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Keep an eye on Franklin Regional

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Franklin Regional High School quarterback Anthony Vendemia can throw a football longer and with more accuracy than most players at his level. But he isn’t the only reason Franklin Regional, one of the best teams in WPIAL Class AAA, is worth watching.

Coach Greg Botta continues to unleash an impressive stable of running backs that may end up being the envy of most AAA coaches before the end of the season. During the 47-7 victory against Class AAAA Plum on Thursday, Josh Rager ran for 141 yards and three touchdowns on only 10 carries — in the first half. Rager’s effort followed Jesse Samek’s 133 yards in a loss to Fox Chapel and Chad Bowman’s 242 in a victory against Ambridge.

Franklin Regional (3-1) is as balanced as any team in the WPIAL, with Vendemia, who was 8 of 10 for 166 yards and two touchdowns, leading the passing game. His 68-yard touchdown throw to Josh Stanisca at the end of the first half may be the prettiest pass you will see all season. Vendemia dropped it perfectly over the shoulder of Stanisca, who merely had turn his head to catch the ball without breaking stride.

  • Reality check: Franklin Regional is good, but its three victories are against three winless teams (Southmoreland, Ambridge and Plum). Meanwhile, 0-4 Plum has lost to Indiana, McKeesport, Mars and Franklin Regional (combined record: 13-3).
  • Another installment of Seneca Valley/North Allegheny shows up at NexTier Stadium Friday and this one should be a dandy.
  • Seneca Valley (3-1) has the best passing combination in the WPIAL with quarterback C.J. Brown and wide receiver Matt Plautz (a school-record 84 receptions). North Allegheny (2-2) is battled-tested, with two consecutive tight decisions (a loss to Upper St. Clair and a victory against Penn Hills) leading into its Quad North opener.

    North Allegheny respects Brown, but its players are used to seeing a productive quarterback — in practice. NA’s Mike Locke has completed 44 of 74 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns. He threw for nearly half of his total (296) against Penn Hills, with 143 going to Brian Austin and 104 to Grant Huckestein.

    Brown has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in four games, with 79 completions in 126 attempts (62.6 percent) for 1,121 yards and eight touchdowns.

  • When it was called Raider Stadium (before corporate money deals oozed their way into high school athletics), Seneca Valley’s home field was one of the loudest venues in the WPIAL. That was when fans put coins in empty milk jugs and shook them until their arms hurt. In a Raiders victory in 1997, the air was so full of noise that North Allegheny had trouble calling signals and Seneca Valley won easily on its way to a date with Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL semifinals.
  • No one will experience a stranger feeling in the pit of his stomach Friday than North Allegheny assistant coach Bob Ceh, a former Seneca Valley head coach and now its Dean of Students in the senior high.
  • Ceh, a former Penn State long snapper and the son of long-time WPIAL coach and all-around nice guy Earl Ceh, worked hard to return Seneca Valley to the good times it experienced in the 1990s under coaches Terry Henry and Rick Shepas. He deserved a better fate, but he surely has landed on his feet on NA coach Art Walker Jr.’s outstanding staff.

  • I was all set to write a nice, little testimonial to the rebirth of Fox Chapel football. That was before Fox Chapel (2-2) lost to Mars, 35-14, the second time in two weeks the Class AAA Planets defeated a AAAA team (Plum was the other). Now, the most interesting game of Week 5 could be Thursday night in Adams Township, Butler County. That’s where Mars (3-1) plays its home games and will welcome undefeated Highlands (4-0) in a big, big Greater Allegheny Conference game. Highlands also beat a Class AAAA team Friday (Kiski Area).
  • The Planets — I know this is hard to believe! — win on the ground. Austin Miele and Shane Kaclik rushed for a total of 371 yards. Mars doesn’t venture too far into outer space, but quarterback John Brake, who scored twice against Fox Chapel on 1-yard sneaks, still is averaging one touchdown pass per game.
  • How tough must it be for Mars coach Scott Heinauer to concentrate on his team when his son Justin, the quarterback at North Hills, is leading his team to a 3-1 start?
  • Big, tough football players will just have to get over it: The foot is back in football.
  • Three games were decided by fourth-quarter field goals Friday when North Allegheny’s Kurt Devlin kicked two in the final 1:45 to beat Penn Hills, 25-22; Hempfield’s Josh Cavalier kicked three in a 16-14 victory againt neighboring rival Norwin; and Central Catholic ruined Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render’s party, 10-9, with a 48-yard field goal by Matt Oczypok with 58 seconds left. A victory would have been No. 327 for Render and made him the second-winningest coach in Pennsylvania scholastic history.

  • Don’t forget a shout for Latrobe kicker Joe Dado (14 for 14 in extra-point tries).
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