Plum prepping for rematch with McKeesport
The Plum football team spent the better part of two months showing the rest of the WPIAL it was for real.
The Mustangs didn’t stop turning heads Friday with its 17-6 WPIAL Quad-A first-round victory over No. 4 Penn Hills.
Now, the Plum players have an opportunity to exact a measure of revenge against a conference rival and move closer to a goal of a trip to Heinz Field.
The Mustangs will face McKeesport in a quarterfinal game Friday at Norwin High School.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
“This is the most excited we’ve been for a game yet,” senior quarterback Wil Fuhrer said. “It’s a second-round playoff game, and no one really expected us to be in this position. We get a rematch with someone we didn’t really play well against the first time around. It’s kind of a revenge game for us.
“At first, we came out with the attitude of wanting to prove people wrong. Now, it’s about the road to Heinz and continuing to play good football.”
Plum’s win over Penn Hills was its first playoff victory since it upset the top-ranked Indians, 14-12, in the 1996 WPIAL playoff quarterfinals.
The Mustangs also snapped a 14-game losing streak to Penn Hills.
“I knew we could do what we did against Penn Hills. I knew we could put it all together,” Plum head coach Matt Morgan said.
“We had been competitive against the best teams on our schedule, and against Penn Hills, it was time to take the next step. They did that.”
McKeesport, the No. 5 seed, raced past Mt. Lebanon, 35-10, on Friday. The Tigers, now 8-2 overall, beat Plum, 20-3, in the regular season.
The Mustangs, 6-4 overall, led McKeesport, 3-0, at halftime on a field goal from junior Jake Chapla, but the Tigers rallied and took the lead for good in the third quarter.
“We didn’t do much right offensively the first time, and that’s why we struggled the most,” Morgan said.
“We’re just focused on executing what we’ve been taught and doing it right this time around.”
Khaleke Hudson led the McKeesport rushing attack with 103 yards and two touchdowns against Mt. Lebo. The Tigers had 294 rushing yards overall.
“They hit some big plays on us the first time,” Morgan said. “We’re working on being an assignment-sound defense. We did well with it against Penn Hills with the way (Indians quarterback) Billy Kisner likes to run the ball. We have to be even better at it this week with McKeesport’s option offense. The big plays they hit on us the first time were breakdowns by some guys trying to do too much.”
Penn Hills’ Kisner finished with 18 carries for 110 yards, but the Plum defense prevented big plays and limited the Indians to a single second-quarter 1-yard touchdown run by Te’Shan Campbell.
“We looked at the Penn Hills film from last year and saw big run after big run,” Plum defensive coordinator Mike Barlak said. “We said that in order for us to win this game, we had to stop (Kisner) from making the big plays. So every play, we knew where he was. We had someone hitting him every time. The guys did their jobs, and no one tried to be a hero. Everyone stayed in their gaps and we gang-tackled after first contact. As a defense, they played great.”
The Plum defense sacked Kisner four times, intercepted him once and limited his passing to two completions out of 12 attempts for 34 yards.
“Most of the defense is the same from last year, and it looks like they’re different kids,” Barlak said. “They are playing 100 miles an hour. They are confident. Everyone is trusting everyone else to do their job.”
Plum senior Zach Martin finished with 67 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, while Andrew Soxman added 67 yards on 14 attempts.
Fuhrer threw a 7-yard TD pass to senior Nathan Turchick, and Chapla’s 33-yard field goal in the second half capped the scoring for the Mustangs.
“We really fed off each other all night,” senior offensive lineman Billy-Bob Baird said. “The backs were hitting the holes very well. It was great to see.”
Junior 6-foot-6, 330-pound tackle Jake Tecak left in the game with a knee injury in the first quarter. Junior Michael Carragino, who started two games when Tecak was out earlier in the season, entered the game and earned praise from coaches and players alike.
“To have one of our big lineman go out early, and for him to come in and play well was terrific,” Martin said.
“The whole line had a helluva game. They blocked their butts off. It’s a fantastic feeling to run behind a line that was moving people the way they did.”
Penn Hills dropped its fourth straight first-round playoff game. The Indians were the only one of the top eight seeds to lose in the first round.
“It’s definitely a special feeling,” Martin said.
“We came in as the underdogs again, even though we had shown we could play even with some great teams like Penn-Trafford. It was a great feeling to come out with the win against Penn Hills. But we still have more work to do. We’re not satisfied with this one win.”
Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at [email protected].