Conference crown hangs in the balance when Mt. Pleasant, Elizabeth Forward collide

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021 | 5:42 PM


The last time the Mt. Pleasant football team won a conference title was 2013.

The Vikings have put themselves in a position to claim the school’s 10th conference championship since the merger of Mt. Pleasant Hurst and Mt. Pleasant Ramsay in 1963 on Friday when they travel to Elizabeth Forward in an Interstate Conference matchup of top five Class 3A teams.

When Mt. Pleasant was blanked by Latrobe on Sept. 17, Vikings coach Jason Fazekas was eager to see how his team responded after a disappointing performance.

Mt. Pleasant was stepping up two classes to face a pretty good Class 5A Latrobe team and did so without starting quarterback Tyler Reese. The Vikings fell, 35-0.

Since then, the Vikings have won their past three games, including an impressive 34-7 victory over neighboring Southmoreland.

That win showed Fazekas a lot about his team.

“It was one of the best games I’ve been part of,” Fazekas said. “The effort there and they way they responded was fantastic. To do it against a good team like that was important for us.

“I like how hard we work and how hard they try. We had a couple setbacks and faced some adversity with a couple kids sick and a few injuries, but we fought back. I like the makeup of the team, and that’s how they’ve been going back to the preseason. I like their attitude.”

Now the No. 4-ranked Vikings (5-2, 3-0) travel down Route 51 into Allegheny County to face No. 5 Elizabeth Forward (5-2, 3-0) in a battle for the top spot in the conference.

Elizabeth Forward had a similar start. After a nice win against Ringgold (12-0), the Warriors dropped consecutive nonconference games to Ligonier Valley (26-14) and West Mifflin (14-0). Since then, the Warriors are unbeaten in four games and have outscored their opponents, 168-14.

“We had a couple kids out in those losses,” Elizabeth Forward coach Mike Collodi said. “We were also playing a lot of new faces after graduating a lot of talent. We’re starting two freshmen and we’re starting to jell nicely.”

Two key losses were all-everything athlete Nico Mrvos (Edinboro) and defensive end Chase Whatton (Bowling Green). Also, sophomore Vernon Settles, who started at quarterback last year against Mt. Pleasant, transferred to Central Catholic. Elizabeth Forward won the 2020 game, 16-14.

The transfer allowed junior Zion White to take the reins at quarterback. He’s completed 32 of 58 passes for 435 yards and nine touchdowns.

Senior Kyle Flournoy is the leading rusher with 351 yards and five touchdowns while freshman Charlie Nigut is dangerous running (154 yards) and catching the ball (five catches for 125 yards). He’s scored six touchdowns.

Another dangerous player is senior DaVontay Brownfield, who was injured earlier this season, and junior running back John DiNapoli, who transferred from East Allegheny where he was the starting quarterback as a sophomore.

“Mt. Pleasant is a big game for so, but so is Southmoreland next week,” Collodi said. “Mt. Pleasant is well coached, big and physical up front and they use a lot of misdirection. You have to expect the unexpected. They’ll do something we haven’t seen.”

Mt. Pleasant relies on a triple threat in the running attack led by junior Robbie Labuda, who heads up the ground attack with 503 yards and 10 touchdowns. Senior Aaron Alakson follows with 482 yards and seven touchdowns, and junior quarterback Tyler Reese has run for 261 yards and four scores.

The Vikings got a week off last week because Brownsville couldn’t field enough players because of covid-19.

“We would have rather played,” Fazekas said. “We were ready to go. Maybe one of the benefits was we were able to get some of our kids rest. Time will tell; we’ll see what happens on Friday.”

The week off gave the Vikings a few more days to prepare for Elizabeth Forward, which was favored to win the conference for the second consecutive season.

“Overall, they are a good team,” Fazekas said. “Fundamentally, they are sound. They have a lot of kids that can make plays, so we have to play our best game. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

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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