Alec Rothrock could have cut right toward the sideline, there was some open running room and Montoursville blockers there. Or better yet, he could have cut left, with nothing but green grass in front of him there.
Either option seemed better than running straight ahead at Danville defender Matt Meloy, but that was the option the Montoursville running back selected late in the third quarter. Leaving Meloy in his wake after running through the sophomore, Rothrock galloped the final 16 yards of a 26-yard touchdown run which put the Warriors ahead for good Friday night Memorial.
The touchdown was the detonator of an explosion of emotion and momentum for a Montoursville team which seemed so listless in the first half. The Warriors were dominated in the first half last night, but responded with a brilliant second-half effort to remain undefeated with a 21-10 win over Danville.
Alex Erb of Montoursville catches a touchdown in the third quarter as Danville’s Caleb Klein defends Friday at Montoursville. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
Montoursville took control of the District 4 Class AA playoff race with the win. The Warriors are the lone remaining unbeaten team in District 4 AA. Danville fell to 6-1.
The Warriors have made it a habit to play dominant second halves each of the last two weeks. Last week they overcame a 20-0 deficit against Lewisburg to win, and last night Montoursville overcame a 10-0 halftime deficit after being thoroughly dominated in the first half.
"It's 10-0 at halftime and it felt like we were down three touchdowns," Montoursville head coach J.C. Keefer said. "I felt like we got dominated, and to come out like we did in the second half was a total turnaround. But we have leaders in the locker room who just refuse to give up and cave in."
"They did a nice job of making adjustments, and we didn't really make any adjustments," Danville head coach Jim Keiser said.
Danville had a 14-3 edge in the first half in first downs, and a 44-16 advantage in total plays run. But after putting up 221 yards in the first half, the Ironmen gained just 35 yards in the second half.
In the last two weeks, Montoursville's defense has allowed just 60 yards of offense in the second half. Danville quarterback Weston Baylor rushed for 64 yards in the first half, and minus-12 in the second half.
A Montoursville defense which struggled to recognize Danville's option game and left receivers open for big gains in the first half, buckled down in the second half. Baylor was just 3 of 10 passing in the second half after completing 12 of 20 in the first half.
Danville finished with 124 rushing yards despite playing without its two leading rushers Sam Dressler and Isaiah Croll who both missed the game with injuries.
"We weren't lining up right. Nobody was covering who they were supposed to be covering," Rothrock said of the first half. "We were getting mixed up and we have two guys covering one person and we were leaving a guy open. We just needed to touch up on what we did all week, and we got it done."
Montoursville's offense matched the success of the defense in the second half, and it was thanks to four third-quarter pass completions from Warriors quarterback Griffin Dunne. Danville was stacking the line of scrimmage, playing one-on-one coverage outside with Montoursville receiver Alex Erb, daring the Warriors to beat the Ironmen with the pass. And it's just what Dunne did.
It started with a 30-yard completion down the sideline from Dunne to Erb. Two plays later Erb made a great play in a jump-ball situation to go up and make a catch near the front pylon for a 21-yard touchdown reception. The touchdown cut Danville's lead to 10-7, and it forced Danville to spread its defense out, in turn opening some running lanes for Montoursville.
"We wanted them to try and throw it. And bravo to them, they did it," Keiser said. "They did a great job in the passing game."
"They were manning up on Alex Erb, and you can't do that," Keefer said. "So we're going to throw the ball up to him and let him make a play. Throwing the ball allowed us to do some different things."
It opened up some running room for Rothrock on the next drive when he took a jet sweep and cut it up field where he and Meloy met in a big collision for his 26-yard touchdown run which gave Montoursville its first lead, 14-10.
Rothrock ran for 83 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in place of Cameron Ott, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
Dunne expanded Montoursville's lead on the Warriors' first play of the fourth quarter when he faked the jet sweep and went off right tackle 53 yards for a touchdown. Dunne finished with 16 carries for 126 yards and the touchdown.
"We had kids there at times on Dunne's touchdown run," Keiser said. "I think that was the huge turning point in the ball game."
"(Dunne's) not that guys who is going to sit back there and throw it 25 times, but he can run the ball. So you can't just come off the edge because he can run up the middle and break it outside," Keefer said. "His ability to run the football makes him an efficient and effective passer."