Most know Mike Pietropola as Wellsboro's starting quarterback.
Last summer, he played a different role. Pietropola turned recruiter. He sought to reel in two of Wellsboro's biggest prizes, Brandon Owlett and Dylan Prough.
Pietropola's pitches worked. Now he and the Green Hornets are reaping the benefits every week. Owlett and Prough never played high school football prior to this season. The seniors, though, are two big reasons Wellsboro is 4-0 for the first time in the 21st century, consistently creating big plays in all facets.
"I really tried to recruit them," Pietropola said. "It was the first day of summer and I was like let's throw some routes so I could get them into it. They really came alive this summer and they have been huge for us."
Owlett and Prough start on both sides of the ball but are doing their biggest damage offensively. The receivers combine with Kieron Smethers to give Wellsboro one of District 4's most explosive passing arsenals.
Canton learned that Friday as the first-time high school players combined for four touchdowns in a 56-7 Wellsboro win. Owlett caught three passes for 128 yards and two scores while Prough turned a short pass into a 63-yard touchdown.
"Every time, even if you throw a short bubble screen something big can happen," Pietropola said. "They are great in space and they are all great athletes. They can make all big plays."
It is almost scary to think what those two would be doing had they played high school football the past three seasons. Owlett has not played since sixth grade while Prough is back for the first time since eighth. Yet, they already have established themselves as two of the area's premier playmakers.
The duo has combined to catch nine of Pietropola's district-best 14 touchdowns and most have come on long passes too. Owlett caught 79 and 43-yard scoring strikes Friday while Prough made the most of his reception. Owlett (14 catches, 375 yards, 6 touchdowns) averages 26.8 yards per catch while Prough (7 catches, 254 yards, 3 touchdowns) is averaging 36.3.
Both have had a lot of success in other sports. Owlett was a dominant pitcher last spring and Prough was a starter on Wellsboro's district-runner up basketball team. This time, they saw a chance to do something big in football and the offer was too much to pass up.
"Mike was coming over and talking to us and saying that we have a good chance of doing something if we came out and worked hard over the summer," Owlett said. "Everybody worked hard this summer and that helped."
"I think it was player personnel. For once I actually felt motivated to play football," Prough said. "In previous years I didn't feel that way. In other years there was kind of a lack of confidence in the team whereas this year they felt a lot more confident that we were going to do well."
They might not be doing as well if Owlett and Prough did not come out. Wellsboro has made strides the last two seasons, going 4-6 and 5-5 following a disastrous 2010 season. The Hornets had a strong core coming back in 2013, but ultimately, it is Owlett and Prough, who might have taken this team to the next level as it pursues a league title and District 4 Class A playoff berth.
They had not played in a long time, but the bottom line is they can play. Owlett returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown against Canton and finished with 254 all-purpose yards. Put the ball in these players' hands and watch out.
"We strived to work hard in the summer to get back in (shape) before the season started. That was a big thing," Owlett said. "I was throwing with Michael every day and lifting so the time the season came around I would be ready to go."
Now the goal is to keep going forward. The 4-0 start is nice but Owlett and Prough came back for more than just that.
"I just want to continue our streak," Prough said. "That's all I'm thinking about."
All opposing defensive coordinators are thinking about is how to slow this dynamic duo.
RISLEY ROLLING: Bucktail coach Bruce Ransom asked the question and Trent Risley did not hesitate before answering. The Bucks needed a new quarterback entering the 2013 season and Ransom thought Risley could do the job.
Never mind that Risley had never before played the position. Risley knew the position as well as anyone and is one of the school's best athletes. Those qualifications put him at the top of the list on this 28-man team.
And now he is excelling in that new role.
Risley, a guard the last three years, ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns while also returning a punt 70 yards for a score Saturday as Bucktail defeated CMVT, 33-18 and won its second straight.
"Coach came in and saw me in class and said, 'what do you think about quarterback?' I told him I was up for the challenge," Risley said. "I played halfback in junior high and learned it (quarterback) from there and learned it from playing guard. From being in those spots and seeing what has to be done I felt like I knew the position."
Risley seems to know just about every position. During his standout scholastic career, the senior has played defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker and guard. He also is one of the district's best punters, averaging 49 yards on three punts Saturday, and returns both punts and kicks. Saturday, he totaled 237 all-purpose yards, scoring three times on plays of 31 or more yards.
That versatility, knowledge and adaptability has made it a smooth transition to quarterback. Risley spent his summer honing his passing skills and gives Bucktail an explosive dimension. He has a big arm, has been intercepted just once in four games and has run for 317 yards and five touchdowns.
Risley accepted the challenge and now he is owning it.
"He just started playing (quarterback) this summer but is doing a nice job," running back Aaron Ransdorf said following his 133-yard, 2-touchdown performance. "Everyone tries but Trent puts in more than he really needs to. He's our guy."
