JERSEY SHORE - After tearing his MCL against Jersey Shore last year, Montoursville linebacker Ethan Jones kept telling himself the same thing. Despite spending the final nine weeks on crutches, watching from the sidelines, the mantra remained.
Through the pain, through the rehab and through all the weight-lifting sessions, Jones was moving forward. And after making the biggest interception of his varsity career Friday night, Jones could hear that mantra running through his mind as his teammates celebrated in the background.
Jones intercepted a pass over the middle and returned it down the left sideline for a game-changing fourth-quarter touchdown and paved the way for a hard-fought 31-14 Montoursville win over Jersey Shore at Thompson Street Stadium. Jones made his interception while Jersey Shore was driving for the go-ahead score and added a team-high 12 tackles. He had waited 364 days for this game and the senior made the most of it.
Jersey Shore's Zachary Miller gets a hold of Montoursville's Curtis Miller during the game in Jersey Shore on Friday. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"This was personal, Jones said. "You can't do much about last year. You have to look forward. You keep working hard and you keep moving forward."
"Ethan is another one of our seniors who busted his rear end since the injury to get back," Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. "When you work as hard as Ethan does you're going to be successful. That's what we teach these kids and it's not just football. If you work hard at something, whatever it is, you're going to be successful."
Montoursville (3-0) worked hard the entire second half, scoring 28 points and turning a four-point halftime deficit into a 28th straight win over a determined rival in a game that featured big plays and even bigger hits. Cam Ott played a sensational game, running for 165 yards and scoring three touchdowns while Mike Signor made a huge difference up front and Alex Erb intercepted two passes, including the game-clincher late in the fourth quarter.
Ott's 35-yard touchdown run on a third-and-24 with 90 seconds remaining followed Erb's interception and finally allowed Montoursville to breathe easy against a team that gave it everything it had.
"We are disappointed that we didn't beat them because we expected to beat them and thought we had a plan to beat them," Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. "It just didn't come out that way."
Had Jones not made his big play, it might have. Utoah Agae-Naipo (141 yards) scored on a 5-yard third-quarter run, stopping a run of 14 straight Montoursville points and pulling Jersey Shore (1-2) within 17-14. It stayed that way until the fourth quarter when Jersey Shore moved 33 yards into Warrior territory. Just when it seemed the Bulldogs might pull the upset, Jones changed everything.
The senior jumped a route in the middle of the field, intercepting the pass at the 47-yard line, breaking to his left and outrunning two Bulldogs down the sideline and into the end zone.
"I was just doing what my coaches had been telling me to do," Jones said. "Credit the pass rush for getting pressure on the quarterback. I was just in the right place in the right time and the next thing I know I have the ball and I'm running down the sideline."
Jersey Shore was on the move again on its ensuing drive before Erb made his second interception, this one again in the middle of the field. Ott ended all hopes of a Bulldog miracle comeback, bursting through a hole that Signor created and going 35 yards untouched. The senior topped 100 yards for a third straight week and scored twice in the third quarter, including on a 46-yard screen pass from Griffin Dunne, as Montoursville erased a 7-3 halftime deficit.
The Bulldogs held Montoursville to three first-half points despite the Warriors having four straight drives reach Jersey Shore territory. Montoursville put Signor in at center to try and solve the problems it was having with Jersey Shore's inside rush and its offense started humming as the line took over.
"Mike did a nice job coming in and helping out and the offensive line did a nice job in the second half controlling things," Keefer said. "What I like about our offensive line is they come off the field and tell us this is what they're doing and we're able to design some plays off that."
Jersey Shore made some big plays and took a 7-3 halftime lead when Logan English hit Troy Rowan with a 7-yard fourth-down touchdown. Rowan made a nice catch on the left side of the end zone, catching it despite having a defender right there. Brody Smith (6 catches, 96 yards) made similar catches throughout the game, igniting some drives.
Linebacker Dom Loffredo was all over the field for Jersey Shore, making 14 tackles while Zach Miller and Bryce Charles helped stymie Montoursville in the first half. Naipo took a pitch from Rowan and turned a hook and ladder play into a 45-yard run to the 5-yard line while setting up his third-quarter touchdown. He totaled 187 yards and added 12 tackles in a game that had a big crowd often rising to its collective feet.
"We believe in our kids," Gravish said. "We have a good group and we're going to get right back at it and hopefully work real hard and have a good week of practice."
"This is what you're going to get when you come to Jersey Shore," said Keefer, a Jersey Shore graduate. "They're tough kids and they're well-coached. I had a ball tonight. This is what high school football is all about."