Plum shakes off eligibility snafu, focuses on making playoffs

Wednesday, October 20, 2021 | 6:42 PM

Plum’s week didn’t start out very well.

The Mustangs hope it has a better ending.

The WPIAL determined Monday that Plum used an ineligible player during two games earlier this season, with one being a conference game. But a victory over Armstrong on Friday night would keep the Mustangs in the WPIAL playoff race.

The school’s self-reported infraction will be made official by the WPIAL this week, reversing a 29-0 decision over Mars on Sept. 24 to a 1-0 loss.

Plum will be 2-3 in the Greater Allegheny Conference instead of 3-2. The Mustangs need victories over Armstrong and Greensburg Salem in the regular season finale to go 4-3 and stay alive.

What is really helping Plum now is the WPIAL taking five teams from the conference, and the Mustangs want to be one of the five.

“Now, we’re definitely behind the eight ball,” said Plum coach Matt Morgan. “We talked last week about this becoming a three-game season. Anyone can win a game at any given time in this conference.”

The Mustangs defeated Knoch last week, 39-0. The other conference win, 23-21 over Highlands, is really looming large now if head-to-head tiebreakers have to be employed later to determine playoff qualification.

The idea that Plum would even be in a playoff race seemed far-fetched a month ago when the Mustangs lost their first four games — three nonconference contests and the Greater Allegheny opener against Indiana.

One of the problems was replacing a considerable number of seniors from last year’s team that came within three points of eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL semifinals, 20-17.

Said Morgan: “We had a ton of kids graduate. But the biggest thing for us was that for the kids who came back, it was the first time doing this, so inexperience was a major factor. In our grueling nonconference schedule, our kids got a little banged up and we were missing some of our key contributors early on.”

One was junior running back Eryck Moore, who has returned from an injury to rush for 717 yards.

Plum’s defense has been playing well, recording at least two sacks or tackles for losses in each game and forcing at least a turnover in seven of the eight games. Nose tackle Jack Majors has returned after an injury.

But the defense will face a severe test Friday when it goes up against one of the WPIAL’s leading passers, Armstrong’s Cadin Olsen. The junior has thrown for 1,676 yards and 23 touchdowns on 128 completions. He has added a new dimension as well — running. Olsen has carried the ball for 540 yards on 81 tries.

“He’s definitely one of the top guys we’ve seen over the years,” said Morgan, who played at Pitt along with Olsen’s father, Ryan. “He’s special with his strong arm and now he’s running a lot. He’s definitely a threat with his arm as well as his legs.”

Among Olsen’s targets are Isaiah Brown (38 receptions) and Noah Shuttleworth (29 receptions).

But Plum has a blossoming quarterback of its own — sophomore Sean Franzi.

“Sean competed with junior Santino Saccone,” Morgan said. “They both did a lot of little things, but Sean eventually took control.”

Franzi has thrown for 972 yards.

“We’re connecting, everybody’s coming back for us, we’re doing our thing, and the line’s blocking for us,” Franzi said. “We need these two games. We’re going to playing them like if we don’t win, it’s the end.”

All-time series

Plum and Armstrong have played just three times in the past:

2016: Armstrong 56, Plum 28

2017: Armstrong 27, Plum 14

2020: Plum 63, Armstrong 13

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