South Williamsport players greeted happy fans following Friday's 50-20 victory at Muncy and celebrated their biggest regular-season win this century. They were in enemy territory but before, during and after the win, it felt like a South community gathering.
It seemed like old times.
South features a proud tradition and was one of the state's best small-school programs as recently as the 1990s when it played in two state championship games. The turn of the century, though, was unkind and the Mounties suffered through 11 losing seasons, including seven straight. Now everything seems back to normal.
South Williamsport’s Billy Rummings (21), Heath Newcomer (14) and Dominick Bragalone (32) celebrate a touchdown Friday at Muncy in the Mounties’ first win there since 1999.
A dedicated group of seniors started laying the foundation for a big turnaround four years ago, a hard-working coaching staff added to that commitment and now the Mounties are back. South hammered a fellow playoff contender for a second straight week, is 7-1, is closing in on a league championship and looks like a near lock to reach districts for the first time since 1999. That also was the last year it had won at Muncy.
"It's hard to take in right now to see what we're all doing," said senior running back/linebacker Matt Bartholomew, a three-year starter who has helped South make two-win and, thus far, three-win improvements the last two seasons. "It's been great."
So was South was Friday. The Mounties manhandled a big, strong team and three running backs topped 100 yards. The offensive line was dominant and paved the way for a 475-yard rushing performance. Muncy allowed fewer than 150 rushing yards in its first four games combined, driving home how impressive that is.
A week after hammering six-win Sayre, the Mounties again owned the moment on a field they had not won on since they were in either preschool or elementary school. Everyone played well on both sides of the ball and it was a performance as complete as it was eye-opening.
"(Coach Chris) Eiswerth had them ready to go and they played well," Muncy coach Jay Drumheller said. "They played their hearts out."
Bartholomew was one of several players who spent his summer waking up early, heading to the South gym and pounding the weights. The Mounties knew they had a strong core coming back from last year's team that went 4-6 and played outstanding the last few weeks. They also knew they were not about to waste the opportunity to bring this program back from the ashes.
The effort the players and coaches have put in during the offseason is paying off now. This team paid the price and now it is reaping the rewards.
"We have a lot of seniors on this team and we work real hard in the offseason. Coach Eiswerth did a great job getting the weight program set up and it's just hard work paying off," said Tyler Schonewolf, a two-way starter who played fantastic Friday. "It's great playing with all these guys. We all have each other's backs. It's really fun."
When Schonewolf reached high school last year, South was coming off a two-year stretch in which it won three games. Now the sophomore is one of the younger players who is not hoping to win, but expecting to do so at South. The team's seniors deserve a lot of credit for that attitude change because when times were dark it would have been easy for them to walk away and quit. Instead they fought back.
That is the South way. Big strides were made last year and now South is enjoying its best season in 13 years. Football means a lot in South and the coaches know that as well as anyone since so many played there and contributed to its tradition.
Years later, they are bringing the tradition back.
"My staff is amazing and the kids are great. I'm blessed, very blessed to be part of a good group of guys," Eiswerth said. "Most of us coaches that are here, South is our home and we take great pride in the town. This is big for South Siders. It means a lot to have it fun again. The kids have really taken that on their shoulders and I'm really happy about that."
So is the community.
ON THE EDGE: Muncy (5-3) took a playoff blow Friday but still can reach districts if it wins its final two games. Wins over Sayre and Hughesville, coupled with Bloomsburg losses to Danville and Central Columbia likely would get the Indians into the four-team tournament.
And if Muncy does so, it will be an impressive statement. The Indians are physically ailing and suffered costly injuries to leading rusher Troy Hembury, leading receiver Maurice Brown and versatile running back Teddy Clark Friday. Brown broke his collar bone and is done for the season while Hembury and Clark might not be able to play Friday at Sayre. This is a young team that has only six seniors and it might be up to some of its youngest players to keep the playoff dream alive.
"We'll regroup. It's one of those things where you rest up and come back ready to go, but a lot of other guys are going to have to step up," Drumheller said. "It sets up two tough games for us."
Muncy won a hard-fought 6-0 decision at Sayre last year and has not beaten archrival Hughesville since 2000. Even if the Indians do not reach districts, beating those two teams would be quite a way to end the season. Muncy showed it is ready to fight on against South too, playing hard after Brown and Hembury went down.
The Indians pulled within eight after trailing 22-0 and cut a 22-point halftime deficit to 16 in the third quarter. South's strength combined with missed opportunities, though, proved too much to overcome.
"They did a great job fighting back," Schonewolf said. "After Hembury went down they had some guys step up for them and do a nice job and they fought back the whole way."
