After a 6-4 regular season in 2011 that landed it third in the Class AA Interstate Conference standings, Mount Pleasant knew there was room for improvement, especially after a first-round loss against Washington in the WPIAL playoffs. Three games into the '12 season, the early results look good for coach Bo Ruffner's team. The Vikings are 3-0, their best start since '09, when they finished the regular season undefeated before bowing to Keystone Oaks in the Class AA quarterfinals. While Mount Pleasant's competition admittedly has not been the best -- its wins have come against three teams that are a combined 2-7, with a game Friday against 0-3 Charleroi -- things will step up considerably for the Vikings when they face a 2-1 Yough team next Friday, followed by a showdown Oct. 5 at No. 3 Jeannette in a game that could very well decide the conference's regular-season champion.
When looking at the Vikings as a whole, it's easy to see where the offense begins and ends -- with junior running back Tyler Mellors. In Mount Pleasant's three wins, Mellors has rushed for 559 yards and eight touchdowns, surpassing his '11 total of five. His yards-per-carry average is 10.8. After Mellors rushed for more than 200 yards in each of the Vikings' first two games, the team saw a running back go for triple-digit rushing yards last week, but it wasn't Mellors -- rather, it was senior Taylor Allison, who racked up 120 yards and two touchdowns in Mount Pleasant's 41-20 victory against Southmoreland. Allison has 184 rushing yards on the season, as well as 16 receiving yards. "Both those guys are capable of having big games any week," Ruffner said. "The thing we take pride in is that we establish what the defense is willing to give us and we take whatever they offer us."
It's not all that rare for a high school athlete to participate in multiple sports, particularly in a hotbed of sports such as Western Pennsylvania, but not every team in the WPIAL can lay claim to having a premier basketball player on its football roster. Mount Pleasant is in that select company as junior quarterback Ryan Gumbita is a star on the Vikings' basketball team, leading the team in scoring last season as a sophomore. Ruffner noted that there are inherent advantages to having a two-sport athlete with such a prominent spot on the team. "There's a translation with being an athlete on the basketball court to being a player on the football field," he said. This season, Gumbita has thrown for 177 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
After shutting out Waynesburg Central, 38-0, in the season opener, Mount Pleasant's defense has given up 48 points in its past two games. Thankfully for the Vikings, an offense spearheaded by Mellors and that strong rushing attack has kept the team going. In each of the three games, the Vikings offense has put up 30 points or more, including a season-high 41 last week.
Football, perhaps more than any other sport, is defined by size and brute strength of its players. Even on the high school level this is true, particularly in a league such as the WPIAL that routinely churns out Division I prospects. Keeping this in mind, the Mount Pleasant team truly stands out (no pun intended). Of the 45 players on the Vikings' roster, 29 are shorter than 6 feet, a group that includes top playmakers such as Mellors, who stands 5 feet 7. Despite the apparent disadvantage the Vikings would seem to have with so many diminutive players, their early success speaks more than a few additional inches or pounds could. "It's not the size of the player -- it's the size of their heart," Ruffner said. "We would rather have kids who are physically and mentally tough because what matters is how you play the game."