Mt. Pleasant faces daunting challege against Aliquippa in quarterfinals
There's no doubt that Mt. Pleasant's first-round playoff win over Burrell last week was significant for a number of reasons.
Prior to the 48-28 victory, Mt. Pleasant coach Bo Ruffner noted the difficulty of winning postseason games as well as the sense of accomplishment it brings when those types of victories are achieved.
But Ruffner and the Vikings aren't spending a lot of time reflecting on the program's first playoff win since 2009. Instead, this is a time to look ahead.
“Right now, we're just looking to build on that game,” Ruffner said, noting that his team started fast and played a physical brand of football, which proved to be the Vikings' ticket to the quarterfinals.
This week, the ninth-seeded Vikings (8-2) will face an extremely tough test as they prepare to take on top-seeded and defending WPIAL Class AA champion Aliquippa (10-0) at Peters Township.
“They are very talented and well-coached,” Ruffner said. “Everybody knows they are talented, which they are, but they are also very disciplined. When you combine those things together, you get a very good football team. They play hard and you can tell the winning tradition that they have.”
The Vikings and the Quips share a little bit of WPIAL championship history. In 1983, Mt. Pleasant defeated Aliquippa, 16-14, to win the WPIAL Class AA title. Then in 1984, the Quips returned the favor, beating Mt. Pleasant in the championship game, 20-15.
Those two games will have no bearing on Friday's game, but what may come into play is the confidence Mt. Pleasant gained in its last game.
The Vikings held in check Burrell star running back Cole Bush in last week's win.
This week, Mt. Pleasant will face a similar type of challenge as it tries to neutralize the Aliquippa backfield combo of Dravon Henry (93 carries, 1,072 yards, 17 TDs) and Terry Swanson (73 carries, 841 yards, 15 TDs). Henry rushed for three touchdowns in Aliquippa's 55-0 first-round playoff win over Steel Valley.
The Quips can also throw the ball with quarterback Malik Shegog (23 of 45 for 432 yards and 7 touchdowns), but they are a run-first team. Expect the Vikings to once again key on the opponent's ground attack.
“It's a very similar type of game plan we had to try to stop (Burrell's) running game,” Ruffner said. “We need to keep doing the things that we've been doing well.”
Aliquippa is strong on offense, but the Quips are equally tough on defense.
Through 10 games, the Quips have given up just 716 yards to opposing offenses, by far the lowest amount surrendered by any WPIAL team. They also have five shutouts.
But Aliquippa will certainly have its hands full as it tries to slow down Mt. Pleasant's offense, which is led by junior running back Tyler Mellors (156 carries, 1,426 yards, 25 TDs). Mellors scored four rushing touchdowns in last week's win, while senior teammate Taylor Allison provided three touchdown runs of his own. Junior quarterback Ryan Gumbita (41 of 76 for 752 yards and seven touchdowns) and senior receiver Joey Paul (18 receptions, 327 yards, 5 TDs) make the Mt. Pleasant passing game a threat as well.
Heading into this game, the Vikings will be considered heavy underdogs, but Ruffner isn't using that to motivate his team.
“We're just looking at it as two playoff teams trying to get a win and move on to the next round,” Ruffner said.
Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3534.