Plum hands Franklin Regional football 1st defeat

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Friday, September 15, 2017 | 11:06 PM


The Plum offense struggled over the first three weeks of the season.

The Mustangs had scored just nine points, and they came on three Jackson Gildea field goals in a 9-6 win over Kiski Area in Week 1.

But Plum broke out in a big way Friday at home against No. 4-5A Franklin Regional.

The Mustangs found the end zone five times and rallied from an early deficit to upend the Panthers, 33-7, in a matchup of Big East 9 neighboring rivals.

“The coaches, all year, believed in our kids,” said Plum coach Matt Morgan, whose team improved to 2-2 overall and 2-1 in league play.

“We've tried to put them in positions to succeed. We lost one of our best players (Corey Thomas) to an injury last week, and it was devastating. They played like they were devastated against Penn-Trafford. Somebody had to be the guy this week. I didn't care who it was, and we finally had guys step up tonight. Now, we need to keep it rolling.”

Thomas was on crutches and in a boot Friday as a result of his leg injury suffered early in last week's 48-0 loss to the Warriors. Morgan didn't say how long the injury would keep him off the field or if he would be back before the end of the season.

Seniors Dakota Sunday and Coulter Robb paced a Plum rushing attack that totaled 212 yards.

Sunday finished with 79 yards on 13 carries and TD runs of 1, 4 and 1 yards, all in the second half as Plum extended a 13-7 halftime advantage.

He added a 7-yard touchdown reception from the arm of sophomore Anthony Little late in the second quarter to give Plum the lead for good.

Robb added 17 carries for 116 yards.

“The line opened holes, Coulter ran hard and got it down close and I just did my job and finished it off in the end zone,” Sunday said.

“(Franklin Regional) fought hard in the beginning, and then we took over.”

Franklin Regional came into the game 2-0 overall and in Big East 9 play with wins over McKeesport (13-7) and Kiski Area (19-14).

The Panthers took the game's opening kickoff and marched 71 yards in 15 plays. Junior quarterback Adam Rudzinski capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown toss to senior Tyrese Kohlman.

But Franklin Regional was not able to get on the board after that.

“Matt really had his kids prepared,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said.

“I knew it was going to be a battle. They have a big, strong team with a nice running game. Their quarterback stepped up and had a nice game. We just didn't play well. We had our opportunities in the first half to score a couple times but committed turnovers that cost us.”

Robb and senior Dom Carlisano each intercepted Rudzinski in the second quarter. Robb had the second pick, and he returned it 40 yards inside the Franklin Regional 10 to set up the Little-to-Sunday touchdown with 37 seconds left until the break.

After Plum grabbed the lead, Franklin Regional had time to respond.

The Panthers, led by the arm of Rudzinski, moved the ball from their 20 deep into Plum territory.

Rudzinski found senior Nate Leopold on a completion to the 1 in the final seconds of the half. But the Mustangs defense forced Leopold to cough up the football before he was able to extend the ball over the goal line.

“This conference is so strong,” Botta said. “It's a battle every night. We're a little banged up right now, and a lot of young kids played. They gave a great effort but just got worn out at the end. But that's not taking anything away from Plum. They played a great game and deserved the win.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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