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Plum football coach proud of effort in turnaround season

Michael Love
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For Trib Total Media
Plum running back Nick Coxon (8) finds room through the block of Michael Simboli (70) against McKeesport during the fourth quarter of their WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Norwin High School Stadium. McKeesport defeated Plum 20-5.

Friday’s WPIAL Quad-A quarterfinal game between McKeesport and Plum was as physical as expected, Mustangs head coach Matt Morgan said.

Key players left the game because of injury and game plans were somewhat altered as a result.

Morgan said he appreciated the fight of his players despite the 20-5 loss that ended a turnaround 2014 season for Plum.

“It was as physical as the first time we played them,” Morgan said, referring to the 20-3 setback to the Tigers in the regular season.

“I think we’ve developed a pretty good rivalry with McKeesport and a good level of respect for each other. I think the kids from both teams enjoy playing the game, and it should continue on for a while.”

After just two wins the past three seasons, Plum bounced back to post a 6-5 overall mark and place fourth in the Quad East conference at 5-3.

“They did a lot of great things,” Morgan said. “A 6-5 record may not look like the greatest thing, but the way the kids played all season, they were better than 6-5. We proved that to a lot of people.”

The 17-6 first-round victory over Penn Hills snapped a nine-game playoff losing streak and was Plum’s first playoff win since it upended nationally ranked Penn Hills, 14-12, in the 1996 Quad-A quarterfinals.

The Mustangs also snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Indians.

“Last year, we got blown out of the water several times,” Morgan said. “They were able to turn that around and get some great wins and were competitive in each of the losses.”

Plum opened with a 45-19 rout of Hempfield before 3-point losses to North Hills (17-14) and Altoona (14-11).

The Mustangs rebounded with three straight wins before the tough setback to McKeesport and a toe-to-toe 17-10 loss to undefeated and Quad-A No. 2-seed Penn-Trafford.

Morgan pointed to the seniors — Billy Ervin, Anthony Rende, Will Fuhrer, Andrew Soxman, Nick Robb, Nathan Turchick, Zach Martin, Ronny Amato, Nick Poprocky,, Joe Nania, Billy-Bob Baird, Ethan Washington and Phil Mahr — for helping get the program back on track.

“It was great for those guys,” Morgan said. “I talked to them before the season and said this year could be special. They wanted to be the group to help turn this around for the program.”

Morgan said the seniors, as well as the other team members, made a commitment for a better 2014 season long before preseason practices began in August.

“The offseason is what did everything for us,” Morgan said. “It didn’t just start in the summer. The kids that didn’t play another sport were right there working hard in the winter and spring. Those guys were on my case to get in the weight room to get to work around Thanksgiving. They had a hunger after the Greensburg-Salem win last year. The big thing was the desire and will of the kids to get better. They bought into the offseason program. That’s what made the season successful.”

Morgan said he doesn’t expect a letdown this offseason.

“Those games against McKeesport are the type of games that will motivate the returning guys,” he said.

Morgan said he will be counting on the continued improvement of a number or returning players, from the running of Nick Coxon, Kevin Brown and Nick Carlisano to the pass-catching skills of Ashton Teeter, Patrick Crossey and Zach Nolan, and from the play of linemen such as Mike Simboli, Jake Tecak and Eric Trenz to the kicking of Jacob Chapla.

A number of returning players, Morgan said, will have to step up, as well as some others who will be thrust into larger or new roles on both sides of the ball.

“Now, we’re relevant, and there will be several teams that will have our game circled on their calendars next year,” Morgan said.

“We’re not sneaking up on anyone. A lot of the teams in the conference will be better, and we have to be better to meet those challenges. We have to embrace that and use that as added motivation.”

Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at [email protected].

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