New Castle Routs Franklin Regional 53-20 in WPIAL PlayoffsWritten by: William Albright on Saturday, November 1st, 2008
By BILL ALBRIGHT
Western PA Writer
NEW CASTLE — To say the New Castle football team is on a roll might be the understatement of the year.
After suffering through three disappointing losses to begin the season, the Hurricanes have strung together seven straight wins, including Friday night’s 53-20 victory over Franklin Regional in the first round of the WPIAL-AAA playoffs.
During the first nine games of the season, offense has been the name of the game for New Castle as the Hurricanes averaged better than 33 points per game.
However, in the opening round win over Franklin Regional, it was defense that set the tone for the ‘Canes as they parlayed five turnovers into 34 points to turn the game into a rout.
“I just told our kids that I didn’t think we played our best football tonight,” said New Castle coach Frank Bongivengo. “I thought we were a little sloppy offensively at times, but we scored pretty quick and that might have had something to do with it. They (Franklin Regional) were trying hard to stop us from throwing the ball and that made it possible for us to run it inside.”
One of the big keys to the Hurricane win was the outstanding effort of tailback Keith Keene who only touched the ball nine times, but reeled off 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns covering 55 and 45 yards.
“Keith Keene is a difference maker when he gets the ball,” praised Bongivengo. “He makes people miss because he is so quick.”
Keene said it was all about the play of his offensive line.
“Our line is great and tonight, they did an outstanding job of blocking,” said Keene. “The holes were there for me and that allowed me to run all over the place.”
The Hurricanes set the tone of the game in the first four minutes of the game when they scored twice in a little more than two minutes before adding two more scores in the opening period for a 27-0 lead.
Brandon Burley picked up a fumble and took it 43 yards to the house on the Panthers first possession before Burley recovered his second fumble two plays later setting up a Michael Bongivengo 6-yard run for a touchdown.
“I was just getting back, playing my zones like coach told us to do and playing football like I know how,” explained Burley.
Franklin Regional drove 65 yards deep into New Castle territory, but that is where E. J. Padula picked off an Anthony Vendemia aerial and returned it 100 yards for a score before Keene scored his first of two touchdowns with two minutes left in the period for the 27-0 lead.
(Coach) Bongivengo was quick to put his finger on the what the early turnovers meant to the flow of the game.
“Those big turnovers were key for us,” he said. “We haven’t scored on defense all year and tonight we scored twice (on defense) in the first quarter. That was definitely a big key for us to start moving ahead.”
While the Hurricanes were parlaying the turnovers into points, Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta knew his team was in trouble with the huge hole they dug for themselves.
“With the speed they have and the weapons they have, you just can’t dig yourself into a hole like we did tonight,” said Botta. “I told our guys that we could win this football game if we were sound with penalties, sound with turnovers and finishing drives. As it turned out, we did none of that tonight.”
Although behind 13-0 after the first two Necahi touchdowns, Botta felt the key score for the Hurricanes was the interception return.
“We drive down the field and if we make it 13-7, the kids can now believe in themselves,” he said. “Nobody had played them (New Castle) tight in the first and second quarters, but with that (interception return), it was 21-0 and as a result, we found ourselves scrambling. But you have to give them credit because that is a team that is going to be hard to beat because they have all the weapons. They have speed, the strength and they tackle very well.”
Although quarterback Michael Bongivengo didn’t have a good night throwing the football (3-for-9), he used his legs to get the job done as he carried the ball six times while scoring three touchdowns.
“Our offense and defense both played very well tonight,” said the younger Bongivengo. “The defense was tackling hard, getting turnovers and as a result, we were able to put a lot of points on the board early. Now that we are in the playoffs, we are on a 1-game win season so we have to keep things going.”
With the win, New Castle (7-3) will get a rematch with Indiana, a team that defeated the Hurricanes 27-18 in the second game of the season. Indiana defeated Trinity to advance to the next round.
“That is going to be a big rematch for our kids,” said coach Bongivengo about meeting Indiana again. “We wanted another chance at Indiana and our kids are excited about getting the opportunity. They put it on us pretty good up at their place, but this is a different New Castle team than they saw in week two.”
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