FIGHTING BACK: Jersey Shore took another big step forward last Friday, rallying to beat perennial playoff contender Bloomsburg, 21-14 in overtime. Jersey Shore (2-2) overcame a late seven-point deficit, made two stops from inside the 1-yard line after Taylor English scored the go-ahead touchdown in overtime and recorded their biggest win in two years.
The Bulldogs look like one of the area's most improved teams and how it won Friday is just as important as it winning. That is the type of game Jersey Shore, 1-19 the previous two years, would have lost in the past, especially since it was playing without leading rusher Utoah Agae-Naipo and turned the ball over four times. But this is a new year and a new team and these Bulldogs would not be denied.
English threw for 185 yards, Levi Lorson ran for 69, Brody Smith continued making big catches and the defense shined. Bryce Charles and Dom Loffredo sparked a stingy defense, combining for seven sacks and this definitely looks like a team on the rise.
EXTRA POINTS: Central Mountain senior Tyler Pavalko played another sensational game in a 41-6 win over Bellefonte. Pavalko intercepted three passes, returned one for a touchdown and caught four passes for 110 yards and a score. He has 22 career interceptions and has scored nine touchdowns in four different ways this season ... Former Montgomery wide receiver Corey Kriner caught his first touchdown as a Milton player, scoring on a 10-yard strike in a 32-20 win at Central Columbia. Quarterback Brady Chappell had a breakout game, throwing for 222 yards and two touchdowns ... Cowanesque Valley running back Brandon Whitesell topped 100 yards for a third time in Saturday's 35-16 loss at Athens.
Dr. Masse's Top Five
1. Montoursville (4-0): The Warriors were tested for a second straight week and again erupted in the second half. Montoursville scored 34 second-half points in its 41-0 win over Hughesville after it was a one-score game at halftime. The starting defense did not allow a point for a third time this season and has surrendered just 14 points in four games. Montoursville now enters the toughest part of its schedule with its next two games at Mount Carmel and Lewisburg, its two playoff opponents last year.
2. Wellsboro (4-0): The Hornets lead the area in total offense and points per game. They are doing most of that damage in the first half too. Friday was the third time Wellsboro has scored 42 points and mercy-ruled its opponent by halftime. As explosive as the passing game has been, Jermaine Brooks and Wyatt Covert run the ball well too. They have combined for 464 yards and five touchdowns. Brooks caught a 40-yard touchdown against Canton.
3. South Williamsport (3-1): Southern Columbia defeated South, 48-14 in a rematch of last year's District 4 Class A championship. Really, though, the loss does not hurt South. The Mounties still control their league title and playoff destiny and could get a shot at revenge if they reach districts again. The road to a potential playoff spot starts Friday against Warrior Run. Dominick Bragalone ran for 181 yards against Southern and leads District 4 with 838 yards and 12 touchdowns.
4. (tie) Lewisburg (3-1): The Green Dragons made a nice statement with a 14-7 win over Shikellamy a week after the Braves downed Selinsgrove. Lewisburg dominated the second half, outscoring Shikellamy, 14-0 while controlling the ball for more than 15 minutes and allowing just 48 yards. The defense has been terrific, forcing an area-high 13 turnovers. Drew Newcomb intercepted his fifth pass and quarterback Nick Costigliola proved a dual threat, running for 91 yards and two scores.
4. Loyalsock (2-2): The Lancers desperately needed a win Friday and earned a big one against a tough team, rallying past Mount Carmel, 34-27. Loyalsock snapped a two-game losing streak, vaulted back into the playoff picture and showed that when it plays well it is as good as anyone in the district. Fletcher Quigley's game-tying, fourth-quarter 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown could be a defining moment in the season if Loyalsock uses the win as a springboard. Senior wide receiver Phil Krizan had his second 100-yard game and is having a huge season. He has 24 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns.
5. Muncy (4-0): The Indians are 4-0 for a second straight year after thumping Warrior Run, 26-7. Quarterback Anthony Barberio has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions while Maurice Brown and Ken Koch are becoming a strong receiving tandem. That duo combined for 165 yards against Warrior Run. Brown, Koch and Teddy Clark also intercepted passes for a defense that has allowed only 207 yards the last two weeks. Muncy hosts Southern Columbia in a showdown of unbeatens Friday.
Player of the week
Cameron Ott, Montoursville: The senior running back had the top yardage performance by a Montoursville player in the 21st century, rushing for 314 yards and four touchdowns. Ott was the first Warrior to top 300 yards since Luke Trick ran for 311 in a 2005 win over Loyalsock. Three of his four touchdowns came on runs of 37 or more yards and Ott now has 795 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
Game of the week
Montoursville at Mount Carmel: The Warriors have a chance to exact some revenge after losing to Mount Carmel in last year's District 4 Class AA semifinals. They also have a chance to make a big statement. Montoursville split two games with Mount Carmel last year, winning a 41-37 thriller in the regular season. Expect another great game.