Matt Morgan has been part of many home openers at Plum High School, first as a player and for the past decade as a head coach. None of the previous openers, however, can compare to last week’s, which came less than a month after the tragic home explosion in the area’s Rustic Ridge neighborhood that claimed the lives of six people.
“We’ve been dealing with it for some time now,” Morgan said. “We wanted to give something back to the community that does a lot for us, and that was one of those nights. It’s always going to weigh on your shoulders. It’s just something that we had to do on our end to keep things positive.”
The night included a special ceremony and moment of silence in remembrance of the victims, one of whom, 12-year-old Keegan Clontz, once played for Morgan on a midget team and was friends with Morgan’s son. Plum also added two decals to its helmets. One has Clontz’s No. 40 and reads “Keegan, Forever a Mustang,” while the other is an “RR” for Rustic Ridge, a neighborhood in which several Plum players reside.
In what was an emotional night at Plum, the Mustangs improved to 2-0 following a 34-10 win against Fox Chapel. It’s a strong start the Mustangs will try to build on as the community heals in the aftermath of the tragic events of Aug. 12.
On the field, Plum has been fueled by a rushing attack propelled by the return of their entire starting offensive line. The group is anchored by senior center Nate Kondas, who, along with senior guard Logan Wiesenbach, is a three-year starter. Junior Nicholas Odom has stepped into the starting running back role vacated by all-conference pick Eryck Moore (1,493 yards, 21 touchdowns in 2022) and has excelled. Odom ran for 149 yards and a touchdown in a Week 0 win against Kiski Area before going for 174 yards and three touchdowns against Fox Chapel.
“We have the experience on the line coming back,” Morgan said. “Obviously, our offense is predicated around the running game and we’ve had success there. We have a good running back in Odom who kind of took over for Moore. And having a three-year starter at quarterback helps.”
That veteran quarterback is senior Sean Franzi, who has thrown for a pair of touchdowns in both wins. His favorite target has been junior wide receiver Darian Nelson, a three-year starter who has already found the end zone four times.
Plum’s biggest test to date comes Friday when the Mustangs travel to Shaler in what is their final nonconference tune-up before the start of conference play. Shaler (2-0) is ranked No. 4 in Class 5A and handed the Mustangs their worst loss of the season (47-14) last fall.
“I think, overall, they’re one of the better teams in Class 5A,” Morgan said. “And from what I’ve seen so far, we definitely have a major test in front of us.”
Like father, like son
A pair of NFL greats — one who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the other who will be added to the Steelers Hall of Honor this fall — have sons who are making impacts for WPIAL programs this season playing the same positions as their famous fathers.
Moon’s Jayden Revis and North Allegheny’s James Harrison III are talented sophomores with great football genes. Revis is the son of Darrelle Revis and Harrison III the son of, well, that’s pretty obvious.
Revis (5 feet 8, 145 pounds) is in the rotation at cornerback in addition to being a backup at receiver and running back.
“One thing that stands out is that he hates to fail,” Moon coach Ryan Linn said. “The thing you can see in him from his dad is his technique. He is very sound in his cover skills.”
Harrison III (5-11, 170) is a backup outside linebacker and running back who will also play special teams.
There is another son of a former Steeler playing for North Allegheny this season. Sophomore Lincoln Hoke (6-1, 230) is a starting guard and backup defensive lineman. His father is former Steelers defensive lineman Chris Hoke.
Additionally, North Allegheny’s JV quarterback is sophomore Jackson Failla (6-2, 165). His dad, Paul, is a former North Allegheny star quarterback who went on to play at Notre Dame.
Of the WPIAL teams to start the season 2-0, one of the most unexpected is Connellsville, which is 2-0 for the first time since 1997. This is a program that has not finished with a winning record since 1998 and last won a playoff game in 1994.
These Falcons hope to do both this season, and so far they are flying high. They opened the season with a 48-13 win against Albert Gallatin and last week defeated Hempfield, 28-7. Hempfield thumped the Falcons, 49-0, just a season ago. Among the stars have been senior quarterback Anthony Piasecki and senior running back Bruce Giles. Piasecki threw for four touchdowns in the opener and his six this season rank among the WPIAL leaders. Giles rushed for 221 yards against Hempfield and has three rushing scores on the season.
Connellsville will be challenged the next two games as it travels to Franklin Regional for a nonconference game Friday before hosting Trinity (2-0) in its Class 4A Big 7 Conference opener next week. The Falcons fell to both teams last season, including a 49-0 loss to Franklin Regional.