:38 – Correction: Penn-Trafford up 24-14 at half, we believe.
Hopewell 42 Ambridge 0 at half. Shell with 225 yds, 4 TD, on 18 attempts. 10 more yards, and he’s 4th all-time in PIAA history.
Hampton 20 Kittanning 6 at half
McKeesport 21 Hempfield 0 at half
W. Mifflin 35 Char’ Valley 0 (3rd)
1-yd run by Rob Willie…6-6, Perry and Brashear (late 3rd)
8:41 – Interception by Cory Lauer. Franklin Regional takes over near midfield early in the 3rd.
8:43 – Update: USC putting it on Bethel, 41-0 at half.
8:44 – Greg Botta pulls a Todd Graham and has Lodovico punt from the Ringgold 34 on 4th and middle distance. Still 29-0 Panthers in control, 6:40 left, 3rd.
8:46 – Perry now up 12-6 on Brashear. GCC leads East A 21-0 after 3rd. NA up 21-10 on Shaler at half.
8:47 – Another sack for Matarazzo, as the Panthers’ “D” continues to “T” off against Chris Spahr.
8:50 – Dane Brown not in there. Nick Vento runs for 4 instead. Perhaps Botta is playing the sportsmanship/safety card.
8:51 – Update: Gage Clark of Highlands has thrown his first INT in 87 attempts.
8:52 – 11 penalties on the Panthers now, which, for that team, has been the only “F” on the proverbial report card tonight.
8:53 – Kevin Hart goes 67 to the house on 1st play of 2nd half…LaSalle leads S. Fayette 12-6 early 3rd.
8:55 – One surprising result from Mike K.: Moon up 24-14 on New Castle in 2nd half.
Meanwhile, make it 31-0 Franklin Regional with 20 seconds left in the 3rd, as Spahr is flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone. Panthers will have a shot to make it a mercy-rule game–who knew?–as we change quarters.
9:00 – Montour up 21-17 on West A, end of 3rd.
9:01 – It’s also the end of the 3rd quarter here, where the Panthers still lead the Rams, 31-0.
9:02 – Updates: Tyler Yee 30-yd FG, LaSalle 12 S. Fayette 10 (3rd)…Perry up 13-12 on Brashear after Rick Gay 16-yd TD catch…Knoch 17 Highlands 0 (late 3rd).
9:03 – First impressions being what they are, this Franklin squad is as good as advertised…but not too bright. THIRTEEN penalties tonight, after a delay of game preceding a punt.
9:06 – Cory Lauer with his second pick of the night. Five turnovers, if memory serves, for the Rams. 10:17 left in the game.
9:08 – Groll gives the Panthers a 1st and goal, as Botta continues emptying his bench.
9:09 – Mercifully for Ringgold’s sake, the Panthers commit their third TO, as backup running back Paul Emanuele coughs it up inside the 5.
9:12 – By the way, Pine-Richland was leading Woodland Hills 20-0 in the 3rd. That would be a nice ego boost for the Rams…
LaSalle up 19-10 on S. Fayette, as the Rebels’ “D” recovers a fumble in the end zone, late 3rd.
9:15 – Another fumble for the Panthers inside the 5. But again, too little, too late. 31-0 Franklin Regional, 5:10 left in the 4th.
By the way, in case you’re curious, next week’s “UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Game of the Week” for Week 9 will be Mount Lebanon at Upper St. Clair. (That game will also be seen live on ROOT Sports.)
9:19 – Updates: Brashear defeats Perry 13-12. LaSalle has opened up a 26-10 lead on S. Fayette after 3rd.
9:20 – Updates: Pine-Richland up 26-7 after 3rd. Upset still in the making there. USC up 48-0 on Bethel after three.
9:22 – TOUCHDOWN FRANKLIN REGIONAL! Emanuele redeems himself with a 12-yard TD run. Roberge is true. 38-0 Panthers, 2:33 left, 4th quarter. PIAA mercy rule in effect.
9:23 – Update: Clairton up on Ft. Cherry 26-0 in the 4th.
9:25 – Update: GCC beats East A, 21-6.
