Enter the South Williamsport weight room last summer and one often found John Peters alone. It was just he, the weights and his thoughts.
The games were still months away, but Peters was thinking big.
Many other Mounties soon arrived, but Peters always was the first one there. He had the unenviable task of replacing South all-time leading rusher Brandon Stonge and was not going to let the program slip because he was ill-prepared.
South Williamsport fullback John Peters (44) has been blocking for Dominick Bragalone (32) en route to the Lycoming County single-season rushing record.
It has not. The program is as strong as ever and Peters is a big reason why. Peters played outstanding on both sides of the ball Friday at Mansfield University as South defeated Wellsboro, 42-28 in the District 4 Class A semifinals, ending Wellsboro's perfect season in the process. Peters ran for 68 yards and a touchdown while providing his usual strong blocking and solid defense.
Up next is a district championship Saturday at undefeated Southern Columbia.
"It's always fun running the ball and everyone likes to touch the ball but, honestly, for me, I just want the team to win," Peters said. "That's all that matters."
That is why Peters is fine seeing Dominick Bragalone have a year for the ages. South is 10-1, NTL champions again and playing for a district title again. He would be the featured back on many teams, but Peters is content.
A He-Man in pads, the 5-foot-9, 200-pounder is a superb blocker and sometimes acts as an extra offensive lineman. Peters also is effective when his number is called, running for 426 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and scoring eight touchdowns. Friday, Peters also kept a second-quarter, go-ahead scoring drive alive when he turned a screen pass into a 17-yard gain on 3rd-and-long.
"He is the best fullback in the area, there's no question," South safety Jon Pulizzi said. "He was blessed to have learned from Brandon Stonge last year, one of the best fullbacks we've ever had, and that made him a lot better."
Peters inspires his teammates, competing while battling Type 1 diabetes. He wears an insulin pump while playing but is going all-out on every play. Peters was part of a swarming defense that intercepted all-state candidate Mike Pietropola three times Friday.
His performance was strong, but might have been lost by some who focused on Bragalone running for 316 yards and four touchdowns or Sean McCormick making 10 tackles. Again, though, Peters was one of the team's most valuable players.
"John Peters is a coach's dream because he is probably the hardest worker on the team," South coach Chris Eiswerth said. "He asks for nothing and gives us everything. For him to play the way he does both ways is huge. He blocks extremely well and I can't say enough about him."
A year ago, Stonge ran for 1,501 yards and 18 touchdowns. Peters might not have those type of numbers but he has come up just as big. Replacing a team MVP is never easy, but neither is football. Peters like the challenges. He likes working. The tougher the challenge, the better he plays.
Peters has filled those big shoes left by Stonge. And he is making it so that another fullback will have to replace some more big ones two years from now.
"Peters was the first one in the weight room all year. Every time in the summer he was always there before everyone else," Pulizzi said. "His work ethic is unbelievable. He's the hardest working player I've ever known."
TOUGH TAWNEY: Jersey Shore two-way starter Jordan Tawney had big expectations entering the season. He was part of a dedicated seven-player senior class that pulled the team together in the offseason leading by example and words. Just two games into the season, though, it appeared Tawney might have played his last game.
The quarterback/safety broke a finger on his right hand in Week 2 at Shamokin and had surgery shortly thereafter. He missed the next two games but that was it. Wearing a protective club on his hand and withstanding the pain, Tawney returned to defense in Week 5. He returned to offense four weeks later and Jersey Shore has not lost since.
The Bulldogs (5-6) have put together a remarkable turnaround season and Tawney is in the middle of it. He played strong defense and ran for 37 yards and a touchdown in Friday's 24-14 District 4 Class AAA semifinal win over top-seeded Shikellamy. A year after going 0-10, Jersey Shore is playing for a district championship this Friday at Selinsgrove.
"I was devastated when I got hurt because I worked hard since last December. To miss my senior year would be tragic, but I fought through it and worked something out to wear that protective club," Tawney said. "I had to help the team the best I could even when I was not able to play and it feels good to know we've all gotten something done."
The defense played well when Tawney returned, but Jersey Shore was in the midst of a four-game losing streak when he returned to offense against Milton. Jersey Shore utilized him out of the Wildcat and Tawney made an immediate impact, running for 76 yards on eight carries. The Bulldogs rallied for a 42-39 win in the game's final minute and have not stopping winning since.
Tawney ran for 118 yards and a touchdown against Central Mountain in the regular-season finale win and was part of another big comeback Friday. Jersey Shore scored 24 straight second-half points and shut out Shikellamy in the second half while winning its first playoff game since 2008.
"The main thing with Jordan playing both ways is he's a huge defensive threat but having him back offensively is great too because he has a fantastic attitude," senior linebacker Cody Bradley said. "He gives us a lot with his ability but even more with his attitude toward the game and rest of his teammates."
Tawney is similar to his senior teammates. He gets everything he can out of his ability and he gives everything he can to the team, making sure each player knows he is part of a family, as much as a team.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is a solid athlete who can beat teams with his legs, arm and head. Just as important, he is the consummate leader.
"Jordan is a tremendous athlete and a tremendous leader," senior defensive end/wide receiver Troy Rowan said. "Broken fingers or not, he's a huge threat. He makes all the right choices and he really leads our team into a winning position. As seniors we try to lead the team the right way and Jordan is a prime example."
