CANTON-Moments after capping a huge win, South Williamsport players turned their muddy sideline into a slip and slide. One by one, players took turns sprinting and belly-flopping into the quagmire. The game was over and still the team did everything together which seemed fitting.
Together, South mounted a game-tying, 75-yard late fourth-quarter scoring drive. Together, South scored an overtime touchdown and converted a key 2-point play before making a dramatic defensive stand. Together, South again rallied in the fourth quarter to beat a 2011 district playoff qualifier that had thumped it last year.
Together, this team has South 2-0 for the first time since 1999.
Dominick Bragalone ran for a game-tying 45-yard touchdown, Matt Bartholomew scored a go-ahead touchdown in overtime and Brandon Stonge made a game-clinching tackle on an attempted 2-point conversion as South edged Canton, 22-20 in overtime, Saturday at rainy Miller A. Moyer Stadium.
"I haven't been on a team this good for a while. The team camaraderie is great," Stonge said. "We're all sweating and working hard and we have come together."
"We're brotherhood," senior center/linebacker Justin Knee said. "We just stay together and do it."
South struck first in overtime but Canton answered in dramatic fashion. On third-and-goal from the 10, quarterback John Bowman threw a pass that bounced off Chase Pepper and into Tim Bassett's arms at the 1. Bowman then snuck in for a controversial touchdown on fourth down, setting the stage for Stonge's dramatic stop.
Bassett ran right, but Stonge blew up the play from the start. The senior linebacker exploded through the line, wrapped Bassett and dropped him for a loss.
"We're just having fun and I read my guard and went in there and that was it," Stonge said. "That last play my heart was pounding. Everybody was great and we knew we were going to get the stop. When they ran the ball I was like we have to get in there and we have to stop them. It was done, we had it."
South lost 46-0 at Canton last season and had ample opportunities to get frustrated and let the game snowball out of control again. But this a new year and this a new team. The Mounties had gained 26 yards on their previous 21 plays when they took over at their own 25-yard line with 4:49 remaining.
A comeback win seemed a long shot, but the offensive line jelled and three talented running backs started making big plays. The biggest came when Bragalone exploded through a hole on the left side, shed two defenders and went 45 yards to tie it 14-14 with 2:04 remaining.
South had first possession in overtime and needed three plays to take the lead. Bartholomew (113 yards) ran in from four yards out to make it 20-14. Quarterback Tyler House had struggled, but when it mattered most on the following 2-point attempt he was perfect. House rolled left and under pressure threaded a nice pass to Stonge, making it 22-14.
"We just say let the game come to us and they just buck up, they stay the course. For two weeks they've done that," South coach Chris Eiswerth said. "They've worked so hard. These guys, even our young guys, work so hard at practice to give us good looks. It's just a total team effort."
Canton showed in defeat why it has been one of District 4 Class A's best programs the past six years. Preseason injuries forced Canton, dressing 26 players, to shuffle players to different positions but the Warriors overcame an early 8-0 deficit, slowed a powerful offense and nearly evened their record. Bowman played halfback last week before moving to quarterback, opening-week quarterback Garrett Wesneski moved to tackle, opening-week lineman Wes Moore moved to halfback and freshman Noah Barnett made his varsity debut.
The Warriors always have been as resourceful as they are tough and it showed again. Bowman scored on a 30-yard first-quarter run as Canton tied it 8-8 following Bartholomew's 63-yard touchdown run on South's third play. The Warriors took their first lead on the fourth-quarter's first play when Eddy Larcom, a cross country runner last year, threw a 25-yard halfback option touchdown to Barnett who made a great catch.
"I said no matter what happens, it's going to be a nail biter and if we just get out of there with a win that's all that matters," Eiswerth said. "With the program Miller (H. Moyer) has built and the athletes they have, we're just fortunate to come into Canton and get a win."
When Larcom intercepted House at the Mountie 30-yard line with 5:33 remaining it appeared Canton might have the game won. Just two plays later, though, South recovered a fumble at the 25-yard line and had new life. And despite going against a defense that had allowed just one first down on the previous 26 plays, the Mounties were brilliant.
"We have a good coaching staff and we have the coaches and players to do it," said Knee, who made a game-high 11 tackles. "We have a good line and we have backs that can do it with Stonge and Bartholomew and Bragalone. We just had to go all-out, no matter what."
The South defense played that way the whole game. South allowed just 179 yards and forced a three-and-out following Bragalone's touchdown. Billy Kepner, a two-way starter, highlighted that series with a third-down sack. Sam Buck and Tyler Jenkins also had sacks while all three facets of the defense played well.
"It's been a real journey but a journey that we're enjoying," Eiswerth said. "Every day with the kids is great. The staff and the kids, we're all trying to build a family and that's what I'm really proud of."
South Williamsport8 0 0 6 8-22
Canton8 0 0 6-20
SW-Matt Bartholomew 63 run (Brandon Stonge run), 8:34
C-John Bowman 30 run (Tim Bassett run), 6:00
C-Noah Barnett 25 pass from Eddy Larcom (kick failed), 11:53
SW-Dominick Bragalone 45 run (run failed), 2:04
SW-Bartholomew 4 run (Tyler House pass to Stonge)
C-Bowman 1 run (run failed)
First downs8 11
Passing Yards9 105
RUSHING-South Williamsport, Matt Bartholomew 12-113, 2 TDs; Dominick Bragalone 6-60, TD; Brandon Stonge 15-53; Tyler House 5-(-9). Canton, John Bowman 17-41, 2 TDs; Noah Barnett 5-17; Tyler Cole 4-10; Wes Moore 9-9; Eddy Larcom 3-5; Tim Bassett 5-5; Team 1-(13).
PASSING-South Williamsport, House 1-4-1, 9 yards. Canton, Bowman 8-11-0, 80 yards; Larcom 1-1-0, TD, 25 yards.
RECEIVING-South Williamsport, Stonge 1-9. Canton, Bassett 4-29; Moore 3-32; Barnett 2-44, TD.
INTERCEPTIONS-Canton 1 (Larcom 1).
RECORDS-South Williamsport 2-0?(2-0 NTL), Canton 0-2 (0-2)