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Mt. Pleasant looking forward to hosting home playoff game

| Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 1:06 a.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Mt. Pleasant running back Brett Fess will try to help the Vikings earn a first-round WPIAL Class AA playoff victory over Valley on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 at Mt. Pleasant High School.

There are some tangible benefits to having the kind of regular season that the Mt. Pleasant football team put together. Mt. Pleasant finished undefeated at 9-0, won the Class AA Interstate Conference championship and earned a first-round playoff home game, where it will play Valley on Friday night.

“So far, the kids have had a great season,” Mt. Pleasant coach Bo Ruffner said. “To be able to get a home playoff game and win the conference championship were two goals they accomplished. And to have an undefeated season is pretty special.”

The past nine weeks have been special, but Ruffner and his team generally aren't in a reflective mood these days.

“Now, heading into the playoffs, you have to separate,” Ruffner said. “Everybody is 0-0 and it's a brand new season.”

Mt. Pleasant (9-0) enters the WPIAL Class AA playoffs as the fourth seed, which means it's facing the 13th seed. But Ruffner cautioned his team can't be fooled by where Valley is ranked.

“They are athletic,” Ruffner said of Valley, the third-place team from the Allegheny Conference. “They play very good defense and they can be explosive on offense.”

Senior Demetrius Houser is the top ground-gainer and a focal point for the Valley (6-3) offense. Senior quarterback Ty Matthews Jr. has big-play ability.

“They are dangerous and we have to be ready to play,” Ruffner said.

Being ready to play has not been a problem all season for Mt. Pleasant. When the Friday night lights go on, Mt. Pleasant has been dominant every week. Mt. Pleasant's closest game so far has been a 35-21 victory over Jeannette in Week 6.

“We just kept getting better each week and the players have bought into what we are doing,” Ruffner said. “They play for each other. We've had some players do some big things, but they always put the team goals first.”

Mt. Pleasant's offense has been lethal thanks to an outstanding running game and a steady passing attack. Senior running back Tyler Mellors (138 carries, 1,370 yards, 22 TDs) has ground down opposing defenses all year. He's been complimented nicely by seniors Ryan Ballew (39 carries, 454 yards, 6TDs) and Brett Fess (44 carries, 448 yards, 8 TDs). Senior quarterback Ryan Gumbita has been efficient all season, completing 28-of-67 passes for 566 yards and 9 TDs. Junior Trevor Salopek (9 receptions, 284 yards, 5 TDs) is a primary option in the passing game.

Considering the individual and team success Mt. Pleasant has enjoyed, it might be easy for the team to look past Valley and begin thinking about a possible quarterfinal showdown with Beaver or Shady Side Academy. But that doesn't seem to be the case in the days leading up to the game.

“It's just like we are 0-0,” Mellors said. “It's the beginning of a new season. We take every practice seriously and we keep trying to get better.”

Mt. Pleasant is an experienced playoff team, but this is the first time that any member of this group of players will be playing a postseason game at home.

“This group hasn't experienced a home playoff game, so it's special,” Ruffner said. “It's special not only for us, but for the whole community.”

Mellors is looking forward to utilizing that home field advantage.

“It feels really good to start the playoffs at home,” Mellors said. “Having the home crowd will help out.”

Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. Reach him at jblack@tribweb.com.

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