Montoursville's mantra this season since training camp has been finish it. The Warriors were in dire straits of not doing that on Friday night for the first time this season when they trailed a .500 Mifflinburg with under 5 minutes remaining.
Like they have all season, however, the Warriors found a way. They lost another player to injury and turned the ball over four times, but this group under coach J.C. Keefer has continued to persevere.
When they trailed by three points with 4:42 remaining and stood 51 yards from taking the lead, there was no panic. This team has trailed at halftime and came back and although there was less time on the clock this time, there was time.
And methodically, the Warriors drove 51 yards on 10 plays and finished off another comeback victory, beating Mifflinburg, 35-31, to remain undefeated at 9-0.
"We believe in each other and we believe we can do it," said Montoursville running back Alec Rothrock, who again filled in for the injured Cameron Ott. "We're a brotherhood and we have heart."
"This group has been in so many different situations this year, up big, down big at the half and now in the fourth quarter," Keefer said. "These kids are so resilient and they do not quit. I love these guys. They are so tough."
Physically and mentally.
The Warriors didn't play their cleanest game of the season, but they gave themselves a chance to win. The game-winning drive began with an incomplete pass, but later in the possession a Griffin Dunne completion to Alex Erb put the Warriors in position at a makeable fourth-and-3 from the Mifflinburg 32. Rothrock, who rushed for over 100 yards, came into motion from right to left and as the eyes of the Mifflinburg defense followed the running back, Dunne slipped a handoff to fullback Matt Shea who squeezed through the line for a first down.
"Matt Shea is not the best running back, but he is just a great player," Keefer said. "Two years ago I was not even sure if he would see the field on Friday nights, but he's worked himself into a role where we can't take him off the field because he is so tough and so smart."
The Warriors used an identical motion on the next play, but this time Dunne took off for a 22-yard carry after Montoursville was called for an illegal motion penalty.
Three Rothrock runs later, the Warriors comeback was complete after he scored from 3 yards out.
Rothrock, who banged up his elbow in the first half and cramped in the second, finished with four touchdowns. Dunne threw for 190 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown pass to Erb in the second quarter. Erb caught six passes for 141 yards, as on a couple of occasions the 6-foot-1 receiver used his height and explosive vertical jump to snap balls from Mifflinburg defenders who were in good position.
"Griffin put it only where I could get it," said Erb, who came into the game Montoursville's leading receiver.
With 51 seconds remaining and leading by three, Montoursville kicker Jim McMahon, who will play for the boys soccer team today in a playoff game, executed a perfect squib kick that left the Wildcats 90 yards away from the go-ahead touchdown after their return man slipped on the Memorial Stadium natural grass.
Mifflinburg converted one first down before turning the ball over on downs.
The Wildcats (4-5), who were tied with North Penn in the District 4 Class AA points standings, missed a massive opportunity to climb back into the middle of the playoff race with one regular-season game remaining. Mifflinburg, which has dropped back-to-back games, faces rival Lewisburg next week.
Montoursville (9-0) also faces its biggest rival next week - Loyalsock. The Warriors will have a chance to clinch homefield throughout the District 4 Class AA playoffs with a win.
Few would have predicted last night's game to go down to the finish after watching the first three offensive plays by Mifflinburg. The Wildcats lost 11 yards on back-to-back carries and followed with an interception that the Warriors turned into a Rothrock 21-yard touchdown run.
But the Warriors had turnover issues of their own, giving the ball away four times (one interception and three fumbles). The miscues allowed the Wildcats to chip away at three different double-digit leads.
Montoursville's fourth turnover was followed by an Erb interception in the end zone that kept the Wildcats from forging ahead, but Mifflinburg's defense forced a fourth-quarter punt and two running plays later it had its first lead of the contest 35-31.
Montoursville's defense, which has allowed an average of 83 rushing yards a game, allowed touchdown runs of 67 and 46 yards in the second half. Tristan Martin, who ended the third quarter with the 67-yard touchdown run, ran five times for 99 yards. The Warriors, though, shut him down when they needed to most.
Facing a third-and-3 at their own 21, the Wildcats attempted the jet sweep to Martin that had been successful on several occasions but on his final carry of the game, the Warriors held him without a yard and forced a punt to set up the game-winning drive and help keep Montoursville's perfection alive.
"We're having a great season and us seniors want to win every game we play," said Erb.
One more win in their regular-season finale and the Warriors can say they finished it.