Facing a 4th-and-1 near midfield, Hughesville coach Andy Brown could have played it conservative. He could have played the field position game, punted and tried to pin North Penn deep in its own territory.
Brown never considered those options. He gambled and went for it. It was early, but Brown wanted to make a statement. Hughesville not only converted that fourth down, but did so two more times on the drive and frequently throughout the game. And Brown's players heard his message loud and clear.
Brown put his confidence in his players and they did not let him down Friday on Homecoming Night. Hughesville ran the ball at will, controlled the line of scrimmage, played stellar defense and recorded a huge 21-14 win over North Penn. The Spartans shook off four weeks of frustration, picked up their first win and showed that no matter what their record is, they should never be counted out.
"I felt pretty confident and I'm sure my fellow linemen felt pretty confident too. We just dug deep and went for it and we got it," dominant two-way lineman Logan Rucker said. "It was a big statement for us."
"We needed a spark. We were near the 50 so I felt OK going for it," Brown said. "Our kids were confident coming in and I wanted to give them the opportunity to keep the drives going and we converted almost all of them."
Hughesville ran the ball 76 times for 310 yards and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes against a team that had won two straight. The Spartans trailed 14-13 in the fourth quarter, but their confidence never wavered and they put together a go-ahead 13-run, 64-yard drive before making two big defensive stops to clinch the win.
Do not underestimate the importance of this win. The pressure is off now. Hughesville has that vital first win and, more important, a lot of confidence moving forward. This team was 1-4 last year and rallied to capture a HAC-III championship and reach the postseason. This is a new year and there are a lot of new faces, but Hughesville believes anything is possible just like in 2011.
"This win could keep us moving farther and farther," said two-way starting lineman Devante Oliver, who like Rucker, excelled on both sides. "We made it to playoffs last year and I think we are going to end up having a great season."
That is a definite possibility if the offensive line builds off Friday's performance. That unit jelled for the first time and dominated up front, repeatedly blowing defenders off the ball. It was vintage Hughesville and it showed that after opening the season with a brutal stretch against four teams who are a combined 17-3, that progress is being made.
"I think it's a passion of mine to down block on someone and just destroy him," Oliver said. "We are a running team so it was a lot of fun. That got us real pumped."
Those first four losses could have demoralized the team, but that has never been the Hughesville way. The Spartans have been at their best the past 15 seasons when they have faced adversity. That did not change Friday. Even when North Penn twice took leads and some promising drives ended without points, Hughesville remained optimistic.
So did the coaches. Brown remained confident in his players. The results might not have shown it the first four weeks, but Brown saw the hard work being put in. He knew it was a matter of time. He knew what his team could do and he gave it every chance to show it.
"I think we can hopefully get rolling now. We just have to pick it up in the next few games," said running back Alec Walter, who ran for a career-high 179 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries. "To finally get a win and show them that we can pull through and do it just like they did in the past years, felt really good.
And now Hughesville hopes the good times keep rolling.
FOR FRANK: Montoursville defensive back Frank Dyer has been instrumental to helping the Warriors start 4-1 and was playing another good game Friday against Mount Carmel when, with 3:55 remaining in the third quarter, he broke his tibia and fibula. Dyer went to the hospital from there but he remained on his teammates' minds and they honored him the best way they could-by winning one of the most exciting games in program history.
The Warriors overcame an early 14-point deficit and rallied in the fourth quarter, taking a lead with 8:26 remaining before holding off a last-second Mount Carmel drive while winning, 41-37. Montoursville officially announced its presence as a District 4 Class AA title contender and exacted a measure of revenge against a team that had beaten it four straight times, including twice last season.
Afterward, Montoursville sent the game ball to Dyer, a fitting tribute to a player who gave all he had to make the win possible.
"It is special. They beat us twice last year and it was a little motivation for us going into this game. We're excited about it and it's a stepping stone for us because they're a next-level team as far as I'm concerned. They're top echelon," Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. "It's a big win for our guys to start believing in themselves. It's a tribute to them and the hard work kids have put in. When you're up and down the field like this, a defensive stand is a great way to cap off what was happening up and down the field."
Montoursville prevailed in a game that featured 936 yards of offense and a remarkable 362-yard rushing performance from Luke Klingerman. Quarterback Aaron Cole was injured early, but backup Griffin Dunne came in to run for 216 yards and three scores while throwing for a touchdown. The lead see-sawed back and forth over the final three quarters, but the Warriors never buckled against a program that is among the country's top five in all-time wins.
Beating Mount Carmel almost always is a big deal. In this case, how Montoursville did so means even more.
"This is a huge win for us to set us up and do well and make the playoffs," Dunne said. "We needed this to get us into the flow and get us on a roll."
BELATED GIFT: Injuries decimated Wellsboro early this preseason and an already young team looked to be in serious danger. In the middle of preseason camp, though, the Green Hornets received a nice gift. After making a summer move from Elmira, Jermaine Brooks came out for the team. He had little time to prepare and learn a new system but has made a sudden impact.