EXTRA POINTS: Lewisburg safety Drew Newcomb concluded an outstanding senior season by intercepting his ninth pass in last Friday's 23-6 playoff loss at Danville. Newcomb intercepted at least one pass in seven different games ... Milton quarterback Brady Chappell threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-18 District 4 Class AAA semifinal loss to Selinsgrove. Chappell, a four-year starter, topped 4,000 career yards. He threw for 4,037 yards and 32 touchdowns during his scholastic career, topping 1,000 yards three times. Milton fullback Josh Brown played his final game too, finishing the season with 1,128 yards and 22 touchdowns ... North Penn quarterback Bo Burleigh threw his program-record 22nd touchdown pass in Friday's 28-6 Eastern Conference semifinal loss at North Schuylkill. The first-time starter also set a program record with 1,663 yards and will be back next year. Burleigh threw 15 touchdowns and just one interception over his final six games.
Dr. Masse's area top five
1. South Williamsport (10-1): The Mounties are one of the district's best defenses against the spread. They have played two straight teams that featured 2,500-yard passers in the district semifinals and have played both about as well as a defense can. South beat standout quarterback Ricky Klingerman and Bloomsburg 32-16 in last year's playoffs before edging it in this year's season opener, 27-26. Together, Klingerman and Pietropola threw 11 interceptions this season. Seven of those have come against South Williamsport. Ryan Seagrave had an interception in both games this season and has a team-high four. His fourth-quarter interception triggered a 22-point fourth-quarter against the area's top-ranked defense.
"We studied last year's Bloom playoff game a lot because they run similar offenses. They both had great quarterbacks," Pulizzi said. "We prepared hard and did what we had to do."
2. Loyalsock (8-3): The Lancers made the most of their second chance against Towanda, exacting revenge for a Week 8 loss and thumping in 48-20 in Friday's District 4 Class AA quarterfinals. Loyalsock won its first playoff game since its championship season of 2009 and the defense continued its late-season resurgence, allowing only 40 rushing yards. The Lancers were gashed by the run throughout the season's first eight weeks, but have allowed just 243 yards during their three-game winning streak. Linebacker Lucas Faubion continues making big plays as does Mickey Haller who also doubles as one of the district's premier tight ends. The offensive line was outstanding against Towanda, paving the way for 508 yards. The Lancers get another second chance Friday, this time against Danville which bounced it from last year's playoffs and edged it 23-21 in Week 2.
3. Montoursville (10-1): The injuries continue mounting, but Montoursville continues winning. The Warriors defeated Mifflinburg, 27-16 in Friday's AA quarterfinals and have reached 10 wins for the first time since 2008 when it last reached the district final. Montoursville has a shot to reach that point again this Friday when it hosts Troy. Quarterback Griffin Dunne has come up big down the stretch and threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns against Mifflinburg. Tight end Wyatt Entz had a career game and Curtis Miller caught a touchdown, providing some balance to Alec Rothrock running for 127 yards and two scores. Montoursville has lost many of its standout players to injury but is two wins from a championship as the next man continues getting the job done. A team with 22 seniors has made steady progress the past two seasons. Friday, it has a chance to take its biggest step yet.
4. Wellsboro (10-1): The Green Hornets lost their first game but still had the best season in program history. They won 10 games for the first time, had an undefeated regular season for the first time and captured their first NTL Big School championship since 1977. It was another huge step forward for a program that won just one game in 2010 but that has improved every year for the past three seasons. Running back Jermain Brooks ran for 129 yards against South and became the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2008 despite playing in a pass-heavy offense. Quarterback Mike Pietropola shattered area records with 2,755 yards and 39 touchdowns and should receive strong all-state consideration as should wide receiver Brandon Owlett who finished with 45 catches for 1,127 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first year playing football.
5. Jersey Shore (5-6): The Bulldogs are a strong blend of senior leaders and talented underclassmen. Senior Utoa Agae-Naipo ran for 124 yards and a touchdown against Shikellamy while sophomore nose guard Bryce Charles helped spark a spirited defensive performance by making four tackles for losses. Jersey Shore has come from behind three times in the fourth quarter to win and has not let anything rattle it. The Bulldogs are trying to win their first district title since 1997 after winning three games the previous four years and are hoping to pay back Selinsgrove for a regular-season loss the same way they did Shikellamy.
"They way we are mentally as a team has improved tremendously," Rowan said. "Being down 14-0 we didn't give up. That's the main thing, the game is never over. Being down 14-0 and going into half all the seniors said it's 0-0. We just went back out there and did our thing."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Kyle Datres, Loyalsock and Dominick Bragalone, South Williamsport: Datres displayed his big-game pedigree against Towanda, running for a career-high 233 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for 85 yards and two scores and playing strong defense at safety. Datres has topped both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving while having a hand in 30 touchdowns. Bragalone ran for 316 yards and four touchdowns against a defense that was allowing 151 yards per game, scoring three times from 40 or more yards. The junior has run for a whopping 2,940 yards and 45 touchdowns.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Jersey Shore at Selinsgrove: All four district playoff games are exciting ones but considering how far Jersey Shore has come this one shoots to No. 1. If Jersey Shore can beat the defending champions Friday it would be one of the area's all-time greatest turnarounds.