Davis helps Loyalsock win Bridge

Nahiem Davis and Loyalsock enter the District 4 Class AAA playoffs as the No. 2 seed.

Nahiem Davis thought he was dreaming as he celebrated Loyalsock’s 27-14 Battle of the Bridge win against Montoursville last Friday.

The junior defensive end never played football before last summer so one could forgive him for having trouble envisioning such a scenario.

Not only was Davis there Friday, but he was a big reason Loyalsock won. He also is a major reason the Lancers (8-2) have won four straight games and achieved more than many outside their locker room thought they would.

Davis has gone from football novice to football standout in rapid time, solidifying a defense that held Montoursville to its fewest points this season. He made a season-high 14 tackles against Montoursville and also rushed the quarterback well. It was the latest strong performance from a player who keeps getting better each week.

Who cares if he never played before? Loyalsock is just happy Davis is here now.

“To see him in June in the situation he was in to get to today and the situation he’s now in is something special. It’s something really, really special,” Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. “Nahiem deserves all the accolades he can get.”

Davis has raw athletic ability. He is a fast, strong 5-foot-11, 205-pounder. But the world is filled with athletes who have untapped ability. Davis has coaxed the most from his talent, worked hard, learned quick and become a weapon. This is not just an athlete playing football. Davis is a good football player, period.

“It feels great being here. It’s my first year playing football and the coaches and players have helped me so much,” Davis said. “I have to thank the coaches and teammates because they’ve turned me into a beast.”

Opponents concur. Davis worked his way into the starting lineup by Week 4 and gives Loyalsock both power and speed off the edge. He has made 26 tackles the past two weeks against district title contenders. His emergence complements a defensive line that is tough along the interior and that has one of the area’s premier linebacking units.

Davis is good against the run and also is developing into a strong pass rusher. He has five sacks and 11 tackles for loss. And he is just learning how to play. That is a potential scary thought for future Lancer opponents.

“He’s been in tough situations and he didn’t have many people believing in him,” Van Fleet said. “To believe in himself and believe in us is a humbling thing. I’m really proud of that kid doing what he’s doing.”

“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Davis said after the Bridge win. “I never thought I would have a feeling like this.”

PAVING THE WAY: Among the biggest questions surrounding Loyalsock’s 2016 prospects was how a rebuilt offensive line would perform. Three starters graduated from last year’s unit, including two-time all-stater Dan Harrison and three-time league all-star Justin Wood. Instead of rebuilding, Loyalsock really just reloaded.

Returning starters Crae McCracken and Pat Swink have smoothly jelled with first-time starters Max Dugan, Dylan Armson and Hunter Knott, as well as tight end Alec Little. They have grown stronger and closer as the year has progressed and were outstanding Friday, helping Loyalsock gain 392 yards. Loyalsock ran the ball at will on three of its scoring drives, including the game-clincher as Cole Cavanaugh produced a game-high 151 yards and two touchdowns.

“It all comes down to us just really bonding together. We really formed a relationship. We’re like best friends coming into the season but we have really formed a football bond and you can’t break a football bond like that,” said McCracken, a likely all-state candidate along both lines. “Every week we go to Van Fleet’s dad’s house and sit down and have pizza and we’ll grade our films and each week our grades have gotten better and better. I’m really happy about that.”

So is the entire team. Only Williamsport is gaining more yards among area teams than Loyalsock which averages 410 yards per game. Three players have run for more than 400 yards and quarterback Connor Watkins has thrown for 1,475 yards. It all starts up front with a line that is not as big as last year’s unit, but that is much quicker.

Like Davis, the line has some quick learners who have made huge strides in a short time. That is a major reason Loyalsock takes a four-game winning streak into Friday’s semifinal against Danville.

“The offensive linemen stepped up and they didn’t miss anything through the offseason,” Van Fleet said. “They worked their tails off and went from JV rotational guys to start at varsity. To do that in nine months is tough to do. They work extremely hard. They hold themselves accountable and to watch their development is something I’m excited about.”

Danville manhandled Warrior Run Friday in a 63-6 win and presents another challenge. The line, however, is feeding off those and is playing with a boulder-size chip on its collective shoulder. The linemen are not just quicker than last year, but are growing nastier.

“It all comes down to our mentality,” McCracken said. “I didn’t see that (chip) until (Week 9) when I tweaked my shoulder a little bit. I just saw the nastiness in their eyes and I haven’t seen that all year. Coach Palmatier said then that our season starts now and I honestly think it changed everyone’s mentality.”

