South’s line play belies experience

As fourth-quarter action took place near the Canton 30-yard line, most of the South Williamsport starting offensive linemen kneeled together at their 30-yard line. The game was ongoing, but the outcome had been decided and the scene was striking.

Even away from the field, the linemen were in a league of their own.

The South offensive line played a tremendous game Friday against Canton, clearing the way for 486 yards as the Mounties cruised to a 49-21 mercy-rule win. Cody Nelson, Sam Buck, Nick Keeler, Noah Martin, Ian Niklaus and tight ends Tyler Schonewolf and Josh Wein dominated up front, helped Dominick Bragalone break the single-game South rushing record with 301 yards and helped South score on six of the seven possessions they played.

It was an impressive statement made by a unit that has just one returning starter. And that starter, Martin, only played half the season on the line, moving full-time to defense after having a stellar season there in 2012. One could call it a rebuilt line, but it would be more apt to call it a reloaded line.

“We felt we had some pretty big shoes to fill. We had a big and strong offensive line last year,” Niklaus said. “This year we knew we had a lot of guys come out and step up and we knew we had to be ready to go.”

They have been.

South is 2-0 for a second straight year and the line is a huge reason why. The Mounties are averaging 387 yards thus far and have recorded quality wins over Bloomsburg and Canton. The Canton defense was built to stop the run, loading eight men in the box, but the line overpowered it as South gained 326 first-half yards and took a 35-0 halftime lead.

Bragalone received much of the glory following his record-breaking night and he was brilliant. But the line helped make it happen, giving him big running lanes before watching him reward it by breaking away for long scores. It was a reciprocal relationship that paid huge dividends.

“They’ve been great,” Bragalone said. “They’ve all been in the weight room working as hard as they can. You can’t do it without the line playing well.”

“Dom comes up after every play and we pick him up and he thanks us,” Niklaus said. “He understands us, we understand him. It’s a good thing we have going.”

A year ago, South had a similar thing working as it used its power running game to ignite a 10-win season, a District 4 Class A championship appearance and a NTL Small School title. Nearly all those linemen graduated but South has experienced similar success thus far. Bragalone has 513 yards, fullback John Peters is averaging nearly seven yards per carry and Ryan Foran turned his first varsity carry into a 78-yard touchdown.

The line may be inexperienced but it combines an old-school work ethic with strength and size. It averages 228 pounds and has been good blocking from all angles. Nelson and Buck are tough on the left side, Niklaus and Martin opened some huge holes on the right side and Keeler has been terrific at center, clearing up the middle.

Collectively, the linemen did not play together a lot last year. They watched and learned. Now they are the ones showing the younger Mounties how to do it.

“The offensive and defensive lines really came out and played great (Friday),” South coach Chris Eiswerth said. “They make you look smart because they are so darn talented. We’re so pleased with what they are doing up front.”

Extra encouraging for South is this unit is just starting to establish its chemistry. The Mounties took a huge leap forward last year and had their best season in 15 years. They have the potential for another outstanding season in 2013.

And once again it has a strong and tough offensive line helping pave the way.

FIGHTING BACK: Jersey Shore was one of the area’s youngest teams last year and took its collective lumps while playing against a daunting schedule. The Bulldogs, though, flashed their ability and one could see the team being able to do some good things once everything came together.

That happened Friday.

Jersey Shore showed why it could be one of the year’s breakout teams, going on the road and thumping Shamokin, 33-14 while snapping a 13-game losing streak that dated back to 2011. The Bulldogs owned the line of scrimmage, holding Shamokin to 49 rushing yards a week after it ran well against Pottsville. Jersey Shore continued playing well offensively too, gaining 377 yards and running the ball well for a second straight week. Utoah Agae-Naipo was a beast, gaining a career-high 203 yards and scoring twice.

Quarterback Logan English has come on strong in his junior season and threw three touchdowns, two to Brody Smith. Jersey Shore is looking good early in the season and only has room to grow since many underclassmen are starting. The Bulldogs no longer carry the baggage of the losing streak either and look like a new, hungry team.

Look out.

STATEMENT WINS: Wellsboro and North Penn are archrivals, but together, they won huge games Friday while shaking up the NTL Big School championship picture. Wellsboro (2-0) beat Troy for the first time since 2008, 26-17 while North Penn (1-1) routed defending champion Athens, 44-20. The Panthers handed Athens its first league loss since 2011 and won there for the first time in the 21st century.

The NTL basically has been a two-team race between Athens and Towanda since 2003 and Troy went 8-3 last year. Things could be changing in 2013 as both Wellsboro and North Penn now look like serious contenders.

Wellsboro stymied Troy’s powerful running game and the defense allowed only 10 offensive points while quarterback Mike Pietropola played another brilliant game, consistently finding all of his big-play receivers. The Hornets were 5-5 last year but were two plays from being a seven-win team. Many of those players, including strong two-way starter Wyatt Covert (96 yards rushing) are back and Wellsboro seems like a team on a mission, also routing improved Wyalusing, 49-8 in its season opener.

