Jovan Garrison cut left and nearly had nothing but grass ahead. Montoursville safety Alex Erb was all that separated the speedy Milton running back from scoring a fourth-down, third-quarter touchdown.
Garrison looked like he would outrun Erb, but the senior safety made a perfect open-field tackle and squashed both the play and the drive. The play symbolized the game because time after time Montoursville's defense was perfect in pressure situations.
Six times, Montoursville prevented Milton from scoring after it crossed the 40-yard line. Three times it did so in the red zone. The defense made huge plays, Alec Rothrock ran for a career-high 233 yards and Griffin Dunne was outstanding on both ends Friday at Memorial Stadium as Montoursville thumped Milton, 28-7 and remained undefeated.
Montoursville's Alec Rothrock catches a pass in front of Milton's Jovan Garrison during the second quarter of the game Friday at Montoursville. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"When they got into our territory it was like we buckled down," Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. "We played good football. It was bend but don't break and get the football back."
"We had to stay mentally tough and play smart football," two-way starting lineman Lucas Shaheen said. "Teams are going to come out and give us their best. We want to come out and give them our best every week."
Montoursville (8-0) scored on its first three first-half possessions, dominated the line of scrimmage and repeatedly turned away an explosive offense that had scored at least 32 points in six straight games. Milton cut a 21-point halftime deficit to 21-7 on Josh Brown's 4-yard touchdown run with 7:40 remaining, but Montoursville clinched the win by mounting a 56-yard drive on the ensuing possession, Rothrock capping it with his second touchdown, an 11-yarder.
Milton drove to the 7-yard line in the game's closing two minutes, but Dunne provided an appropriate finish, jumping a route at the goal line and returning his second interception 52 yards. Dunne and safety Keith Batkowski ended two potential first-half scoring drives by playing outstanding man-to-man coverage and making leaping interceptions. That followed Holden Lodge making a fourth-down stop at the 16-yard line on Milton's first possession.
It was another impressive performance against a strong opponent. A week after holding Danville (7-1) scoreless in the second half, Montoursville nearly shut out a team that leads District 4 Class AAA in playoff points.
"The defense has been great. Everyone knew what they were doing," Rothrock said. "Everyone on the team is contributing. That's helped a lot. That's how we play."
That goes for the offense too. Offensive linemen Shaheen, Ben Cerney, Tommy Williams, Conner Bassett, Wyatt Entz and tight end Derrick Evans were brilliant and paved the way for another strong offensive performance. Montoursville gained 213 yards and scored on its first three drives while running and throwing well. Ethan Jones capped a 64-yard drive to start the game, scoring from two yards out before Dunne continued shining and hit Erb with a 10-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter.
Dunne put the pass where only Erb could catch it, and the senior receiver made a leaping grab to cap a drive that Dunne kept alive by recovering a fumble and running 8 yards for a first down on a third-down play near midfield. Dunne completed 7 of 8 first-half passes, ran for 71 yards and is 13 for 17 over the last two weeks.
The way Montoursville executed, it made it hard to believe that it was again without 1,100-yard rusher Cameron Ott and standout linemen Cody Chilcot and Mike Signor. Whoever Montoursville has used has done the job, though, and Cerney, Williams and Bassett sprung Rothrock for a 59-yard touchdown run that made it 21-0 still early in the second quarter. Rothrock, a tough runner who was outstanding at gaining yards after contact, exploded through a hole on the left side and went untouched into the end zone.
"It was a beautiful hole. It opened right up," Rothrock said. "They did great. They were making holes and sticking with their blocks. They were doing everything you need to do."
"It helps to have talented running backs behind you," Shaheen said. "If you give them a crease they'll get good yardage out of it. "
Milton (5-3) overcame a 21-point deficit to beat defending District 4 champion Selinsgrove last week and had visions of a repeat performance after Brown shook off a tackler at the line of scrimmage and scored on a 4-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down play. The senior fullback was outstanding against one of the district's best defenses, running for 138 yards.
Brown's 58-yard third-quarter run gave Milton the ball at the 19-yard line. It looked like he was going to score, but Erb made a hustling tackle, chasing him down from behind. Four plays later, Erb saved another touchdown with his open-field stop of Garrison. No matter the situation, nothing comes easy against this defense.
"This team has been doing a lot of things that Montoursville football hasn't done, like winning at the Silver Bowl and things like that," Keefer said. "We hadn't won on Homecoming in a few years so that was important tonight winning for our kids."