The sack appeared it would settle matters.
When Montoursville defensive lineman Daniel Bonds dropped Lewisburg quarterback Nick Costigliola for a seven-yard loss with one minute remaining in the first half Friday night, Montoursville led 16-0. Lewisburg was staring at a third-and-10 and had just one timeout remaining, so taking a knee and heading to the half seemed imminent.
Coach Jeremy Winn had other ideas. Costigliola was making only his fifth varsity start, but Winn never wavered. He was definitely keeping the ball in his junior quarterback's hands. His team needed a spark and Winn believed Costigliola would provide it.
He was right.
Costigliola completed 5 of his next 8 passes and capped a game-changing 10-play, 68-yard drive when he scored from 13 yards out with 6.6 seconds remaining in the half. Lewisburg still trailed by 10 but that drive changed everything. The Green Dragons scored 21 straight points in the third-quarter's first six minutes and rallied to beat Montoursville, 27-22 at Memorial Stadium.
It was a win as complete as it was impressive as so many Dragons excelled in pressure situations against one of the district's best teams. But it started with a quarterback who had never started a game before this year and who is learning a new system under a new coach.
"He's getting a lot of confidence. He's a great kid, he works hard and he's doing everything we ask him to do," said Winn, who coached current Lafayette starter Andrew Shoop while at Danville. "Early in the season we didn't ask him to do too much and now we continue to play off his abilities."
That was evident Friday. After Montoursville shut down the run early, Winn opened up the offense and kept the ball in Costigliola's hands. After being stymied early, Costigliola ran for 55 yards in a two-quarter span and completed 15 of 24 passes for 186 yards. During that 27-point blitz, Costigliola led Lewisburg on four straight scoring drives and all his throws were right on the money against a strong defense.
It was the latest in a run of strong Costigliola performances. He has progressed each week and has played like one of the district's best quarterbacks the last four weeks. Lewisburg has won all four games and Costigliola has completed 62 percent of his passes, thrown for 520 yards and eight touchdowns and been intercepted just once.
"He's a great athlete," said offensive lineman Kyle Santorine, a player receiving Division I FCS interest. "We have the horses up front to block for him. We give him the ball and he can do what he does."
The stats are impressive but it's the intangibles that stood out Friday. Montoursville harassed Costigliola throughout the first half, frequently getting in his face and pressuring him. The way Montoursville was controlling the game, it seemed like Lewisburg was in serious trouble.
Costigliola was never rattled. He simply took what he has learned at practice and applied it to the game. He stayed calm and his teammates fed off it. The last-minute, first-half touchdown drive was a thing of beauty and Costigliola was in complete command. A quarter later so was his team.
"I feel like I'm progressing pretty well right now but there's still a long way to go. Coach is teaching me a lot of things and I'm learning pretty well from him," Costigliola said. "I come out to every practice, every game feeling great. I'm having a bunch of fun and I love playing with my teammates."
Winn knew he had a leader capable of sparking a comeback. Now the rest of the district knows too.
FOR THE DEFENSE: Of course if not for Lewisburg's defense, Costigliola might not have had a chance to orchestrate a comeback. Early on, Montoursville gouged Lewisburg, scoring on three straight first-half possessions and gaining 162 yards on its first four. Leading 13-0, Montoursville appeared ready to go up three scores when it had a first-and-10 at the Lewisburg 13. Instead, Santorine's sack on second down helped force the Warriors to settle for a field goal.
It was a small thing that might have been lost in the impressive comeback, but that stop was huge. Lewisburg's defense dominated from there, allowing only 84 more yards on Montoursville's final seven possessions. Andrew Nash intercepted a pass that led to Lewisburg's final touchdown, the Dragons sacked Dunne four times and they protected the lead by making three straight stops after Montoursville had pulled within five points.
"It was just settling down," Santorine said. "It was a big game, obviously, so it was just settling our nerves and doing what the coaches taught us."
Montoursville has as many weapons as any team in District 4 and, early, Lewisburg had no answer. Bouncing back the way it did was as good as it gets and the Dragon defense is starting to show that it is one of District 4's best units.
"They (the Warriors) have great team speed. They're a great team and the first half we were still kind of adjusting," Winn said. "The second half we played great. After the first quarter we were looking at each other and we were scrambling. We thought they were going to go up three scores and the defense stepped it up and they played big."