Franklin Regional is your Keystone Conference champion; the Panthers defeat Ringgold, 38-0.
More to come…
9:52 – Head Coach Greg Botta: Proud of coaching staff for putting together effective gameplan. Hard to say where this ranks among Dane Brown’s best games, but he’s definitely a different player this year…a lot faster, a lot stronger, a lot quicker. Acceleration is phenomenal. Offensive line dominated tonight. Takes nothing away from Ringgold; thinks game would have been different if Law had been healthy, thinks Law is tremendous player in his own right. Defensive coaches have been studying Ringgold’s style for years. Kids are buying into what he’s preaching. Impressed with defense, still needs to get better. Experience has made all the difference with that group; last year’s loss to Plum, was learning experience. Kids fly to the ball. Can’t afford rash of penalties down the road like tonight, need to get better at playing mistake-free football.
9:53 – (On a separate note, the Franklin Regional band is putting on the most elaborate post-game show I’ve seen by a high school band in my LIFE. Props, costumes…gigantic Slinkys…as Joe Starkey would stay, “this is tremendous!” And that’s coming from a North Hills guy. I’m told this group will play in the Rose Bowl parade this New Year’s weekend. I can see why.)
9:55 – By the way, shout-out to former co-worker and fine American citizen Bill Rehkopf of NewsRadio 1020 KDKA–a proud Franklin Regional alum and voluntary firefighter, who was in the house tonight. He wouldn’t miss it for the world.
9:57 – Dane Brown: Really motivated tonight by how well Ringgold played against him last year. Knew they had explosive athletes, knew they needed big effort. On first TD of game: basic outside zone play, off to the right side, receivers did an amazing job blocking (and always do) to give him room. Team has all the room to grow, only thing slowing them down is themselves, as Botta said. Excited to be Keystone Conference champions, need to finish even stronger at Greensburg-Salem next week.
Ringgold, on that note, which falls to 5-1 in conference and 6-2 overall, hosts Uniontown in its final game before the playoffs. Franklin is now 6-0 in conference, 8-0 overall.
10:05 – Dane Brown is scheduled to appear at 8:10 on “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show” Saturday morning. Coach Botta is scheduled to appear at 8:20.
Check KDKA.com for all of tonight’s scores, and catch Bob Pompeani’s sports report on the KDKA-TV news tonight for all the highlights.
Meantime, before I call it a night, some updates to tide you over…
First of all, congrats to the Connellsville Falcons…a year ago, they set the WPIAL Class AAAA record for longest losing streak…and now they’re in the playoffs.
Beaver 36 Laurel 0 – final
Mt. Pleasant 31 Waynesburg 6 – final
Jeannette 35 Brownsville 13 – final
KO 35 Brgtwn. 19 – final
(UPDATE: Ringgold head coach Matt Humbert says Quad Law is out for Week 9 as well, according to my sources. Tough news there.)
QV 18 Steel Valley 14 – final
Gateway 40 Connellsville 0 – final
McDowell 42 Butler 7 – final
Avonworth 35 OLSH 10 – final
LaSalle 33 S. Fayette 10 – final
Knoch 24 Highlands 6 – final
Pine-Richland 26 Woodland Hills 7 – final
Hopewell 49 Ambridge 0 – final (225 yds 4 TD on 18 rush for Shell)
Fox Chapel 35 Plum 12 – final (yay Josh!)
Montour 35 West A 17 – final
Seneca 21 N. Hills 14 – final
Once again, your final score here is Franklin Regional 38, Ringgold 0. Dane Brown of the Panthers is your big star tonight with 20 carries for 215 yards unofficially (and two catches for 19 yards) and three TD’s, giving Brown, the WPIAL’s leading scorer through 7 weeks, 26 total touchdowns on the season.
Demetrius Louis, lest we forget, had 80 rush yards on 11 tries unoffically, and two catches for 4 yards in defeat for Ringgold.
Tune into “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show,” brought to you by ROOT Sports and hosted by John Phillips, Saturday morning 7:00-9:00 on 93.7 The Fan for more Week 8 coverage, and an update on the WPIAL playoff picture.
See “yinz” soon!
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)