Plum hopes to make a splash in move to new classification

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020 | 10:52 PM


After several years of play in WPIAL Class 5A, Plum turns its attention to a new venture this season.

The Mustangs are one of the several teams to make the move to Class 4A, and coach Matt Morgan said the change, along with a large group of starters back, presents some optimistic opportunities.

“There is a lot to look forward to with the new conference and new opponents. That is another thing that has really energized the program,” said Morgan, who hopes to see his team improve on last year’s 3-7 record.

Plum played Highlands in nonconference play last year and will join the Rams in the remodeled Greater Allegheny Conference with Armstrong, Knoch, Indiana, Mars, Hampton and Greensburg Salem.

“There is some familiarity against some teams like Highlands and Armstrong, but I’ve never coached against Knoch,” Morgan said. “It should be fun, but we know it will be a challenge each week.”

Morgan said he likes what he saw when the team returned to workouts after the covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

“For us as a staff, the level of excitement is through the roof,” Morgan said. “We have a lot of kids back and kids who have turned the corner for us. They did their own thing during the quarantine and were ready to go when we started workouts. They changed the way they look and their attitudes.”

The WPIAL in late July, in response to the season-change options from the PIAA, adopted a model for football that involves both game movement and elimination from the original schedules.

With Week Zero gone, Plum will no longer face rival Franklin Regional. The Sept. 4 game against North Hills now is a scrimmage, and the Week 10 conference game against Greensburg Salem has been moved to Sept. 11, the new opening week. The nonconference contest against Fox Chapel originally on Sept. 11 has been eliminated.

But with coaches and players relieved there will be a season, the show must go on. For Plum, it goes on with senior tight end, wide receiver and linebacker Max Matolcsy in the fold.

Matolcsy, a first-team all-conference selection last year at outside linebacker, gave a verbal commitment to Ivy League member Penn on Aug. 8.

“Ever since we started practice, we had a feeling that this could be our year,” said Matolcsy, who led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns last year and added a team-best 138 defensive stops.

“We’ve had a lot of guys make big strides in the offseason. We’ve got some new faces we are adding into the mix. With so many possibilities on both sides of the ball, it’s pretty exciting.”

Also back after earning all-conference recognition last year are seniors Billy Guzzi (running back/defensive back), Reed Martin (wide receiver/defensive back/kicker), Evan Azzara (offensive line/defensive line), Rocco Caprara (offensive line/linebacker), Jaden Nichols (offensive/defensive line), Preston Sunday (running back/linebacker); and juniors Jake Miller (quarterback/linebacker) and Logan Brooks (wide receiver/defensive back).

Morgan said Miller has recovered from an ACL injury suffered against Latrobe. Senior Ryan Hubner, also a receiver, showed his capabilities at quarterback toward the end of the season. Morgan said both have been competing for the starting job.

“Hopefully in camp, we can decide who it will be so we can roll into the season,” Morgan said. “Both guys have really stepped up their levels.”

Morgan said there is depth among the skill positions on offense and at several positions on defense such as linebacker and defensive back.

Azzara, at 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds, hopes for big things from his final varsity season after making a verbal commitment in March to play at Division I Miami (Ohio).

“We expect Evan to be a leader of that (offensive line) group going into his third year as a starter,” Morgan said. “He should be more of a dominant force this year. He got the recruiting thing out of the way, so his focus is on what he needs to do with us.”

Morgan said newcomers in seniors Colton Lowman and Josh Cummings add to what is a sizable offensive line.

“The guys are really working hard, and it’s starting to show for the team as a whole. They are really hungry and are showing a different attitude. This group has been taking their lumps for a couple of years against the big dogs. There are opportunities out there for them, and I really think they can take advantage of them.”

Schedule

Coach: Matt Morgan

2019 record: 3-7, 1-5 in Class 5A Big East

All-time record: 327-415-27

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Greensburg Salem*, 7

9.18, Indiana*, 7

9.25, at Mars*, 7

10.2, Highlands*, 7

10.9, at Hampton*, 7

10.16, at Knoch*, 7

10.23, Armstrong*, 7

*Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Jake Miller

51-101, 810 yards, 7 TDs

Receiving: Max Matolcsy

26-527 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: Billy Guzzi

121-514 yards, 3 TDs

Fast facts

• Martin tied a team record last year for the longest field goal — 51 yards — against Belle Vernon.

• Plum is hoping to earn a WPIAL playoff spot for the first time since 2015, the final year for the former WPIAL four-class system.

• The Mustangs defense hopes to fare better this season after leading Class 5A last season in points surrendered per game (38.8).

• Matolcsy was all over the place on defense last year averaging 13.8 tackles a game. He had 19 tackles for a loss and five sacks.

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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