Recent rivalry game results motivate Plum, Kiski Area

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 | 6:45 PM

Ross Greece recalled the last time Kiski Area visited Plum's Mustangs Stadium, in 2014, one of the low points in the Cavaliers' recent history. In a night Kiski Area would like to forget but probably never will, Plum piled up yards and points against the Cavaliers' defenseless defense, winning 65-0.

“It was brutal,” said Greece, a freshman starter at safety that season and now the Cavaliers' senior running back/linebacker. “I never want to have that feeling ever again. It was just tough being involved in that situation. Never again.”

In a winless season for Kiski Area, that loss marked the nadir. But it also sparked a local rivalry with the Mustangs, one the Cavaliers took control of by winning the past two seasons at Davis Field.

Now the teams return to the scene of the blowout, both seeking an important victory in their Class 5A Big East Nine Conference opener.

“For us, it's a must-win,” Plum coach Matt Morgan said. “If you want to compete for a playoff spot, you've got to beat Kiski. Every week's a must-win for us, especially this week with us losing to them the last two years after what we did to them the last time they were out here.

“They've taken care of business and played better than us the last two years, and we intend to play a lot better this year than we have in the past. But this is a game we have to win, and we have (to have) that urgency all week.”

These games are marked by physicality, if not trash talking. Greece said there was a lot of talk in 2015, the year after the infamous blowout, but much less of it since.

Like many rivals, Kiski Area and Plum may share more similarities than differences. Both rely on a hard-nosed running game and tough defense. Last season Kiski Area's defense set the tone, recording three safeties and a touchdown in a 28-7 victory. The year before, the Cavaliers won 23-14.

“They're physical, and we're a physical team back,” Greece said. “We hit them, they hit us. It's going to be a physical game this week, too.”

Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in Week Zero, as Kiski Area fell 17-10 to Canon-McMillan on a late touchdown and Plum was shut out 26-0 by Penn Hills in a neutral-site game at North Allegheny.

“(We need to) just pick up the intensity,” Plum senior lineman Mike Giannuzzi said.

“Last week we didn't have it, and this week we're going to have it. Because of last week we got our butts kicked, this week we're going to come into it a lot better, I think.”

The Mustangs and Cavaliers struggled on offense in their Week Zero games. Plum managed 75 total yards of offense in its shutout loss, and Kiski Area didn't score its first touchdown until late in the game.

“We were making all those first-game mistakes: the false starts, lining up wrong, or jumping offsides, taking-care-of-the-football-type of mistakes that people tend to make when they're freshly brand new under the Friday night lights,” Morgan said. “We're hoping that next week we can correct all those mistakes and those kids can take care of the football, take care of what they're supposed to take care of and play a much crisper game.”

The defenses had much more success. Kiski Area held Canon-McMillan to fewer than 100 yards of offense, and Plum's run defense more than held its own against Penn Hills' offense.

“First week game, you make a lot of mistakes. I knew we would,” Kiski Area coach Sam Albert said. “I was proud of the kids' effort. Defensively, they were overaggressive getting after them. Offensively, we did some very good things. We dropped some balls, we had a fake punt we didn't call and you expect that first game. What we look for first game is effort, and I can't complain.”

Heading into the conference opener, the teams are focusing on learning from their mistakes and correcting them in time for Friday.

Morgan said he noticed a “tremendous” difference in last season's game against Kiski Area. Mistakes the Cavaliers made in their Week Zero game disappeared against Plum, which didn't play a Week Zero game last season. Now Morgan hopes the Mustangs can make the same jump from Week Zero to Week 1.

Plum also will benefit from the return of left tackle Cooper Aubele, who missed much of the offseason to injury and was held out of the Penn Hills game. His presence should help solidify the Mustangs' line against Kiski Area's unpredictable attacking defense and help boost the running game. Sophomore quarterback Anthony Little, who played the second half against Penn Hills, will start Friday.

“They're all over the place on offense and all over the place on defense,” Morgan said of Kiski Area. “We've got a lot to be prepared for. The kids have to be focused and hone in this week.”

Albert also rotated quarterbacks against Canon-McMillan, using junior Ryne Wallace and sophomore Bryson Venanzio, and both could see action again this week.

Morgan and Albert pointed to the importance of Friday's game in what they anticipate will be a tight conference race.

“Everybody wants to get that first win under your belt in conference because it is so important,” Albert said. “I don't see anybody going undefeated. If you get that (first) win, that gives you that jump. You're right there in the mix.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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