As soon as the Loyalsock offensive line grew a lot bigger, the entire team grew a lot better.
Following a 25-14 loss to Central Columbia that dropped his team to 1-2, coach Justin Van Fleet moved brothers Steve and Daniel Harrison-a combined 580 pounds-from the defensive line to the offensive line. Suddenly, the offensive line averaged 261 pounds and all the big boys have been outstanding since.
Loyalsock has won four straight since that shuffle and the offensive line collectively might be the team's MVP. The Lancers have beaten three potential playoff teams the last four weeks and thumped Hughesville, 28-7 last Friday. Loyalsock looks like a serious District 4 Class AA title contender and that big and strong line is a huge reason why.
Loyalsock linemen Kaden Stensland (71), Dan Harrison?(66), Steve Harrison (77) and Jake Glavin (75) are among those have helped the Lancers’ offense improve this season. Above, they blocked for Robbie Klein?(22)?before he was tackled by Hughesville’s Trey Smith (8) Friday night.
"Everything changed after the Central game," said Van Fleet, a former all-star lineman at Loyalsock. "That's the real difference in our team when you look back to the Central game. The offensive line, that's all there is to it. They're playing much better football."
Loyalsock has averaged 34 points and 357 yards the last four weeks. The Lancers gained 378 yards Friday and clinched the win with a 14-play, six-minute drive. Whether running or throwing, Loyalsock is doing both well as the line continues jelling.
The Harrison's have become dominant guards while 275-pound tackle Jake Glavin is as good as anyone around. Fellow tackle Justin Wood is flourishing too, as is center Kaden Stensland. Van Fleet says this is a fun group that is anything but intimidating off the field. On the field, they are becoming a force.
All games 7 p.m., Friday
Tunkhannock at Williamsport
Loyalsock at Towanda
Milton at Montoursville
Muncy at South Williamsport
Selinsgrove at Jersey Shore
Mount Carmel at Hughesville
Central Columbia at Lewisburg
Warrior Run at Montgomery
Tyrone at Central Mountain
Bucktail at Penns Valley
Cowanesque Valley at Canton
Troy at North Penn
Wellsboro at Sayre
"We work hard in practice and go real hard," said Steve Harrison, a 300-pound senior who should be popping up on many colleges' radars. "This year we're running only a couple plays and we just run them and run them so we can perfect them. There are times we feel like we can call out what plays we're running and we just try and get better every week."
A year ago Loyalsock often relied on dynamic quarterback Kyle Datres making big plays but did not have an offense that could slug it out with its running game. That has drastically changed over the last four weeks. Datres still makes big plays but Loyalsock, which has matched last year's win total, also is bruising teams with a running game as subtle as a punch in the face.
First-time player Robbie Klein ran for 141 yards Friday and has topped 100 yards four times. Loyalsock has worn down Troy and Hughesville the last two weeks, using a 9-minute scoring drive against the Trojans (5-2). Datres has more time to throw this season and is 11 yards away from 1,000 while both he and Klein have shots at gaining 1,000 yards. The skill players are fantastic, but would not have those numbers without the offensive line playing so well.
"This is the type of philosophy we want to have. We run the ball and are a power type team that can drive down the clock," Van Fleet said. "We have Kyle and I'm dumb if I don't let him do his thing, but when it comes down to it, we're a traditional offense and we can go spread when we want to. You're able to control the game a lot more. We're a more consistent team this year and that's what we're searching for."
Especially exciting for Van Fleet is how young this line is. Harrison is the only senior and three are sophomores. There is a lot of strength, youth and intelligence. Stensland and Glavin are former Students of the Year and this unit appears to have the total package.
"I was talking to Kyle Datres earlier and I feel comfortable leaving him with a line that's going to be able to do something instead of next year leaving him with his senior season getting shutout," Steve Harrison said. "I'm leaving him with a lot of guys that can do something good."
The schedule remains challenging with three more games against potential playoff teams coming up. Loyalsock is headed in the right direction, though. And it has just the guys it wants leading the way.
