Millionaires feeling good after latest football victory

Two trips inside the Dallas 30-yard line produced no points, the offense gained minus-8 yards on its last four first-half possessions and Dallas mounted a last-minute drive while taking a seven-point halftime lead Saturday.

These were the kinds of things that would have demoralized Williamsport in the past. The implosion usually would quickly start after something went wrong.

Not this time. It is a new year and a new Millionaire team.

Instead of lamenting what could have been, Williamsport focused on what could be. The Millionaires played angry but under control and dominated the second half in all facets, scoring 21 second-half points while beating Dallas, 21-7. There are more mountains to climb for a team that had lost 15 of its previous 16 games, but Saturday’s performance could be a sign of good things to come.

This could be the team that starts bringing back Williamsport football.

“This was a real big win,” linebacker/fullback Justin Hoffman said. “Heart is a big thing for us. You have to want it.”

Williamsport does. The Millionaires had lost three straight entering Dallas and went 14 straight quarters without scoring any offensive points. Still, they never buckled. They just went back to work and made big plays on both sides of the ball and came together.

Dallas is a team that lost only 7-0 to Coughlin (4-1) and that gave a serious scare to defending District 4 Class AAA champion Abington Heights. Against Williamsport, though, it appeared overmatched. The Millionaires allowed only 75 yards, scored on two third-quarter scoring drives and put the game away when Brice Harris returned a fourth-quarter interception 38 yards for a touchdown.

Changing the culture of a program is never easy. One of the hardest parts is getting the players to stop hoping to win and getting them expecting to win. Williamsport might have leaped that hurdle Saturday.

“Everyone is jelling as a team and that makes the team tougher to beat,” said Harris, who had two interceptions. “We’re not going to give up. We’re going to just keep keep on fighting.”

Williamsport has won twice this season and both wins are games it probably would have lost in the past. The Millionaires have overcome second-half deficits both times and are making plays at opportune times, regardless of who is in the game. They dealt with some injuries Saturday but the next man up did the job each time and Williamsport kept making good plays.

Dallas gained only 11 second-half yards and Williamsport played with an energy that had been lacking in the past. It was only one game, but it provided a snap shot of everything the Millionaires want to be. And it was another big step in the right direction for a team that was blown out nearly every week during a winless 2012 campaign.

“I think for the most part they want to sacrifice, they want to play good football. It comes down to them wanting to do it. It’s never a question of their ability. it’s a question of them wanting to do it,” Williamsport coach Kevin Choate said. “Our coaching staff does a great job with these kids. Thinking about where we started out last year and where we are this year it’s been a progression. We’re excited”

That is the key. Progress is being made. Players want to be out there and they want to go all out all the time.

The Millionaires are working hard and they are believing. Now, they want Saturday’s win to not just be a highlight, but a starting point. Play like they did Saturday and that can happen.

“We can build on this,” Harris said. “We just have to keep going hard. We have to work harder and harder every day.”

QUICK STRIKE: When North Penn set the program record for wins and won its first playoff game in 2006, it utilized a smash-mouth running game that produced two 1,000-yard rushers. If North Penn threw more than five passes in a game that year, it was a lot.

When North Penn returned to districts in 2010 and captured the Class AA Eastern Conference championship a year later, it did so behind a spread offense run by Jason Dehaven who set several program passing records.

This year, North Penn is running a non-stop no-huddle offense. Every possession is a two-minute drill. The Panthers basically are District 4’s version of the Philadelphia Eagles, trying to wear out defenses and run as many plays as possible.

There is no set system at North Penn. Whatever it takes to win, whatever best fits his team’s skills, coach Tom Dickinson will utilize it. And last Friday, his Panthers flawlessly utilized the latest facet as they thumped Hughesville, 32-6.

“It was part of the offense we had last year that we didn’t put in. We felt like with some fine-tuning in the offseason we could run it well,” Dickinson said. “We figured let’s give it a shot and the kids have bought in. They did a really great job at it.”

North Penn (3-2) is one of the area’s youngest teams and is still learning as it goes, but the fast-paced offense is paying big dividends and has helped it win three of its last four games. The Panthers have averaged 34 points in those wins while paying back Athens and Hughesville teams that beat them last year.

Quarterback Bo Burleigh is on pace to top 1,000 yards passing and running back Bryce Zaparzynski already has nearly 700 yards. Friday, North Penn ran 77 plays, 45 in the first half, scored on four straight series in less than 12 minutes and wore down a Hughesville defense that stifled it a year ago.

“The coaches are finding amazing new ways every year,” two-way starter Noah Corwin said. “We’re not always going to have the same big groups we used to have but we’re going to be conditioned and be ready to go the whole game no-huddle.”

North Penn runs the no-huddle offense for 15-20 straight minutes at each practice so the players can acclimate themselves to the furious pace. Burleigh worked hard in the offseason to prepare and is setting in nicely. He accounted for 202 yards, two touchdowns and three 2-point passes against Hughesville and is enjoying the openness the offense provides.

