Loyalsock quarterback Kyle Datres and Montoursville running back Cameron Ott are more than just two of District 4's best all-around players.
They also are best friends. Except for this Friday.
It's Montoursville-Loyalsock week. And no matter how close the bonds cross-creek friends share, they are enemies Friday.
"We're friends off the field but when it comes to being on the field there's no more friends," Datres said following Friday's 34-7 statement win over Lewisburg. "You just want to win."
The Datres-Ott friendship is one that symbolizes what makes this Battle of the Bridge rivalry great. Because only a creek separates the two towns, many Montoursville and Loyalsock players are good friends. But they also have played against each other since they first started playing football.
Familiarity sometimes breeds contempt and that is especially true in sports. The more an athlete knows someone, the closer he is to that person, the more he wants to be him.
It's that way every November as Montoursville and Loyalsock always play intense games. Current players have parents and grandparents who have played in this game. They have heard the stories, they know how big this is and they want to create their own memories.
"That's how it is. We've been looking forward to it all year, all offseason. That's what has kept us driving," Loyalsock tackle Jake Glavin said. "Everything, whether it's basketball, baseball or football, we just go at it."
Not to overhype the game, but this has the recipe to be one of the rivalry's classics. If both teams were 0-9 it would still be a big deal, but this time the HAC-II championship is at stake, making this the biggest cross-creek rivalry game since the 2007 District 4 Class AA semifinals.
Loyalsock won that game 21-14 in overtime and there were few dry eyes on either side of the field afterward. Playoffs await both teams, but that could be the case Friday too. Montoursville (9-0) is playing for its first perfect regular season of the 21st century and Loyalsock is hoping to wreck it.
The pregame script could not be written much better. Loyalsock is coming off its best performance and Montoursville enters after making a last-minute rally to beat Mifflinburg, 35-31. Both have dealt with injuries and adversity but both are playoff-bound and are where they want to be heading into this game.
After nine weeks, these friends turned rivals finally get a chance to earn those local bragging rights. They get a chance to win a championship in the sweetest fashion-against the team they love to beat the most.
"The Montoursville game is always a major component in what the season is for Loyalsock football," Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. "It means a lot, you can't discount that. It's a great rivalry.
"We're looking forward to having a great contest against them."
They always all are.
HUMAN HIGHLIGHT: Datres usually is good for a few highlight plays per game but he might have made his best this season against Lewisburg. Midway through the third quarter, a Lewisburg linebacker blitzed and drilled Datres from his blindside, wrapping him in the process. What appeared to a sure sack, however, became a play reminiscent of the one Eli Manning made in Super Bowl XLII right before he hit David Tyree on the game-winning drive.
Datres somehow escaped, rolled to his right and threw a perfect 19-yard pass to tight end Mickey Haller on the sideline.
"It's kind of like cheating at times," Van Fleet said. "We practice escape, but we don't practice escape with someone wrapped around your legs and jumping out of there or whatever he did."
"I saw someone coming off my backside at the last second. I tried to duck under and somehow I squirmed out of there," Datres said. "We've worked with the receivers on scrambling drills and Mickey came back to the ball and made a great catch."
Datres has accounted for 1,997 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Even when plays break down, he has the ability to extend them and create something good. More important, he is a consummate leader and has helped Loyalsock clinch its first winning season since 2009. The Houdini act he pulled Friday was special but it was really just Datres being Datres.
"We should probably have more sacks allowed than we do. He makes us look good," Glavin said. "He's just really good."
"He works extremely hard at what he does," Van Fleet said. "All the sports he plays, when it's in season he doesn't want to play anything else. He just goes 100 percent, nonstop and knows what his job is. If he got into checkers I'm sure he would be a great checkers player too, that's how he is."
ANOTHER SHOWDOWN: Wellsboro-North Penn is one of the NTL's versions of Montoursville-Loyalsock. And this also will be the biggest rivalry game in some time since there are a lot of playoff ramifications.
Wellsboro (9-0) is playing for a perfect regular season and North Penn is playing for a District 4 Class AA playoff berth. The Panthers (6-3) earn that spot with a win or a Mifflinburg loss to Lewisburg. They have a chance to damper their rival's dream season, clinch a playoff berth a year earlier than many expected and pay back a team that thumped them last year.
"I couldn't ask for anything better," North Penn defensive lineman Ryan Turner said following Saturday's 44-20 win at CMVT.
"It's going to be a tough one but we have to execute our offense and be disciplined and play our hearts out," running back Bryce Zaparzynski said. "This is the game that as a kid you can't wait to play in when you get older."
BULLDOG MENTALITY: Jersey Shore may have recorded a program-changing win Friday when it drove 88 yards in the game's final few minutes to upset current District 4 Class AAA top seed Milton, 42-39. The Bulldogs (3-6) are District 4's most improved team this season and had played some of the district's premier teams tough. Now they have proven they can beat them and that is a huge step for a team that has just five seniors and went winless a year ago.
