Plum building toward run at WPIAL playoffs

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Saturday, October 1, 2022 | 11:01 AM


It’s three down and two to go for the Plum football team in Big East Conference play in its quest to qualify for the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

“To beat any teams left on our schedule, we have to keep up the intensity for four quarters and play a complete game,” Mustangs coach Matt Morgan said leading up to his team’s conference clash last Friday with rival Franklin Regional.

Plum (3-2, 1-1) went into that game hoping to build off a second half against Gateway that saw a rally from a 28-7 deficit fall just short in a 28-26 final.

“I like where we’re at as a group with not many seniors and a lot of guys who continue to get better each week,” Morgan said.

“Each week, this team is capable of making some noise. We knew the conference was going to be a challenge, and it is playing out that way. You see what Hempfield is doing beating Penn-Trafford, and P-T is the solid team they’ve been. Any team can win on any given week, and Franklin Regional showed that with what they did against Gateway (16-7 win Sept. 16). It will come down to who can put it together week to week.”

Plum steps away from conference action Friday to face South Fayette (2-3), but Morgan said the Mustangs players and coaches also will have a keen interest in the outcomes of the matchups between Franklin Regional and Norwin and Penn-Trafford and Gateway.

Plum started its season with wins over Kiski Area and Fox Chapel before what Morgan called an uncharacteristic 47-14 loss to Shaler.

The Mustangs bounced back the next week with a 42-13 rout of Norwin in the conference opener behind 344 total yards and four touchdowns from the running game. Senior tailback Eryck Moore, who entered Friday’s game with Franklin Regional with 615 yards rushing and seven touchdowns through five games, carried the ball 20 times for 213 yards and two scores against the Knights.

“That was crazy because that was the worst week of practice (before Norwin) that we had in a long time,” Morgan said.

“I don’t know what it was, but it just wasn’t where we wanted to be.”

After giving up more than 250 yards to Gateway in the first half of their matchup at Gateway on Sept. 23, the Plum defense clamped down and surrendered just 49 yards of total offense in the second half.

Moore ran for a touchdown and caught another from junior quarterback Sean Franzi, and sophomore Nick Odom ran for a score.

The Mustangs had the ball with a minute left and an opportunity to drive for at least a field goal to win it, but Gateway defensive standout Dallas Harper made a game-clinching interception near midfield to halt Plum’s rally from going any further.

“We had a pretty good week of practice heading into the Gateway game,” Morgan said.

“The guys are starting to mature where they are understanding what it is going to take to win at this level. It comes down to keeping that pressure on teams.”

In its two years in Class 4A, Plum won a conference championship (2020), made the WPIAL playoffs both seasons, and played in a WPIAL semifinal game (2020).

“We thought the Greater Allegheny Conference was challenging week in and week out, but you’re dealing with some bigger animals now in 5A.”

Morgan said several underclassmen and younger players again stepped up against Gateway. Sophomore Darian Nelson continued his strong early season run of play with three catches for 62 yards, while junior Jerome Brazell tallied two receptions for 51 yards.

Junior Dom Beyer paced the defense with 14 tackles, while senior linebacker Kaden Thomas was disruptive to the tune of 10 tackles with two sacks.

Morgan said that keeping as healthy as possible has been as important a factor to team success as practice during the week and play on Fridays.

Plum was dealt a blow against Gateway as both starting tackles — junior Devin Curler (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) and senior Austin Mitchell (6-0, 230) — left with injuries.

Junior Matt Horvatic and freshman Ben Stricklin took their places, and Morgan said they did well.

“They did a great job coming in. We scored three touchdowns on Gateway with them,” Morgan said.

“Matt was an on-and-off starter this year. We had lost starting (junior) right tackle Max Scheer (6-2, 275), and I am not sure if he will make it back by the end of the season. We talk all the time about guys stepping up at different positions. I am excited to see how Matt and Ben continue to grow in confidence. We need (the offensive line) to be effective.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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