MOUNT CARMEL - The touchdowns came fast and often. Mount Carmel needed less than eight minutes to build a 21-0 first-quarter lead and convince many of its loyal fans that winning a District 4 Class AA championship might be easy.
But thinking that would be to misunderstand what Montoursville football is all about.
The Warriors stuck to their game plan, cut the deficit to seven in the second quarter and then rallied from another third-quarter 21-point deficit. Mount Carmel held on for the 35-21 championship win Friday at the frigid Silver Bowl, but Montoursville made Mount Carmel earn it the hard way and ended its season with an honorable defeat.
Julius Demetrius stiff-arms Montoursville’s Nick Dawson Friday night at Mount Carmel in the District 4 Class AA title game. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"There was no doubt in our minds that we could win," said wide receiver/safety Jason Cristini. "We've been through ups and downs all season. We know how hard we worked to get this far so we wanted to make sure we left it all on the field."
Montoursville (10-3) did just that and threw a scare into the undefeated Tornadoes (13-0), who had outscored their first two playoff opponents, 85-0. But a combination of the early Mount Carmel barrage and two costly fumbles late in the second quarter and early in the third that led to Tornado touchdowns proved too much to overcome.
"I expected them to come out fighting. I didn't think that getting up three scores would put them in the grave," said Mount Carmel defensive end Trevor Demko, who made one of the game's biggest plays when he forced a fumble that Mark Koveleski returned 12 yards for a touchdown less than a minute before halftime. "We knew they would fight back because they are a good, strong and big team. They weren't going to roll over, not in this game."
Montoursville dominated the line of scrimmage in the second quarter, running for 158 yards and pulling within 21-14 on touchdown runs from Josh Cillo and Cody Haupt. It appeared that would be the score at halftime after Montoursville made a goal-line stand, but the fumble changed everything.
The Warriors forced a punt on Mount Carmel's first second-half possession, but fumbled their opportunity away three plays later. Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski then pushed the lead back to 21 when he, despite slipping on the icy, rock-hard field and falling backward, hit Jared Morgan for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Wasilewski, a four-year starter, completed 13-of-16 passes for 151 yards. He was one of several seniors who experienced their shares of ups and downs the last four seasons but who have now re-established the Tornadoes, district champions for the first time since 2002, as a dominant team.
"It's been a long way back for our program," Mount Carmel coach Mike Brennan said. "We're certainly excited to be in this position to be 13-0 with all the hard work put in because it's a whole community effort here. This is a really special place and we have special kids and special football players and I'm glad this group of seniors was able to put us back on the map."
Montoursville again rallied in the fourth quarter, forcing fumbles on two straight Mount Carmel plays. Zach Kreamer and Cristini recovered the fumbles and Cristini's timely play on a muffed punt set up the Warriors for a 37-yard scoring drive capped by Cillo's one-yard touchdown with 11:21 remaining.
Montoursville's defense forced punts on the next two Tornado series, but Mount Carmel clinched the win when it stopped Cillo on a 4th-and-1 from the 38-yard line with 2:47 remaining.
"We just look at it as a new season and we have to prove ourselves and bring back the Mount Carmel tradition," Demko said. "All these guys are just a driven bunch of guys, self-determined and self-motivated guys who just come out and want to play and play hard."
The same can be said for Montoursville, which received a strong effort from both its offensive line and along with Cillo and Haupt. Both running backs consistently broke tackles and sometimes drug players for several extra yards while Cillo gained 179 yards, a season-high against Mount Carmel.
The Warriors became just the second team to top 20 points against the Tornadoes and also were the first team to score at the Silver Bowl in the last five playoff games there.
"If we had started getting out of character it would have gotten bad real quick," Montoursville coach Jim Bergen said. "It was bad enough at 21-0. If we had started getting away from the stuff we do well it would have gotten real nasty. We felt we could stay the course and there was a lot of game left. The kids kept fighting."
Montoursville was seeking its third district championship in four years. Two-way starters Tony Cascio and Jason Marshalek helped the Warriors capture two of those titles and were part of a terrific senior class that went 31-8 over the last three years, including 6-3 in the postseason.
"It's going to be tough to lose some of these seniors," Bergen said. "It's that way all the time. The seniors, you get attached to them and Jason Marshalek and Tony Cascio we've had for four years. It's going to be tough to not see them out there."
Worn-out Montoursville opponents over the last few years might beg to differ.