"I credit our offensive line for how well we've been playing," running back Saabir Gibson said. "Our offensive line is our rock this year."
1. Montoursville (7-0): Not only have the Warriors been the area's best team through seven weeks, they also have been the most resilient. Playing without standouts Cameron Ott, Mike Signor and Cody Chilcot, Montoursville overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and defeated defending District 4 Class AA champion Danville, 21-10. The Warriors erased 20 and 10-point halftime deficits the last two weeks against teams with 11 combined wins and have outscored three good teams 76-7 in comeback wins. The next man up continues doing the job, the defense is playing nasty and the offensive line is controlling things up front. Add in quarterback Griffin Dunne (232 total yards, two touchdowns) making a series of big plays the last two weeks and some strong leaders and Montoursville has the total package. The defense has allowed no points and only 60 second-half yards the last two weeks against fellow title contenders Lewisburg and Danville.
2. Wellsboro (7-0): The Green Hornets continued rolling, blasting Montgomery 64-14 while building a 56-0 halftime lead. Mike Pietropola threw a record six touchdowns and now is the area's record holder for touchdown passes in a season with 28. Brandon Owlett turned all three of his catches into touchdowns while topping 100 yards for a third time. He leads District 4 in receiving yards (757) and touchdowns (13). Dylan Prough and Kieron Smethers also continued making big plays and the starting defense did not allow a point for a fifth time. Wellsboro plays its last three regular-season games on the road but can return home if it earns one of District 4 Class A's top two seeds. It trails only Southern Columbia right now.
3. South Williamsport (6-1): While Dominick Bragalone topped 300 yards for a third straight week, running for 323 yards and five touchdowns and breaking the South record for touchdowns in a season (28), the defense also made a big statement in a 47-12 win at Sayre. Ian Niklaus made a career-high 16 tackles, John Peters added 11 and Ryan Seagrave returned a fumble for a touchdown. Brett Garbrick added an interception as the defense took turns with Bragalone making big plays. The Mounties clinched their second straight winning season and host Muncy (5-2) in a huge game Friday. Both are unbeaten in the NTL Small School Division and Friday's winner likely will capture the championship.
4. Loyalsock (5-2): Defensive lineman Bryce Losch made a lot of big plays to thwart Hughesville drives. Even when he did not make the tackle, Losch was blowing up plays and helping free up his teammates to stop runners. Linebackers Mickey Haller and Robbie Newton also played strong games, combining for a lot of tackles while also performing well offensively.
5. Lewisburg (5-2): Drew Newcomb has been one of opposing quarterbacks' favorite targets this season. The senior defensive back intercepted his district-high eighth pass in Friday's 49-0 win at Warrior Run. Newcomb has intercepted at least one pass in every game and has been instrumental to Lewisburg's success on both sides of the ball. Lewisburg has forced a district-high 22 turnovers and has held four teams to seven or fewer points. The Green Dragons begin a tough season-ending stretch Friday against Central Columbia as they seek their sixth straight playoff appearance.
Players of the week
Dayton Wood, North Penn and Brady Chappell, Milton: Wood edges out teammate Bo Burleigh (314 yards, 5 touchdowns) after a dominant performance on both sides of the ball. Wood caught four passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-17 win over Wyalusing. Wood also intercepted two passes and made 10 tackles as the Panthers (5-2) won their third straight.
Chappell was brilliant in a big 33-28 comeback win over Selinsgrove. The four-year starting quarterback completed 17 of 20 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown. Chappell completed 17 straight passes at one point as Milton (5-2) overcame a 21-point deficit against the defending District 4 Class AAA champions.
Game of the week
Milton at Montoursville: The top-ranked District 4 Class AAA and AA teams collide Friday in what should be an outstanding game. Milton has topped 30 points in six straight games and Montoursville's defense has been like a vise so that matchup is especially intriguing. These long-time rivals both have championship aspirations and winning this game would be a huge momentum lift.