Quarterback Logan English led the 14-play game-winning drive and Brody Smith made a spectacular 10-yard touchdown catch with 39 seconds remaining. English became Jersey Shore's first 1,000-yard passer since his older brother Taylor in 2009 while Utoah Agae-Naipo ran for 167 yards and two scores. The Bulldogs had many chances to break in a wild game that went back and forth but they never did.
This is a close-knit team and players on the sidelines held hands throughout the game-winning drive. It was a symbol for a team that belives in itself and in each other. Whatever the situation, Jersey Shore believes it can win. The five seniors have set a superb example and Jordan Tawney has driven that home, playing on both sides with two broken fingers.
The Bulldogs clinched a playoff berth with that win and have as much a shot as anyone to win the district championship.
EXTRA POINTS: Muncy played stifling defense in a 40-0 win over Sayre. The Indians (6-3) allowed just 108 yards and held 1,200-yard rusher Jeremy Kyc to 23 while Maurice Brown intercepted two passes. Quarterback Anthony Barberio threw three touchdown passes and topped 1,000 yards for a second straight year ... Canton continued its resurgence, blanking Montgomery 42-0 while winning its fifth straight. The Warriors (5-4) have rallied from an 0-4 start and still have a shot at the postseason after the defense allowed just 73 yards and John Bowman and Tyler Cole both topped 100 yards rushing ... Milton quarterback Brady Chappell threw for 223 yards and surpassed 1,000 yards for a third straight year. Former Montgomery receiver Corey Kriner caught three of his passes for 61 yards and a touchdown ... Bucktail won a game that symbolizes who it is, edging Pottsville Nativity, 32-30 in overtime. The Bucks were down to 17 players because of injuries but found a way to beat a team that had won three of its last four. Trent Risley accounted for four touchdowns while Willie Hopkins scored a touchdown, intercepted two passes and added 10 tackles ... Central Mountain wide receiver Tyler Pavalko topped 100 yards for a fourth time in a 50-31 win at Athens while quarterback Bryce Bitner topped 1,000 yards.
Dr. Masse's area top five
1. Montoursville (9-0): The resilient Warriors did it again Friday against Mifflinburg, overcoming a second-half deficit for a fourth time in a dramatic 35-31 win. Injuries continue taking a toll and Montoursville continues finding a way to win, this time driving 51 yards in the last four minutes to win on Alec Rothrock's 4-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining. Senior safety Alex Erb has become one of the district's premier players. The standout safety/wide receiver intercepted two passes and also caught six passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. Young players like sophomore Keith Batkowski and freshman Nolan Ott are making big contributions too as the next man up keeps performing well.
2. Wellsboro (9-0): The Green Hornets are NTL Big School champions, have tied the program record for wins and will host a District 4 Class A playoff game. This is all after edging Towanda, 21-14, beating its nemesis for the first time since 1997. Wellsboro has so often put up video-game offensive numbers and the stingy defense has been in the background. This win, though, was all about the defense. The Hornets made a tremendous goal-line stand, forced three turnovers and added three sacks. Brian Doty was seemingly everywhere, making 22 tackles while Wyatt Covert had 14 tackles, a sack an interception and a touchdown. Dylan Prough intercepted a pass and Brandon Owlett (16 touchdowns) forced the game-clinching fumble after catching the go-ahead touchdown pass.
3. South Williamsport (8-1): The defense continues shining as South keeps building momentum for a likely playoff showdown against Wellsboro. It allowed just 97 yards in Friday's 41-0 win over Cowanesque Valley and has held three straight opponents to 25 points. The latest strong performance gave South a share of its second straight NTL Small School championship which it wins outright if it beats Montgomery Friday. Fullback John Peters, normally an outstanding lead blocker, has had a nice season and ran for two touchdowns against CV. Dominick Bragalone ran for 188 yards and two scores. The junior has 2,413 yards and 34 touchdowns. He needs 135 yards to break Darrell Blackman's Lycoming County rushing record and six touchdowns to break Gary Brown's single-season scoring record.
4. Loyalsock (6-3): Offensive linemen Glavin, Justin Wood, Daniel Harrison, Kaden Stensland and Steve Harrison helped Loyalsock dominate the line against Lewisburg. The Lancers controlled the clock and gained big chunks of yards.
"(Offensive line) Coach (Don) Kinney played at Lycoming and is a great coach," Datres said. "He knows everything. He taught these guys everything they know and they executed it."
5. Lewisburg (6-3): The Green Dragons likely will make the playoffs even if they lose at Mifflinburg Friday but can ensure themselves a berth if they win. Quarterback Nick Costigliola threw for a career-high 269 yards against Loyalsock while Ben Frankel had a career-high six catches for 116 yards, but the Dragons need to play better if they hope to be a postseason factor.
Players of the week
Kyle Datres, Loyalsock and Nigel English, Central Mountain: Datres also returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown and returned punts, giving him more than 300 all-purpose yards. English continued his outstanding second-half play, running over and around Athens for 279 yards and two touchdowns in a 50-31 win.
Game of the week
Montoursville at Loyalsock: Considering the rivalry and what these teams bring to the table, Friday night's game is as good as it gets.