Plum kicker Jackson Gildea boots winning field goal in waning seconds to beat Kiski Area

Friday, September 1, 2017 | 11:03 PM

Jackson Gildea faced some self-doubt before attempting the biggest kick of his high school football career, and Kiski Area tried to get in his head further by calling timeout to ice him.

Instead, Gildea played the role of Iceman.

Gildea booted a 38-yard field goal as time expired, lifting Plum to a 9-6 victory over Kiski Area in a Big East Conference opener Friday night at Mustangs Stadium.

It was the first winning kick for the senior, who began kicking two years ago, and he admitted to feeling the nerves beforehand.

“Adrenaline was running, and I just wanted to go out there and hit it,” Gildea said. “A lot (was going through my mind). I always panic when I get out there. I'm always shaking. But now, I'm feeling confident.”

Gildea provided the only offense for Plum (1-1, 1-0) Friday night, kicking field goals of 20 and 30 yards in the first half before his winner, which split the uprights with plenty of room to spare.

Also Plum's usual punter, he didn't fulfill that role in the second half because of leg cramps. But he was ready when coach Matt Morgan called on him for the field goal try with 3.6 seconds remaining.

“I've never seen it before in my life: a kicker cramping,” Morgan said. “Jackson, I always harp on him because he can't make it from the right hash. We practiced it all week, and he hit two from the right hash today, especially the one when it counted.”

Gildea said he knew the kick was true when it came off his foot. After it went through, he led the charge as the Mustangs raced to celebrate with the student section.

“It really means a lot,” Gildea said. “We all needed this. We needed this win. 1-0 is perfect.”

Plum drove 44 yards in nine plays after getting the ball at its 35 with 52.6 seconds remaining. Hard running by Corey Thomas, who finished with 108 yards, helped set up Gildea to win a battle of defense and field position. The Mustangs twice stopped Kiski Area at the goal line, once in each half.

“The good teams we had here, those two consecutive playoff teams, we had very good defenses,” Morgan said. “That's what these kids kind of have to go off. I couldn't be more proud of those guys. They busted their (butts) all night.”

Kiski Area (0-2, 0-1) had its second consecutive strong defensive performance, but it again went for naught. The Cavaliers twice held Plum to field goals inside the red zone. But they had their own offensive problems, having two touchdowns nullified by penalties.

“Those are just, I guess, first-year mistakes,” said Kiski Area coach Sam Albert, whose team lost to Canon-McMillan on a late touchdown last week. “Again, I'm so proud of our kids. They played with heart. They gave everything they had. We just made stupid mistakes, and you just can't do that and win ball games. But I'm proud of them. Our defense, again, was unbelievable.”

It was the type of game the two rivals expected: a physical defensive battle. Both were coming off Week Zero losses looking for an important win in their conference opener. Plum snapped Kiski Area's two-game winning streak in the series.

Kiski Area tied the game on Ryne Wallace's 19-yard touchdown pass to Luke Lander, who caught the ball in the end zone while drawing a pass interference penalty, with 3:14 remaining. The teams traded punts before Plum's winning drive.

“To us, this was a playoff game,” Morgan said. “It feels like a playoff game with the weather now. We had to get this one. It was ugly, but we'll take a win.”

Neither team established much offensively until Plum inserted Thomas at quarterback for Anthony Little on the Mustangs' first drive of the second quarter. He carried on the next six plays for 57 yards, the longest a 32-yarder that put Plum inside the Kiski Area 15. Gildea's 20-yard field goal gave the Mustangs the lead.

Kiski Area appeared to score the go-ahead touchdown on its next play from scrimmage, but Bryson Venanzio's 80-yard touchdown pass to Dane Fitzsimmons was wiped out by an illegal receiver downfield penalty. Hunter Fields intercepted Venanzio on the next play and returned it to the Cavaliers' 14, setting up Gildea's 30-yard field goal.

Ross Greece took the opening kickoff of the second half into the end zone, but that was called back by offsetting personal fouls.

“That hurts because those are game-breakers,” Albert said. “The way our defense played, if we scored on either one of them, it's over. But we didn't, so we're back to the drawing board. Our kids are resilient. They'll come back hard this week.”

Kiski Area made a handful of costly mistakes in the first half. A personal foul for a blindside block wiped out a long pass play, and a false start call moved the Cavaliers back from the goal line near the end of the first half. Venanzio scrambled to the 1-yard line as time ran down in the half, but the clock expired before the Cavaliers could run another play.

Plum defensive lineman Aaron Shefler also blocked a Kiski Area field-goal attempt early in the second quarter, and Dakota Sunday stopped Greece at the 3-yard line on fourth down in the third quarter.

“All these physical football teams (in the conference), it's who's standing at the end of the night,” Morgan said. “It's going to be a physical season. Our kids have to be ready for it. We're 1-0, and that's all that matters.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .

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