Latrobe makes goal-line stand to defeat Plum, claim playoff spot
Friday, October 11, 2019 | 11:07 PM
As momentum swayed, it was one of those games that seemed destined to produce good news and bad news for the Latrobe football team.
And it did.
The good news for the Wildcats? There was hardly any bad news.
Latrobe wiped its collective brow and took care of business Friday night in a winner-moves-on game in the Big East Conference, holding off Plum, 28-20, to clinch a WPIAL playoff spot in Class 5A.
A thrilling goal-line stand in the final seconds capped by senior Logan Gustafson’s stop of Reed Martin on fourth-and-goal from the 1 finally sealed it for the Wildcats (3-6, 2-4) at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
“We grouped together. We knew what was on the line,” Gustafson said. “We wanted it more than them at the end.”
Latrobe sophomore quarterback Bobby Fetter, who scored on his first two rushing attempts — on runs of 58 and 57 yards — as the Wildcats built some equity with a 21-point first quarter, said, “that stop was straight grit.”
Dylan Gustafson added a 75-yard return of his blocked field goal for Latrobe, which is playoff-bound for the second straight season after it ended a nine-year postseason drought last year.
Fetter rushed for a game-high 116 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, and Logan Gustafson added 98 yards on 18 attempts as the Wildcats overcame plenty of push-back from Plum.
The Mustangs (3-5, 1-5), still alive for a wild-card spot, played much of the game without starting quarterback Jake Miller, who was helped off the field midway through the second quarter with an apparent leg injury. Backup Ryan Hubner finished the game and helped the Mustangs stay within reach, nearly forcing overtime.
“To Plum’s credit, they made some nice adjustments that took us a while to find our home back in the second half,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “I was just very proud of our kids, the ups and downs of this game and the way we handled it. We never wavered and we just kept battling, and in the end, it worked out for us.”
Martin scored three touchdowns for Plum, which cut the margin to 28-20 with just over three minutes to play.
“We gave up three big plays in the first quarter,” Plum coach Matt Morgan said. “You can’t do that and expect to win. Our guys fought their butts off, and I am proud of them for that. Both teams played a great game.”
Fetter, who took over the starting quarterback job about three weeks ago, took the second play from scrimmage 58 yards. He faked a handoff inside and found space to race to the end zone.
“He’s got major wheels,” Morgan said.
Less than three minutes later, Fetter was gone again, this time bouncing to the outside for a 57-yard burst to make it 14-0.
“It was big for us offensively,” Marucco said. “It was big for us as a team and it was also big for him, too, to get some confidence back with those two big runs.”
With Plum flat offensively early on, Latrobe applied pressure. When Plum lined up for a 35-yard field goal try with 2:49 left in the first quarter, Dylan Gustafson was quick off the line and blocked Tyler Kolankowski’s attempt. He then corralled the ball and raced 75 yards for a score to increase the Wildcats’ lead to 21-0.
“I feel like everyone was getting ahead of themselves,” Fetter said. “We’re thinking, ‘Aww man, we’re going to run away with this.’ But we were able to keep our poise. We needed to relax. The quick start was was good but also bad in a way because we took the foot off the gas a little bit.”
One of the few mistakes the Wildcats made in the first half came back to bite them. A bad snap on a punt cost them substantial field position and allowed Plum to start from the Wildcats’ 25. Four plays later, Reed Martin ran in from 15 yards to cut the deficit to 21-6.
Martin added another score early in the fourth quarter. After the teams traded fumbles, Fetter was sacked a couple times — including one for a 24-yard loss — to bring up a 4th and 40 from the Wildcats’ 5.
The ensuing punt gave the Mustangs ample field position and Martin scored from the 3 after Hubner hit Nic Sluka for a 15-yard gain.
Max Matolcsy came up with a sack on fourth down on the Wildcats’ next drive but to no avail.
Instead, Latrobe finally gained some separation. Plagued by penalties and unable to get versatile Kameron Stevens involved in the offense, Latrobe used four Logan Gustafson runs to set up Fetter’s third score, a 7-yard run with 4:05 to go for a 28-13 advantage.
Plum responded, though, and cut the advantage to 28-20 with 3 minutes, 40 seconds remaining after Martin pulled in a 19-yard scoring throw from Hubner, who threw for 51 yards.
A short punt by Latrobe gave Plum the ball back in good position with 2:33 to go. Hubner completed passes to Logan Brooks and Nic Sluka to set up a first-and-goal from the 5.
Martin was stopped short on first down and Hubner could not get in on consecutive runs. Martin bounced outside on fourth-and-inches but Logan Gustafson was there to push him back and prevent any further damage.
Gustafson said he knew the play was going right.
“When he snapped the ball, I hesitated and made sure he didn’t cut back,” Gustafson said. “Once I knew he was going outside and committed, I just ran the alley as hard as I could to meet him at the pylon.”
“That is senior leadership and that is a senior who recognizes we’re only guaranteed two more (games) when we came here tonight,” Marucco said. “Now we got a third.”
Morgan gave credit to Latrobe for making the defensive stop but thought his team had momentum and was going to take it down to the wire.
“We just needed more of a push there up front,” Morgan said. “We still would have needed to get the 2-point (conversion). Our kids battled and still gave us a chance at the end.”
Next week, Latrobe will play Midd-West, a PIAA school with a Class 3A program located about three-and-a-half hours northeast in Middleburg, in a nonconference game. The game filled the schedule void left by the departure of Albert Gallatin from the WPIAL.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .