Plum shuts down McKeesport to reach first WPIAL semifinal since 1996

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Friday, October 30, 2020 | 10:43 PM


The Plum and McKeesport football teams were no strangers to each other when they met Friday at Plum’s Mustangs Stadium for a berth in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals.

The Tigers and Mustangs clashed for the eighth time in the past 10 years.

The latest meeting was one of the closer matchups in the recent series and one of the lowest scoring.

When the dust settled in the physical battle, Plum came away with a 12-9 victory.

“Going into the game, we knew what we could do,” Plum coach Matt Morgan said. “We have the full capability of beating anybody. That’s our mentality. It’s been like that all year. People doubted us because our conference wasn’t ‘strong.’ But I think we just proved it tonight to the team that just beat the defending state champs last week.”

Plum improved to 8-0 and will play in a WPIAL semifinal contest for the first time since 1996, Morgan’s sophomore year with the Mustangs.

“We expected a smash-mouth game,” Morgan said. “That’s how (McKeesport) plays their brand of football. We wanted to prove we belonged in that conversation, and we hit them just as much as they hit us. It was just a great game of football.”

Plum, the No. 3 seed, will travel to No. 2 Thomas Jefferson next Friday. The 6-1 Jaguars advanced Friday with a 41-6 rout of Mars.

McKeesport, which had not lost since its season opener and had upset Thomas Jefferson last week, concluded its season at 6-2.

“We thought we would have a tough battle ahead of us, seeing what they could do all year,” said McKeesport coach Matt Miller, who saw his team beat Plum, 62-40, in a high-scoring regular-season matchup last year. “I thought our kids came out ready to go.”

McKeesport led 9-6 at halftime, but Plum scored quickly to open the second half. A 44-yard screen pass from Ryan Hubner to Reed Martin set up the Mustangs at the Tigers 12, and Eryck Moore did the rest with a 12-yard scoring run with 31 seconds gone in the quarter. The PAT was no good, but Plum had the lead.

The Mustangs defense took over from there, forcing two punts, a turnover on downs and two interceptions on McKeesport’s five second-half possessions. Plum took the ball away from the Tigers five times overall.

“I thought our defense played unbelievable, and the offense moved the ball and scored when we had to,” Morgan said. “I couldn’t have been prouder with the way these kids fought.”

The biggest drive stopper of the game, and perhaps Plum’s entire season, came with 1:53 left as sophomore Brady Dojonovic intercepted McKeesport quarterback Caleb Reist at the Plum 30 and returned it to midfield to all but ice the game away.

A couple of plays and a kneel down ran the remaining time off the clock.

“That was just a great feeling,” Dojonovic said. “We worked on a great game plan all week, and we were able to execute it.”

Plum’s run defense bent but it didn’t break. McKeesport’s option gained 221 yards on 46 carries.

“They punched that one in on us, and we shut them down after that. But we just couldn’t put more points on the board,” Miller said.

Plum forced three of McKeesport’s turnovers in the first half but came away with no points on any of the ensuing drives.

The Mustangs did have something brewing after Preston Sunday recovered a fumble at the Tigers’ 11 with 7:08 to go in the first quarter.

A Hubner 6-yard passing connection to Zach Fields in the end zone on a third-down play was called back on a holding penalty.

After a third-down incompletion, Martin set up for a 42-yard field goal. However, his kick missed to the left, and the game remained scoreless.

McKeesport took over, and on the second play from scrimmage, Jahmil Perryman ripped off a 72-yard run to the Plum 17. The Tigers’ drive eventually stalled, and Milton Campos came on to boot a 20-yard field goal to give McKeesport the lead at 3-0 with 3:01 left in the first.

Plum took the lead 4:20 before halftime as Hubner connected with Martin for 5 yards. Martin’s point-after kick was blocked, and the Mustangs led 6-3.

McKeesport responded immediately after Plum’s score. The Tigers marched 76 yards in eight plays. Reist finished it off with a 1-yard plunge with 1:14 left in the half.

Hubner finished with 119 yards passing and the one scoring throw, while Martin caught six passes for 116 yards.

Terrance Glenn led the McKeesport ground game with 18 carries for 93 yards, while Perryman added 81 yards on six attempts, and Reist tallied 63 yards on 14 carries.

Fields finished with two of Plum’s four interceptions, and Logan Brooks also recorded a pick.

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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