A dramatic game just ended minutes earlier. In front of thousands, Montoursville edged South Williamsport, 38-36 at Rodney K. Morgans Stadium as two District 4 heavyweights renewed a great rivalry.
While South was disappointed, it also was impressed. The entire Montoursville team made a statement, but the offensive line especially stood out. That verification came not from Montoursville, but from South.
"It was pretty neat," Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. "One of their linemen came over here and said, 'Wow, your line shocked us. We didn't know how tough they were.'"
Montoursville’s Keith Batkowski had plenty of big holes to run through in Friday night’s victory at South Williamsport.
They are really tough. And if opening night is any indication, they are really good too.
Mike Signor, Ben Cerney, Caleb Frantz, Logan Vargo, Blake Berresford and tight end Wyatt Entz dominated the line of scrimmage against a big and solid South defense, paving the way for 426 yards. Keith Batkowski ran for a career-high 275 yards and three touchdowns while the line helped Montoursville score on four straight possessions between the second and fourth quarters.
Montoursville might have made it 5 for 5 but the line's last emphatic statement deemed it unnecessary. After South pulled within 38-36 late in the fourth quarter, Montoursville gained nine yards on three plays and faced a 4th-and-1 from the South 45. Keefer could have punted and pinned South back deep with no timeouts and less than a minute remaining.
Instead, he put the game in the hands of his line and offense. Good call.
The line won the battle up front again and Batkowski bounced outside before taking off down the left sideline for a game-clinching 34-yard run. Vargo and Frantz are first-time starters but Keefer never doubted his new line would seal the win.
"I thought, 'wait a second we can end this game right now, let's give it to Keith,'" Keefer said. "They did the job and it worked out."
"It was good that he could rely on us in that situation and we obviously got the job done," said Signor, who played a great game at center and on the defensive line too. "They just stuffed all the middle gaps and we were ready for that. We expected them to do that with short yardage and basically it was just a wedge and we drove them off the ball."
Montoursville trailed 18-17 at half, but the line's performance had it feeling good. The Warriors were wearing on South, putting together long drives, including a last-minute 79-yard touchdown march that made it a one-point halftime game. That was a preview of things to come as Montoursville continued exploding off the ball and shining in the Warriors' new no-huddle offense.
The Warriors moved at will throughout the second half, doing it through the air and on the ground while constantly answering South's scores. Sophomore quarterback Brycen Mussina threw for 122 yards and two touchdowns in his first two starts and Batkowski made the most of his blocks, getting extra yards by bouncing off tacklers, being disciplined, reading those blocks and finishing his runs strong.
As big as the opening-night win was against the state's No.-2 ranked Class A team, Montoursville is not celebrating. The Warriors took the weekend to savor the win but are back to work now.
Time will to tell what this win propels Montoursville toward but it was a pretty impressive start. And the Warriors have to feel good about the line pushing the way forward.
"We've been working at this since January," Signor said. "Losing 22 seniors we had to get started early and that got us prepared for this. From coming in on Sundays and working four days a week during the summer we were always working."
Thus far, it shows.
STEPPING UP: South showed plenty in defeat, constantly coming back in the second half even after reigning Class A State Player of the Year Dominick Bragalone went down with leg cramps. The Mounties scored on consecutive possessions after Bragalone left and the all-stater displayed his toughness after returning, gaining 49 yards and scoring a touchdown as South pulled within 38-36.
The blessing in Bragalone's second-half absence was South showed it has a lot of other weapons too. Quarterback Matt Boone threw for a career-high 150 yards while running for 31 more, totaling three touchdowns. Riley Thomas caught 5 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns and also shined on special teams. John Peters alternated between fullback and tailback and gained 47 hard yards, taking over the game for a while in the third quarter.
Put a healthy Bragalone into the mix and defenses will have a lot to think about moving forward. That is a good thing too since South has another tough game coming Friday against Towanda.
Young South players made an impact too. Freshman outside linebacker Gideon Green was all over the field, making nine tackles. Sophomore lineman Connor Rutan played a lot off the bench and sophomore fullback Keenan Holloway was key when Peters moved to tailback.
"We fell a little short, but we have nine more and we're going to get after it and go after this again. We have some youth mixed in with this good senior group and they did well," South coach Chris Eiswerth said. "We have to play Towanda and they're a very good football team, but the kids know what is ahead of them. We're going to get back to working and see what we can do."
SILVER LINING: Loyalsock lost its season opener, 25-22 at Mount Carmel in a showdown of District 4 Class AA heavyweights. The game went back and forth, Mount Carmel made a last-minute field goal and Loyalsock lost on a controversial flag pick-up but positives were produced. Playing without standout two-way starting lineman Jake Glavin, Loyalsock erased an eight-point second-half deficit and also received a playoff atmosphere right off the bat.
"I think we came out a little harder than most expected," said cornerback/wide receiver Fletcher Quigley, who caught a game-tying 55-yard touchdown pass. "We lost a lot of kids. Nobody likes to lose, and I especially don't like to lose to a rival, but we can take a lot of positives out of the film. We just have to forget about it and move on to next week."
This was the third straight Loyalsock-Mount Carmel game that came down to either the last play or the last minute. The Lancers won the first two, but can still use this defeat as a springboard. Ranked No. 4 in Class AA to start the season, Loyalsock will have some added incentive entering Friday's game at Central Columbia to show it does belong among the state's elite.
