Mt. Pleasant opens season with win over South Allegheny

Friday, September 11, 2020 | 11:45 PM

South Allegheny took an early lead in Friday’s Class 3A Interstate Conference opener, but host Mt. Pleasant scored three unanswered touchdowns and withstood a late rally by the Gladiators to clinch a 21-14 win.

“We needed that,” Mt. Pleasant coach Jason Fazekas said. “I knew it was going to be a tough one.”

The Vikings (1-0, 1-0) struggled to overcome penalties and mistakes during the early portions of the 2019 season, but this year, Mt. Pleasant is off to a much sharper start.

“We got sloppy a little bit, but we stayed out of the personal fouls. You’re going to make some mistakes, but it wasn’t enough to do us in,” Fazekas said, noting the Vikings have focused on becoming mentally tougher and cutting down on errors and penalties.

“You can’t win with penalties and fumbles.”

Teams can take advantage of some breaks, though. Mt. Pleasant’s first break came after Antonio Epps capped South Allegheny’s opening drive with a 20-yard touchdown run. The point-after was no good, so the Gladiators’ lead was 6-0.

The Vikings were facing third-and-7 on the ensuing possession when they caught their second break. Asher O’Connor’s pass was tipped away from the intended receiver, but Donavin Bair snagged it for an 11-yard gain. A roughing the passer penalty gave Mt. Pleasant a first down on the South Allegheny 15, and O’Connor finished the drive with an 11-yard scramble. Robbie Labuda’s kick was good, putting the Vikings up, 7-6, at the end of the first quarter.

Mt. Pleasant took over on downs a few plays later, and two plays after that, Pete Billey ran 41 yards for a touchdown. Labuda’s kick made it 14-6.

Billey finished with 107 yards on 12 carries, and Aaron Alakson netted 87 yards on 15 carries.

“I ride him hard because I know he’s a special player, and he responded,” Fazekas said.

Though the Vikings’ eight-point lead held into the fourth quarter, Billey and Alakson helped them put some more points on the board.

Alakson and Billey, along with Jonas King, led Mt. Pleasant on a 72-yard drive that was capped on Billey’s 16-yard touchdown. Labuda added the extra point for a 21-6 lead.

But the Gladiators (0-1, 0-1) responded.

Akell Carrington hauled in a 34-yard pass from Eric Wehrer on the next possession, and Epps scored on a 5-yard run. Wehrer hit Jett Jones for the two-point conversion pass, but the clock ran down on South Allegheny’s attempt at a comeback.

Epps led the Gladiators with 86 yards on 16 carries, and Carrington caught six passes for 82 yards.

South Allegheny coach Frank Cortazzo said mistakes and penalties proved costly for his team, and with just three senior starters, some of that can be put down to the Gladiators’ youth.

“It’s young players, jitters, the first game,” he said. “This whole covid thing doesn’t help — all the unknowns we’ve got to deal with every day. We’ve got a good team here. There’s a lot of potential, but Mt. Pleasant played a sound game. Sound football and discipline is going to beat you every time.”

Both teams will be at home next Friday. Mt. Pleasant will host Latrobe, while South Allegheny will play Southmoreland.

Jamie Rankin is a contributing writer for the Tribune-Review.

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