Expect more of the same the next two weeks.
WE HAVE YOUR TEAMS: Though two weeks remain, the eight District 4 Class AA playoff teams have been determined. If the season ended now the top eight teams in order would be: Central Columbia, Danville, Athens, Lewisburg, Troy, Mount Carmel, Loyalsock and Montoursville. Everything could be jumbled these next two weeks, though, since all these teams have some huge games, including some against each other.
EXTRA POINTS: Colton Harer broke Montgomery's single-game receptions record against Warrior Run, catching 13 passes. Harer has had an outstanding season and leads all District 4 receivers with 55 catches ... Loyalsock quarterback Kyle Datres topped 1,000 yards passing in a 41-6 pasting of Towanda ... Connor Route made 17 tackles, Tim Bassett ran for a career-high 120 yards and Wes Moore scored twice while making 10 tackles as Canton thumped Cowanesque Valley, 41-6 ... Hughesville freshman linebacker Ethan Duff continues making big plays and returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown against Mount Carmel. Duff looks like he could be one of the area's best linebackers in the coming years ... Williamsport's Devin Miller topped 100 yards for a fifth time this season, running for 192 yards and a touchdown against Tunkhannock. He needs 198 yards to reach 1,000 for a third straight year.
Dr. Masse's area top five
1. South Williamsport (7-1): Fullback Brandon Stonge could might a nice collegiate running back. The 5-foot-9, 230-pound senior is built like a bowling ball and runs like one, but he also has great open-field speed and became South's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007 against Muncy. Fellow running back Dominick Bragalone also is big and fast and is one of South's best big-play makers in years. He ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns against Muncy and all seven of his touchdowns have covered more than 40 yards. The Mountie offensive line grows stronger every week and has helped South average 354 yards per game.
2. Lewisburg (6-2): The Green Dragons' defense continued to play well and helped Lewisburg nearly defeat Central Columbia Friday. Lewisburg lost 16-15 but contained a powerful offense and rallied from a 9-0 second-quarter deficit to take a 15-9 fourth-quarter lead on Central's home field. The Dragons will not win a conference title or likely gain the district's top seed, but that really does not matter because a district title is a distinct possibility, especially since, like all HAC-II teams, they are so battle-tested.
3. Montoursville (5-3): The Warriors showed how dangerous they can be in a stellar all-around performance Friday at Milton. Montoursville routed the Black Panthers, 45-12 and dominated all facets against a quality team, doing what it wanted offensively while playing stifling defense. The Warriors endured a rough patch when they lost two straight games and dropped to 4-3, but this performance shows why they are a serious district title contender. Behind an offensive line that played excellent, Clay Stoner ran for a career-high 214 yards and two touchdowns. The offense was balanced too with Aaron Cole throwing three touchdown passes and that combination gives opposing defenses a lot to think about the next few weeks. Junior Cameron Ott again proved why he is one of the area's best all-around players, recording a sack for a safety, blocking a punt for a safety, averaging nearly 11 yards per carry and making a catch.
4. Loyalsock (5-3): The Lancers have made one of the district's biggest turnarounds and are playoff-bound a season after going 1-9, scoring 57 points all season and being shutout five times. Now the Lancers have one of the area's top offenses and its offensive line has played spectacular the last three weeks. Loyalsock stomped Towanda, 41-6 Friday and in its last three games the linemen have paved the way for 143 points and 1,357 yards. Wide receiver Omar Little keeps progressing and caught five passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. The defense also has played well and stout defensive end Cody McCracken turned offensive against Towanda, running for a 6-yard score. Linebacker Aaron Hepburn has been playing some terrific football on both sides and his huge block sprung a 75-yard interception return for a score.
5. Milton (4-4): The Black Panthers no longer have a shot to earn District 4 Class AAA's top seed but will host a district semifinal game if they win their final two games against Jersey Shore and Shikellamy. Milton likely will play Shikellamy two weeks in a row since that is almost a lock to be its semifinal opponent. Quarterback Brady Chappell needs 106 more yards to reach 1,000 for a second straight year.
Player of the Week
Clay Stoner, Montoursville: The senior running back had a huge game against a tough defense and also helped Montoursville's defense enjoy a dominant night. Stoner has topped 100 yards five times this season and Montoursville is 5-0 when he does so. He needs 109 yards to become the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since Cody Haupt in 2009.
Game of the Week
Lewisburg at Loyalsock: Friday's game could be a playoff preview between two title contenders who have made tremendous strides throughout the season. Three years ago these rivals met in the district championship and from 2007-2010 they combined to capture three district titles. These teams are on the rise and evenly matched and this looks like it could be a dandy.