“It’s very exciting. It’s a lot of work to stay in shape on both sides, but it’s definitely a lot of fun,” Burleigh said. “You start to notice the impact. Hughesville is a good team but that much running takes its toll. I hope to maximize everything we have.”

Dickinson and his staff have been excellent at that for more than a decade as the Panthers have built a winning tradition. The staff evolves as its team does and that is a big reason the Panthers are a playoff contender a year before many thought they might be.

“It’s just so much fun,” Corwin said. “You’re going to get tired sometimes. That’s going to happen but it’s probably the best time I’ve had in a while.”

EXTRA POINTS: Canton earned its first win in dramatic fashion, scoring 15 straight fourth-quarter points to win, 29-28 at Wyalusing. Receiver Jesse Lattimer made an outstanding debut, catching three passes for 135 yards and two scores, including the game-winner from 67 yards out … Jersey Shore’s Boone Costa played a fantastic game in Friday’s 20-13 loss at Mifflinburg. Costa returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown and caught five passes for 73 yards while helping the Bulldogs (2-3) nearly erase a 20-point deficit … Cowanesque Valley’s Brandon Whitesell topped 100 yards for a fourth time in a 28-14 loss to Sayre … Milton quarterback Brady Chappell threw three touchdown passes, two to Greg Shultz, in a 56-7 win at Carson Long.

Dr. Masse’s area top five

1. Montoursville (5-0): The Warriors’ 18-13 win at Mount Carmel said as much about the team’s character and depth as it did its talent. Montoursville won its first-ever game at the Silver Bowl despite missing some key injured players. The offensive line was fantastic and paved the way for Cameron Ott’s 202-yard performance while the defense again was strong. Montoursville made a statement by holding Mount Carmel to minus-33 yards rushing, stuffing the lanes and recording five sacks. The starting defense has allowed just 27 points in five games and has produced 15 sacks. The Warriors play only teams with winning records the rest of the way, but are 5-0 for the first time since 2009 and are looking pretty tough.

2. Wellsboro (5-0): The season is only half complete but quarterback Mike Pietropola already has the program’s single-season touchdown pass record (17) and Brandon Owlett has tied the single-season touchdown receptions record (9). Pietropola connected with Owlett for three long touchdowns in Friday’s 48-0 blanking of CMVT. Wellsboro has matched last season’s win total and has been sparked by an underrated defense that has stifled opponents. Brian Doty is one of the area’s premier linebackers and helped Wellsboro limit CMVT to 16 yards. The Hornets have not allowed a point in seven straight quarters.

3. South Williamsport (4-1): The Mounties are putting up some eye-popping numbers and their offensive line is a big reason why. That unit is one of the area’s best and was outstanding in Friday’s 63-28 win over Warrior Run. The Mounties produced a season-high 530 yards, including 418 rushing. Quarterback Matt Boone threw touchdowns to Riley Hengler and Riley Thomas. Boone is the only District 4 quarterback who has not yet been intercepted. He has thrown five touchdowns the last four weeks. Thomas, a first-time player, has two touchdowns in his last three games and has been a solid addition on both sides.

4. Lewisburg (4-1): Outstanding Lewisburg defense has been a staple of the team’s success over the last six seasons and that unit has been one of the district’s best through half the season. The Dragons shut down Shamokin in Friday’s 35-6 win and have allowed just 20 points during their three-game winning streak. Cornerback Ben Frankel is key to that defensive success and also turned offensive against Shamokin, catching four passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Costigliola threw for 177 yards and has accounted for four touchdowns the last two weeks. Lewisburg has outscored its last three opponents, 61-6 in the second half.

5. Loyalsock (3-2): The Cardiac Lancers did it again Friday at Shikellamy, rallying for a second straight week from a fourth-quarter deficit and winning, 35-28. Loyalsock snapped a three-game losing streak to the Braves, won without some key players in the lineup and has turned its season around with consecutive comebacks against tough opponents. Loyalsock is making timely plays in all aspects and a big 4th-and-1 stop set up the game-winning drive. Phil Krizan returned a kickoff 88 yards for a score, the second straight a Lancer has done that. First-time high school player Robbie Klein has run for the game-winning score the last two weeks and has 200 yards in those games.

Players of the week

Dominick Bragalone, South Williamsport and Justin Hoffman, Williamsport: Bragalone has now broken the South single-game rushing record twice in the last month. The junior ran for 318 yards and a program-record six touchdowns against Warrior Run. He scored on four runs of 26 yards or longer and leads District 4 with 1,156 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Hoffman ignited Williamsport’s nasty defense against Dallas, making a game-high 12 tackles. He constantly was around the ball and also made a huge fourth-down reception to set up the go-ahead touchdown while providing strong lead blocking.

Game of the week

Montoursville at Lewisburg: This is a rematch of last year’s dramatic district quarterfinal that Montoursville rallied to win, 37-33 after trailing by 12 in the fourth quarter. Lewisburg overcame and early 21-point deficit and split two exciting games with the Warriors last year. Expect another great game.