Plum football team gains experience during challenging campaign
The Plum football team took its lumps this season as injuries to some key players, youth and inexperience at several positions and a challenging schedule in and out of conference play contributed to a 2-8 overall record.
But coach Matt Morgan said the team kept battling through whatever adversity it faced. He also owns an optimistic outlook as the players returning, he said, show a strong willingness to turn things around.
“The team overall was young, and we like the attitudes of the ones who want to make this right,” said Morgan, whose Plum teams are a combined 7-22 since last making the WPIAL playoffs in 2015.
“These kids want to be great. They won’t falter after going through what they went through this year. They don’t want to go through that again, and they know what they need to do to get bigger, stronger and just better overall.”
The season began on a positive note with a 32-14 Week Zero victory over Highlands.
But injuries began to take some key players off the field. Early on, all three starting linebackers -- senior Seth Norcutt, junior Larry Scafuri and sophomore Preston Sunday were out of the lineup.
“We went into Gateway (Week 2) with three inexperienced linebackers starting against the best team in the WPIAL,” Morgan said.
Sophomore running back/linebacker Josh Cummings, junior wide receiver/defensive back Nick Sluka and senior two-way linemen Cooper Aubele and Adam Garvin were among those who battled through injury issues throughout the season.
“When you don’t have that much depth to begin with, it makes it even more difficult to survive that brutal schedule we had,” Morgan said.
Morgan said he felt bad for the seniors who will be moving on like Norcutt, Aubele and Garvin, as well as quarterback Hunter Linhart, running back/defensive back James Schropp and wide receiver/defensive back James Rose because they weren’t able to experience the kind of successful season for which they had hoped.
Linhart went over 1,000 yards passing in the finale against Hempfield, and he threw eight touchdowns in his final season under centers.
Sophomore Ryan Hubner and freshman Jake Miller, Morgan said, are the leading candidates to take over at quarterback next season.
“Both are pretty good athletes who bring something different to the table,” Morgan said.
Sophomore Billy Guzzi, listed at 155 pounds, led Plum in rushing with 574 yards and a touchdown on 121 carries.
“Guzzi moved mountains for the size he is as a sophomore,” Morgan said. “He ran really hard and played with every ounce of heart you could ask for. I am excited to see what he can do the next couple of years.”
Morgan said sophomore Max Matolcsy had an MVP-type season with his play on both sides of the ball. He led the team in receiving (33 catches, 533 yards, four touchdowns), tackles (66) and interceptions (3).
“Max did everything we asked of him,” Morgan said. “He started as a receiver and moved to tight end. He was a safety then moved to linebacker and then back to safety. He’s kind of a do-it-all type kid. He’s just going to keep getting better.”
Norcutt added 53 tackles and led the team with three and a half sacks, and Sunday was third on the team with 42 tackles in six games.
“Preston plays two pretty physical spots at fullback and linebacker, and he’s working on getting bigger and stronger,” Morgan said. “He’s a really good athlete.”
Morgan said he was impressed with the play of sophomore Reed Martin, a wide receiver and cornerback who caught a touchdown, returned kicks and added six tackles on defense in the finale against Hempfield.
“Reed really turned it up at the end of the year,” Morgan said.
Morgan also said he is looking forward to seeing the improvement of a group of young linemen that includes sophomore Evan Azzara and juniors Braeden Koehlor, Aidan Wetmore and Akil Washington.
“Even though we finished with the record we did, everyone, from the seniors on down, fought so hard for as long as they possibly could,” Morgan said. “All of those younger guys who got their names called early had a great, positive attitude throughout the whole season. They understood the adversity we faced against some really tough teams, but I think everyone will be better for it down the road.”