North Penn lost to District 4 Class AA title contender Loyalsock in its opener but came back strong against Athens. The Panthers lost some quality players to graduation but excelled in all facets against Athens, opening a 36-6 halftime lead. Running back Bryce Zaparzynski ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns and now has six touchdowns this season. Quarterback Bo Burleigh played a fantastic game in his second varsity start, throwing for 216 yards while running for another score.

EXTRA POINTS: Hughesville (0-2) might be winless but progress is being made. Two weeks into last year, the Spartans had been mercy-ruled twice. This year, they have either held a fourth-quarter lead or been tied in the fourth quarter. Friday, they looked on the verge of pulling a big upset against Bloomsburg, taking a seven-point halftime lead, before losing 35-21. Junior Clint Snyder had a big game, running for 167 yards and scoring on an 80-yard touchdown … Central Mountain quarterback Bryce Bitner has thrown five touchdowns in his first two varsity starts … Three Milton running backs, Jayson English, Norman Whaley and Josh Brown, topped 100 yards in Milton’s 61-21 win over Warrior Run … A nice moment took place late in the South game when autistic Canton kicker Clayton Mead delivered an impressive kickoff. Canton’s cheerleaders chanted Mead’s name as he prepared to kick and he was greeted with a stream of high-fives and head pats from happy teammates following the kick.

Dr. Masse’s area weekly top five

1. Montoursville (2-0): The Warrior defense again was nasty in Friday’s 41-0 pasting of defending HAC-II champion Central Columbia. The starting unit has not allowed a point yet while surrendering only 70 rushing yards. Central had only seven first downs Friday and three of those came via penalties. Junior linebacker Wyatt Entz played a big game, intercepting an interception for a first-quarter touchdown that swung momentum while also catching a 61-yard pass as tight end. Montoursville did commit seven first-half penalties for 80 yards and turned the ball over twice so it has plenty of room to grow. And that has to be exciting for the program’s fans.

2. Loyalsock (1-1): The Lancers took part in the district’s best game Friday, losing a 23-21 heartbreaker to defending District 4 Class AA champion Danville, the state’s No. 8 team. The loss stings, but Loyalsock now knows it can beat the best the district has to offer, coming inches shy of winning on a last-second field goal try. The Lancers overcame deficits three times and nearly did so a fourth time while executing their Pistol offense effectively against a defense that blanked Milton in Week 1. Defensive lineman Steve Harrison is one of the area’s best and spent a lot of time in the Danville backfield. The Lancers have the look of a district title contender and could see Danville again in districts if they stay healthy and focused.

3. South Williamsport (2-0): The Mounties are receiving strong performances not just from young players, but also first-time players. Foran, Anthony Caruso, Riley Thomas and Brett Garbrick had not played high school football before this season but all four have shined. Foran nearly took the opening kickoff for a touchdown, Caruso was dominant on the defensive line, Thomas has made big plays in the secondary and Garbrick is 10 for 10 on extra-point tries.

4. Muncy (2-0): Ken Koch does a little bit of everything for Muncy and does all of it well. He has been huge on special teams early and returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in Friday’s 43-13 win at Cowanesque Valley. He also intercepted a pass and is an offensive weapon. Maurice Brown has been one of the area’s biggest weapons thus far and caught four passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns from Anthony Barberio. Brown has four touchdowns in two games and Barberio, a three-year starter, seems poised to have his best season. The Indians have played strong defense and the starters did not allow a point Friday. That unit has surrendered only 10 points in two weeks.

5. Wellsboro (2-0): Brian Doty has been a big part of Wellsboro’s success. The linebacker is one of the best in the NTL and he made 10 tackles against Troy. Wellsboro features an electrifying offense and receivers Brandon Owlett, Kieron Smethers and Dylan Prough all have more than 100 yards. Nick Marple is another dangerous receiver and caught a touchdown against Troy. The Hornets paid back one opponent for an early-season 2012 loss and will try doing so again Friday against Cowanesque Valley. A win there would give Wellsboro its first 3-0 start of the 21st century.

Player of the week

Mike Pietropola, Wellsboro: The junior quarterback has played as well as any in District 4 the first two weeks. He worked hard in the offseason and it has paid off big early. Pietropola has thrown for six touchdowns and 455 yards thus far while completing 71 percent of his passes. The two-year starter shredded Troy, completing 15 of 21 passes for 292 yards and three scores as Wellsboro improved to 2-0 for the first time in five years.

Game of the week

Montoursville at Jersey Shore: The Bulldogs are a team on the rise and are hoping to show how far they have come Friday against the Warriors. Jersey Shore played Montoursville tough last year but turnovers doomed it. This is a new year and a new team, though. Anything can happen in this rivalry game.