Hampton holds off Plum in WPIAL Class 4A 1st round, stays unbeaten

Friday, November 5, 2021 | 10:46 PM

The No. 4-seeded Hampton Talbots remained perfect, but they used an imperfect performance to stay that way.

The Talbots (11-0) overcame turnovers and penalties to edge a spirited Plum team 14-13 on Friday night on a late touchdown in the first round of the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

Trailing for most of the game, the Talbots took the lead on Christian Liberto’s 2-yard touchdown run and Matt DeMatteo’s extra point with 2 minutes, 57 seconds to play.

The score capped a nine-play, 82-yard drive that began with 6:48 to play after Talbots defensive back Joey Mayer intercepted a Sean Franzi pass on third-and-10 deep in Hampton territory.

No. 13 seed Plum (3-8), which had lost to Greater Allegheny Conference foe Hampton, 35-7, on Oct. 8, saw its final chance at the upset end when Franzi’s fourth-and-15 pass from the Hampton 43 fell incomplete with 14 seconds to play.

“I can’t be more proud of these kids,” Plum coach Matt Morgan said. “They fought, scratched, clawed, backs against the wall. I don’t think anybody expected this but us, and that’s how we like it. We knew we could win this ballgame, and we just fell a little bit short.”

Hampton, only five years removed from an 0-10 season, earned a WPIAL quarterfinal date with defending PIAA champion Thomas Jefferson (8-2), a 41-0 winner over Indiana, on Oct. 12 at a site and time to be determined.

Hampton was the only WPIAL school with multiple 1,000-yard rushers this season, but leading rusher, sophomore Brock Borgo, sat out after being injured last week against Mars.

Borgo has rushed for 1,088 yards and 17 touchdowns, and his status for the Thomas Jefferson game is uncertain.

Instead, Hampton leaned on Liberto, the team’s other 1,000-yard rusher. The senior gained a game-high 142 yards on 23 carries, including eight carries for 57 yards on the go-ahead fourth-quarter drive.

Plum took a 7-0 lead on Franzi’s 44-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Samo Pitt with 10:40 to play in the second quarter. The TD came one play after Plum recovered a fumble by Hampton’s Mayer.

Hampton tied the score at 7-7 on Liberto’s 6-yard touchdown run with 7:31 to play in the first half.

But Plum regained the lead on the first play of the third quarter on a 57-yard touchdown pass from Franzi, who completed 9 of 15 pass attempts for 180 yards, to senior wide receiver Logan Brooks. Hampton’s Gabe Gannelli blocked Angelo Baleno’s extra point, however, and the score remained Plum, 13-7.

Hampton’s winning drive came after Mayer’s interception snuffed a 14-play Plum drive that had eaten nearly nine minutes off the clock.

Hampton attempted only one pass all game, a 14-yard completion in the first quarter, and finished with 52 carries for 275 yards.

“It was really in my opinion a great growing experience for us,”’ Hampton coach Jacque DeMatteo said. “But they have to understand. We are in the playoffs. We are not going to blow teams out. …It’s not going to be like that in the playoffs. Everything is going to be tough.”

Hampton made a number of costly mistakes throughout the game,

A Matt DeMatteo fumble ended Hampton’s opening drive at the Plum 26, and the Talbots had an apparent second-quarter 22-yard touchdown run by DeMatteo and then a third-quarter interception overturned by penalties.

“I just think we didn’t play to the best of our ability,” Matt DeMatteo said. “But our guys fought hard and we fought to the end, which is why we won. We don’t give up.”

The loss ends an up-and-down season for Plum. The Mustangs started 0-5, including a 29-0 victory over Mars that later became a forfeit loss because an ineligible player was used. But Plum went 3-2 down the stretch, overcoming a 13-point deficit to edge Greensburg Salem, 30-27, in Week 10 to reach the playoffs for the second straight year.

“We knew we had a great plan going into the game,” Morgan said of the playoff game. “The coaches did an unbelievable job. We executed the game plan pretty well all day. We were kind of controlling the game after the turnovers earlier. We just let one go at the end there.”

Next up for Hampton is Thomas Jefferson, which owns five WPIAL titles in the past six years but entered this season’s bracket as a No. 5 seed, its lowest since 1999. It will be the first meeting between the two schools since TJ’s 39-0 victory over Hampton in the 2013 WPIAL Class 3A opening round. Matt DeMatteo was a fourth-grade ballboy for that game.

“Thomas Jefferson is a very good team, and we are just going to give them a fight,” Matt DeMatteo said. “I’m happy that we are 11-0, and our boys can show everyone what we can do.”

Listen to an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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