Mt. Pleasant, Beaver trying to overcome quarterfinal hurdle
Although Mt. Pleasant and Beaver achieve success in different ways, especially on offense, there are some similarities between the two programs.
Most notably, the Vikings (10-0) and the Bobcats (7-3) are each trying to clear the quarterfinal stumbling block, something that has not been accomplished by either team in recent seasons.
They'll get that chance Friday, and one team will clear that hurdle as the squads meet in a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal at Plum.
“We're looking forward to playing a good quality program like Mt. Pleasant,” Beaver coach Jeff Beltz said. “It's good for both communities.”
Both teams are coming off impressive first-round victories. Fourth-seeded Mt. Pleasant used a strong second half to eliminate 13th-seeded Valley, 48-14. Meanwhile, Beaver scored a 42-21 win over fifth-seeded Shady Side Academy.
Now, the challenge for both teams is advancing to the semifinals. Mt. Pleasant and Beaver both fell short in the quarterfinals last year, and the Bobcats also had their season end in the quarterfinals in 2010.
That means none of the current players on either club have played beyond this round.
“Beaver Falls and Aliquippa get most of the publicity, but we've been a playoff team for 10 of the last 12 years and seven straight years,” Beltz said. “We've been in big games, but we're not always the ones people talk about. We need to see more growth, and after this round, people typically know who you are. I think that both Mt. Pleasant and us are teams that have been hovering in the same area.”
The Vikings will also be looking to take that elusive next step.
“Our kids know (what's at stake),” Mt. Pleasant coach Bo Ruffner said. “One team will be going to the semifinals, and it is a step-by-step process. We took care of round one and we're ready for round two against a very good team.”
Mt. Pleasant has earned another shot at the semifinals thanks to an offense that has maximized the abilities of running backs Tyler Mellors, Ryan Ballew and Brett Fess, as well as the running and throwing skills of quarterback Ryan Gumbita. Mt. Pleasant's 454 points scored are the third-highest in Class AA. Don't expect the Vikings to change too much, the players said.
“We just keep pounding the ball,” Gumbita said. “We want to get Mellors, Fess and Ballew a lot of touches and then hit one over the top and go from there.”
While the Vikings have become familiar with Ruffner's style of offense in recent seasons, this year has marked a change in the offensive philosophy for the Bobcats.
“To be honest, it's been a new system for us,” Beltz said. “There has been a growing process throughout the year, and we've seen a lot of benefit from it. We were a run-based team, but we have several players that are capable with an open set-up, and it seems we have more skill kids now.”
Beaver quarterback Alex Rowse has unleashed an air assault that has helped the Bobcats put up 412 points, the fifth most in Class AA. Rowse has completed 164 of 276 passes for 2,445 yards and 37 touchdowns.
But Rowse isn't the only offensive weapon in Beaver's arsenal. Freshman Darius Wise has 44 receptions for 745 yards and 17 TDs and 60 carries for 345 yards and four TDs.
“They have a dynamic passing game, and their quarterback is very efficient,” Ruffner said. “(Wise) is a great athlete and he is playing unbelievable for a freshman. We have to limit his big plays.”
Ruffner noted many teams within the Interstate Conference have run a version of a passing offense similar to Beaver's. But the Vikings' defense, often overlooked in the wake of the team's dynamic offense, has been up to each challenge.
“It's everybody together,” Ruffner said. “Our linebackers have been aggressive to the ball and our secondary has played well against different offenses. It takes all 11 players. You're only as good as your defense, and it gets magnified even more because points are harder to score the deeper you go in the playoffs. We have to play solid and take away the things they do best.”
With so much at stake for both teams, the game can't get here fast enough, according to both coaches.
“The first two minutes, we want to get rid of the jitters and get involved,” Beltz said. “There is so much excitement surrounding it.”
That excitement no doubt extends beyond the field.
“The kids are playing for each other and the Viking name, and it can rally a school and a town,” Ruffner said. “It's special for everybody in the area.”
Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.