"We've got to come out of this with some fire," Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. "The kids know how to lay a tough, hard-nosed football game for four quarters. It's the first game and to execute down to the button against a good football team away, that's something we look forward to improving from."
EXTRA POINTS: Williamsport quarterback Isaiah Hankins put on a show in his first varsity game. The sophomore was brilliant in a 34-33 loss to Central Mountain, completing 15 of 21 passes for 232 yards and four touchdowns while running for 84 yards and another score. Hankins nearly helped Williamsport erase a 14-point third-quarter deficit and received a big lift from Jerah Reeves who had a career-high 135 yards and caught three touchdowns ... Central Mountain's Hunter Weaver and Justin Neff also were brilliant in that game. Weaver ran for a career-high 157 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries while Neff scored three touchdowns in three different ways, off a rush, a catch and a kickoff return. Neff's receiving and kick return touchdowns covered 114 yards ... Warrior Run made a nice statement, pounding rival Muncy, 29-6 while winnings its first season opener since 2008. The Defenders dominated all facets, did not allow any offensive points and led 29-0 at halftime. Quarterback Frank James shined in his first start, throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns while Ted Bender intercepted two passes ... Hughesville running back Nick Yeager dazzled in a 46-14 win at East Juniata. The senior ran for 73 yards and three touchdowns while also returning a kickoff 81 yards for a score. Quarterback Logan Henry completed 9 of 12 passes for a career-high 211 yards ... North Penn-Mansfield senior Bryce Zaparzynski continued showing why he is one of the area's most versatile players. The running back ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns while returning an interception 48 yards for a score in a 46-8 rout of CMVT.
Dr. Masse's top five in high school football
1. Montoursville (1-0): Injuries forced Batkowski to make his first start in the District 4 Class AA semifinals last year against eventual champion Troy. He showed his potential that night, running for 173 yards. That might have just been the start. Standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 155 pounds, Batkowski does not appear intimidating but he runs like a 200-pounder. The junior displayed nice speed and agility while getting numerous yards after contact, something that did not happen often last year.
"He bounced it at the right times, cut it at the right times and that's what he does," Keefer said. "Our line blocks very well and he's able to read blocks. He gives us some more flexibility. We can call a play and say you zone block and let Keith feel it out and boom, he finishes the run where last year he'd get hit and that's where went down. Now he's getting hit and bouncing off and finishing runs and getting the extra yards and that's where you wear a team down."
2. Loyalsock (0-1): Quarterback Kyle Datres scored on one of the most electrying runs area fans will ever against Mount Carmel. The senior broke containment, darted toward the sideline and leaped a tackler-who was not bent over-before completing the 31-yard run. He finished with 134 rushing yards while sophomore running back Marty Clark showed a lot of potential and ran for 41 yards and a game-tying 2-point conversion.
3. Jersey Shore (1-0): The Bulldogs are above .500 for the first time since late in 2007 after defeating Bellefonte, 31-7. Jersey Shore won its first season opener since 2000 and helped coach Tom Gravish defeat a team he led to a 1999 District 6 championship. The defense could be one of the area's best and played strong, allowing just 159 yards and forcing four turnovers. Brody Smith intercepted two passes and has six since the start of last year's postseason. Derek Leese played a strong all-around game, catching six passes and returning an interception for a touchdown. Running back Levi Lorson gained a career-high 127 yards and quarterback Logan English completed 12 of 13 passes. The defending District 4 Class AAA champions face a tough test Friday at Shikellamy. The rivals split two games last year with Jersey Shore rallying in the second half to win in the district semifinals.
4. Wellsboro (1-0): The Green Hornets lost a lot of good players from last year's NTL Big School champion but looked strong in a 48-0 pounding of Cowanesque Valley. All-state quarterback Mike Pietropola picked up where he left off last year, completing 16 of 17 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score. He has 41 touchdown passes in his last 12 games. Nick Marple showed he is ready to help fill the void left by receivers Brandon Owlett and Dylan Prough, catching a career-high eight passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Wellsboro can run too and Levi Mack gained a career-high 88 yards on eight carries. The defense was ranked No. 1 in the area last year and dominated CV, allowing just 76 yards. The Hornets play their home opener Friday against Muncy.
5. South Williamsport (0-1): Senior lineman Sam Buck made a nice impact in his first game back after tearing his ACL in Week 3 at CMVT last year. Buck, a 6-2, 280-pound two-way starter, made five tackles and also was part of a line that helped South gain 390 yards. He and Cody Nelson form a tough duo on the left side and give the line a nice foundation to build around. Linebacker Nate Koletar made the most of his first start and made seven tackles while breaking up a pass.
Player of the week
Zach Shadle, Montgomery: The senior running back had one of the greatest nights in Lycoming County history, running for 398 yards and three touchdowns while helping Montgomery defeat Bucktail, 32-22. Shadle, who had never scored a varsity touchdown or run for more than 30 yards in a game, scored on runs of 91, 80 and 55 yards as Montgomery erased a 10-point halftime deficit and won its opener for the first time since 2001. Shadle's 398 yards are the second-most in county history. To put the performance in perspective, Montgomery ran for 122 yards as a team during the entire 2012 season.
Game of the week
Athens at Hughesville: Both teams were perennial playoff teams for a decade but fell on hard times last year, combining to win four games. Both are 1-0, though, and a win Friday could give the winner a big boost toward reaching the District 4 Class AA playoffs. Both teams look like sleepers in the Class AA field and Friday offers a chance to prove it.