Brooks enjoyed a breakout performance in Saturday's 44-6 win at CMVT. The 5-foot-7 junior ran for 162 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries while also returning a punt 71 yards for a dazzling score. Brooks has two 100-yard games, Wellsboro is 3-2 and things are looking much brighter these days.
"He has been an excellent surprise. We were excited to have him come in because we were banged up at the time so he was quite the blessing," Wellsboro coach Steve Boyce said. "He's coming through and he gets stronger every week. He has excellent field presence where he can kind of look around and see where he needs to make a cut. We have a little more work to do with him, but he's a natural athlete and that's outstanding."
Brooks took his first carry 62 yards for a touchdown Saturday and averaged 18 yards every time he touched the ball on offense or special teams. He displayed a nice burst and has good vision. Brooks also can make some outstanding moves, riddling the CMVT defense with two impressive cuts on his 71-yard punt return. He arrived late, but Brooks has had little trouble making up for lost time.
"I'm looking forward to playing next year too and being prepared and coming harder," Brooks said. "We have a lot of potential. We just have to be ready, focus and play hard."
Dr. Masse's Top Five
1. Montoursville (4-1): Running back Clay Stoner prepared for the season by running a lot of hills last summer. That has helped him run over and around defenders thus far. Stoner topped 100 yards for the fourth time Friday, gaining 110 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Montoursville is 4-0 when Stoner rushes for more than 100 yards and has lost just once during his varsity career when he has done so. Do not forget about safety Alex Erb either. Erb has had a breakout season thus far, intercepting two passes, and the safety made the game's biggest play on the final play, getting enough of the final pass toward the end zone to knock it away from Tyler Kwiatowski.
2. Lewisburg (4-1): The Montoursville win overshadowed what Lewisburg did, but the Green Dragons made a nice statement too. Lewisburg thumped defending District 4 Class AAA champion Shamokin, 35-14, scoring 15 more points than any previous Shamokin opponent. The Dragons have been getting better every week since losing to Mount Carmel in Week 2 and have allowed just 28 points during that time. The offense is balanced, quarterback Nick Castigliola is progressing and running back Brandon Smith is an all-around beast. The offensive line manhandled Shamokin and helped Lewisburg average eight yards per carry in the second half. The defense went offensive too as Ty Turner returned a first-quarter interception 82 yards for a score.
3. South Williamsport (4-1): Sophomore Dominick Bragalone has often been instant offense, driving that point home during Friday's 53-19 win at Warrior Run. Bragalone returned consecutive kickoffs 88 and 78 yards for touchdowns, snuffing out Warrior Run comeback attempts as South matched its win total from last year and defeated Warrior Run for the first time since 2002. Big, fast and strong, Bragalone has four touchdowns this season and all have come from 46 yards or more. His first varsity carry went for a 60-yard touchdown against Bloomsburg and he forced overtime against Canton in Week 2 with a 46-yard touchdown run. Bragalone is averaging 8.2 yards per carry while fullback Brandon Stonge has 600 yards following a 170-yard, two-touchdown performance.
4. Loyalsock (2-3): Some might have been surprised Loyalsock lost to Shikellamy, 21-12 a week after stunning Mount Carmel but it's not shocking when you realize two things: 1, Shikellamy is a pretty good team led by an outstanding coach. 2, Loyalsock is still young and working on its consistency. A playoff berth is still a possibility if Loyalsock heats up and if it does it could be a dangerous lower-seeded team. Sophomore Omar Little enjoyed a career night against Shikellamy, catching 7 passes for 112 yards.
5. Muncy (4-1): The Indians have no time to stew about Friday's 47-7 loss at Southern Columbia, not with Bloomsburg (4-1) coming to town in three nights. Muncy is seeking its first win against Bloomsburg since 2005 and Friday's game is laced with big District 4 Class A playoff ramifications. If I was a Muncy player against Southern I would have been ready to fight after Southern did not attempt an extra point following its last touchdown. I cannot reiterate how insulting it is to an athlete to have an opponent take that kind of mercy on you. Nearly every athlete would rather you go for 2 following every touchdown than not try at all.
Player of the Week
Griffin Dunne, Montoursville: Talk about a super sub. Dunne's performance is reminiscent of Luke Trick in 2005 replacing an injured Garrett Cillo and running for a program-record 311 yards. Dunne needed to be brilliant for his team to win and he was, running for 216 yards and a score while also throwing a 59-yard touchdown to Cameron Ott. Counting his three interceptions returned for scores, Dunne has accounted for seven touchdowns the last three weeks.
Game of the Week
Lewisburg at Montoursville: It does not get much better than No. 1 facing No. 2. Both teams are coming off huge wins and both are serious District 4 Class AA title contenders. It's possible these teams could see each other again in the postseason, so just like last week's instant classic at Memorial Stadium, this should should be entertaining, fiercely fought and fun to watch. Do not be surprised if this one comes down to the final play.