Mt. Pleasant defense bottles up Southmoreland

Friday, September 25, 2020 | 10:17 PM

Mt. Pleasant leaned on its defense to keep Southmoreland from making it three straight wins in their historic, 46-game series that dates back 56 years.

It was one big stiff-arm for the Vikings who, the rivalry aside, suddenly are a half-game out of first place in the Interstate Conference.

The Vikings stuffed the Scotties on downs four times, the last time coming with 1 minute, 39 seconds to play to put the final touches on an old-fashioned slugfest — a 13-10 victory Friday night at Russ Grimm Field.

Jared Yester made the pivotal tackle with Southmoreland facing a fourth and 1 at their own 8. He tackled quarterback Zach Cernuto to give the ball back to the Vikings (2-1, 2-0).

Pete Billey then broke loose for a 33-yard gain to help the Vikings drain the clock.

“It feels so good to get the win,” said Vikings quarterback Asher O’Connor, who ran for a touchdown and threw for another. “Our defense stepped up and allowed our offense to get back on the field.”

Southmoreland made it a three-point game after a late turnover almost spelled disaster for Mt. Pleasant.

The Vikings, looking to run out the clock, fumbled near midfield and Ray Hribal recovered for the Scotties with 4:31 left. But the Vikings dodged the error and gang-tackled the Scotties with the game on the line.

The Vikings gave up 35 points last week to Latrobe but tightened things up to improve to 38-8 in the series.

“How much bigger can it get than for our kids to make a play like that at the end?” Mt. Pleasant coach Jason Fazekas said. “That was a big stop.”

Southmoreland (1-2, 1-2) found rhythm in its passing game, but not until the fourth quarter. Cernuto, who topped the 4,000-yard passing mark for his three-year career last week, faced pressure from the start.

“They’re a good team, and he’s a great QB. He can spin it if you let him get going,” Fazekas said. “It was nice to be able to hit one early and let our defense make plays. It was a hard-played game.”

Mt. Pleasant opened the second half with an authoritative drive, going 75 yards in seven plays with O’Connor scoring on a 25-yard keeper to make it 13-3.

With the Scotties driving late in the third, the Vikings forced a fumble deep in their own territory and recovered. Unable to turn the miscue into points, Mt. Pleasant punted.

Cernuto led the Scotties on their most productive drive of the night, completing passes of 28, 17 and 22 yards, the last of which went to Anthony Govern to the 4.

Cernuto scored on a keeper to cut the margin to 13-10 with 6:17 left. He finished 12 of 18 for 139 yards but did not throw for a score.

“It was too little, too late,” Southmoreland coach Dave Keefer said. “They stapled us in the first half and took away what we could do over the top. They gambled, and they won.”

The first half was a pure defensive struggle with lost yardage and punts.

Andrew Rodriguez connected on a 32-yard field goal for the Scotties but the Vikings didn’t trail for long.

After Tyler Reese took the ensuing kickoff back 59 yards to the Scotties’ 38, O’Connor reared back and lofted a high-arcing spiral to Donavin Bair, who came down with it in the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown.

The extra point was missed right and the Vikings led 6-3, a score they took into halftime.

Mt. Pleasant managed to get relentless pressure on Cernuto in the first half, forcing the pocket to collapse numerous times. He threw for 18 yards with his first two completions going for negative yardage.

“I know about the rivalry and everything,” Keefer said. “But it’s tough to lose this one because it could mean a playoff spot. We couldn’t have a letdown.”

The Vikings outgained Southmoreland, 210-203. Billey ran for 72 yards and O’Connor passed for 68.

Govern had six catches for 66 yards for the Scotties. Nate Phillips ran for 59 yards to lead Southmoreland.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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