EXTRA POINTS: Central Mountain quarterback Von Walker keeps reaching milestones. Two weeks after breaking the program's single-game rushing record, he became Southern Clinton County's all-time leading rusher and the first area player to top 1,000 yards this season in a 40-0 rout at Huntingdon. Walker has topped 1,000 yards in consecutive years and has 1,041 thus far, along with 10 touchdowns and a 10.3 yards per carry average ... Bucktail improved to 3-2 and increased its postseason chances, thumping Montgomery, 48-8. The Bucks are getting healthy and returning starters Larry Green (131 rushing yards) and Matt Horton saw their first extended action, combining for three touchdowns while running back Aaron Ransdorf recorded his first 100-yard game. Trent Risley added three sacks and eight tackles ... Hughesville running back Alec Walter has been a workhorse the last two weeks. The senior recorded his second straight 100-yard game against South Williamsport, running for 137 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. In consecutive weeks, the 5-foot-6 hard-nosed player has carried 71 times for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
Dr. Masse's Top Five
1. Lewisburg (5-1): The Dragons lost some excellent players from last year's 9-3 team and some might have thought they would experience some growing pains. Instead, the experienced seniors have combined with some outstanding underclassmen and the results have stayed the same. The Dragons are in the mix for both a HAC-II championship and a district top seed. And if anyone doubted what Lewisburg can do, the Dragons silenced them Friday.
"These seniors, when they were sophomores they were in the Eastern final so they have seen big games and they just keep believing in themselves and finding a way to pull them out," Winn said.
"We did lose a lot of key players, but we also have a lot of key players this year step up for us," Costigliola said. "We're clicking right now. We're working as a team well and we're doing well."
2. Montoursville (4-2): The Warriors are one of the best 4-2 teams this reporter has covered in his 14 years on the job. That they have two losses speaks to the depth of strong teams in the most balanced AA field this century. Montoursville continues its District 4 gauntlet Friday at Danville (5-1) so it has no time to worry about what happened against Lewisburg. The Warriors received a boost Friday when linebacker Clay Stoner returned to the defense. Stoner, who has had back issues, was playing mostly offense the first five weeks but made a big impact defensively, making nine tackles and recovering a fumble.
"He came out of game at one point and I thought, 'oh no,'" Keefer said. "But he was able to come back and he and he played really well on that side of the ball. It was nice to see that."
3. South Williamsport (5-1): Brandon Stonge wearing Colt Young's No. 34 jersey and making a game-clinching tackle on 4-and-2 against Hughesville is Hollywood-like stuff. Young suffered a serious neck injury while wrestling last winter but has remained an inspiration to his teammates and his best friend honored him the best way Friday as he scored a touchdown and made the tackle that gave South a 20-15 win, its first against Hughesville since 2004. South, which plays a huge game Friday against Sayre (5-1), made two goal-line stands prior to the fourth-down stop and has played some of its best football in these pressure situations. It made a goal-line stop to clinch a win over Canton a week after Jonny Pulizzi's interception sealed a win over Bloomsburg (5-1). Quarterback Tyler House played another efficient game and in his last two contests against Hughesville is 27 of 34 for 368 yards and three touchdowns.
4. Loyalsock (3-3): How improved is the Loyalsock offense this year? Well, the Lancers scored more points in Friday's 60-35 win at Troy than they scored all of last season. They also already have gained more than 300 yards than they generated last year. Loyalsock scored at will against the Trojans, gaining 560 yards, the most by a Lancer team since 2007. Omar Little and Phil Krizan are developing into solid playmakers and Mike Dougherty continues hurting teams with his versatility. The offensive line dominated Troy and Loyalsock stayed in the hunt for a District 4 Class AA playoff spot. Friday, the Lancers head to Hughesville and try beating the Spartans for only the second time since 2007. Loyalsock has not won back-to-back games since 2010 and this is an opportunity for the young Lancers to show they are becoming a more consistent team.
5. Milton (4-2): The Black Panthers exacted a measure of revenge Friday and recorded a huge win, downing defending District 4 Class AAA champion Shamokin, 14-7. Milton lost with 36 seconds remaining to Shamokin in last year's final, but the defense dominated this time and allowed no offensive points. Third-year coach George Goodwin has done an excellent job reviving what had been a dormant program and Milton is two games above .500 for the first time since 2001. Friday, the Panthers can take charge of the district race and make the path to the championship go through Milton if they defeat Selinsgrove.
Player of the Week
Kyle Datres, Loyalsock: The sophomore quarterback put on a dazzling show at Troy, posting 421 total yards, accounting for six touchdowns and even kicking six extra points. Datres has been the most valuable addition to the offense and proved it again, running for 217 yards and four touchdowns while throwing for 204 and two scores. A big-play threat, Datres scored all his touchdowns on runs from 20 or more yards out and his touchdown passes covered 97 yards. He has now run for 11 touchdowns this season and thrown for 784 yards.
Game of the Week
Montoursville at Danville: It's hard not to pick Montoursville as Game of the Week every week since it plays a district title contender each time. Friday's game is another heavyweight showdown and brings back memories of many outstanding league games when both were either competing against each other in the CSC-I or HAC-I. Expect another close finish where the winner is unknown until the final minute.