After years on losing end, Southmoreland trying to turn tide in rivalry with Mt. Pleasant

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Thursday, September 24, 2020 | 5:06 PM


Their schools are a 5 miles apart. Students live across the street from one another where Mt. Pleasant borough and East Huntingdon Township meet.

But since Mt. Pleasant (1-1, 1-0) and Southmoreland (1-1, 1-1) began playing football in 1964, their programs have been miles apart.

Mt. Pleasant, which leads the series 37-8, had winning streaks of 15 and 12 consecutive games in the series. Bo Ruffner, who joined the Vikings staff this week as a volunteer and coached the Vikings for nine seasons, never lost to Southmoreland.

And the Scotties, winners of the past two meetings, never have won three consecutive games against the Vikings. They can this year.

“The senior class wants to be the first to win three straight against them,” Southmoreland coach Dave Keefer said. “That’s their motivation.”

History between the teams means nothing Friday, of course, when the two square off at Russ Grimm Field. The winner will gain the upper hand in the race for a playoff spot in this shortened season.

Both teams have wins against South Allegheny. The Vikings won in Week 1, 21-14, and the Scotties went to Glassport in Week 2 and came back with a 28-21 victory.

Keefer said he feels both teams are similar.

“We have pretty similar skill sets,” Keefer said. “We both have pretty big lines, and Mt. Pleasant has equal athleticism as we do. We might have a little more team speed, and that depends on the scheme they are running.”

One position where the Scotties have an edge is at quarterback, where senior Zach Cernuto returns for his third season. He has completed 20 of 42 passes for 338 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He went over the 4,000-yard passing mark in his career against South Allegheny.

He has thrown for 4,069 yards by completing 277 of 535 passes, recording 36 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.

“Zach is a three-year starter, and he went over 4,000 yards, which is a pretty good accomplishment,” Keefer said. “He had a pretty good game last week and found a new favorite target (Isaac Trout).”

Mt. Pleasant senior Asher O’Connor doesn’t have the numbers that Cernuto does, but the Vikings rely more on their ground game to open up the pass. O’Connor did throw a touchdown pass to Aaron Alakson against Latrobe in a 35-7 loss.

“Their quarterback is a really good player,” Mt. Pleasant coach Jason Fazekas said. “He’s going to be a handful for us and something we better be prepared for.”

The Vikings allowed a long touchdown pass last week, and Latrobe quarterback Landan Carns was able to throw for 139 yards.

If Mt. Pleasant wants to win the game, it must get its ground game untracked. Latrobe’s defense did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage and bottling up Alakson and Peter Billey.

“Latrobe was a very good football team,” Fazekas said. “It is nice when you’re able to run the ball a little bit. It makes things better. We have to be able to throw the ball a little bit.”

Usually teams show the most improvement between the first and second week of the season. Fazekas wants that improvement to happen this week.

“What we learned from last week is we have to be ready to play,” Fazekas said. “We have to have ourselves ready, and we have to we execute. That’s No. 1. We’re focused on getting better this week.”

Southmoreland rebounded from a tough opening-night loss to South Park. The Scotties gave up 14 points on turnovers, had 12 penalties and lost 33-23.

Keefer was pleased with the way his team bounced back against South Allegheny.

So why was Mt. Pleasant so dominant over the years? Keefer, who played for the Scotties and coached at Mt. Pleasant, said the Vikings have a good in-house midget program to build from.

“That’s what I’m trying to build here,” Keefer said.

“I’ve gotten involved, but I let the coaches coach and they’re doing a good job.”

Keefer hopes to close the gap in the series a little on Friday.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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