EXTRA POINTS: Hughesville (5-5) clinched a third straight District 4 Class AA playoff berth, defeating Muncy, 41-15. The Spartans play No. 2 Wellsboro in Friday’s quarterfinals and are surging at the right time, having won three of their last four games. Landon Henry threw for 188 yards and three touchdowns against Muncy while also rushing for two scores. Brenden Gardner caught five passes two touchdowns while linebacker Dale Shrawder ignited a defense that forced five turnovers, making 15 tackles … Jersey Shore (7-3) won its fourth straight game and clinched homefield advantage for the District 4 Class AAAA playoffs with a hard-fought 14-10 win over rival Central Mountain. The gutty Bulldogs, who host Athens (7-3) in the semifinals, overcame a second-half deficit for a fifth time and finished 5-0 on the road. Quarterback Elijah Shemory found Tyler Smith for the game-winning touchdown, threw for 153 yards and went over 2,000 yards in his first year starting. Central Mountain’s Justin Neff returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, giving him 12 kickoff returns for scores in the past three seasons. He also ran for 96 yards, finishing third in the area with 1,151 yards … Lewisburg (4-6) routed rival Mifflinburg, 33-9 in a winner-take-all showdown for Class AAA’s final playoff berth. The Green Dragons have won three of their last four games and are district playoff-bound for a ninth straight season. The starting defense has allowed just three points the last two weeks and has scored three touchdowns. Aaron Veloz ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns as the offensive line jelled entering Friday’s semifinal against Montoursville … Montgomery ended its season on a high, blanking Bucktail, 43-0. The Red Raiders (2-8) were much improved this season, snapping a 19-game losing streak and being much more competitive in nearly all their games. Hunter Budman ran for a career-high 165 yards and two touchdowns and Kalen Guyer returned an interception for a touchdown as the defense allowed just 94 yards. With most starters returning in 2017, Montgomery could be poised to take a big leap forward.

Dr. Masse’s top five in football

1. Williamsport (9-1): The road to the District 2 6A championship now travels through Williamsport after the Millionaires delivered a virtuoso performance in the regular-season finale and battered Berwick, 56-23. The offensive lines and defense set a physical tone early and Williamsport erupted for 28 third-quarter points, turning a close game into a rout. The Millionaires have won nine games for the first time in the 2000s and host their first playoff game this century Friday against surging Hazleton. The offense rolled up 558 yards against Berwick and is averaging a state-best 516 yards per game. Quarterback Isaiah Hankins threw for 204 yards and four touchdowns, Treyson Potts ran for 177 yards and three scores to win the District 4 regular-season rushing title and Elliott Walker caught two touchdowns. As dynamic as the offense is, it all starts up front with linemen Tyler Anderson, Chance Bower, Eli Clary, Kurt Danneker and Tucker Kreisher paving the way. The linemen will have to be strong again against Hazleton, which has won three straight games.

2. Wellsboro (10-0): Prior to 2013, Wellsboro had not won a league championship since 1978. Saturday, the Green Hornets captured their second NTL championship in four seasons, blanking eight-win North Penn-Mansfield, 32-0. Wellsboro also enjoyed just winning season in the 2000s before the current senior class led by offensive line stalwarts like Ethan Nichols and Kaleb Smith entered high school under then-first year coach Matt Hildrebrand. This senior class is now 38-7 with two league championships, a district title and two undefeated regular seasons. Wellsboro has shutout seven teams this season, outscoring opponents, 419-33.

“They were 10-0 as freshmen and to end the regular season 10-0 again makes it a special group of seniors,” Hildebrand said. “They came in and learned what it is to work and that work has now paid off. The younger guys who have come in after that have realized that so it’s been an accumulation of seeing the expectation of what it’s going to take and knowing that if you do A and B then C is going to be wins. It’s not always going to be things you like to do with workouts in the summer and spring ball and that stuff, but it’s paid off for us in the end. They know if they’re going to play football at Wellsboro you’re going to have to work but the end result hopefully will be very positive.”

3. South Williamsport (9-1): The Mounties won their eighth straight Friday, beating potential playoff opponent Line Mountain, 41-33. It was a good test against a challenging team entering Friday’s quarterfinal showdown against Mount Carmel. South finished the regular season 9-1 for the fourth time in five years and scored on two straight series after Line Mountain had cut a 20-point deficit to two in the fourth quarter. Gideon Green returned from an ankle injury and ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns, mostly in the second half while sophomore quarterback A.J. Flick ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. South faced its most difficult regular-season schedule during its fantastic five-year run and handled it in impressive fashion. The Mounties have defeated six playoff teams and need to come up big again Friday against streaking Mount Carmel.

4. Loyalsock (8-2): Alden Mileto was all over the field, helping ignite Loyalsock’s defense against Montoursville. Mileto, averaging more than 10 tackles per game, made 16 and made a huge stop at the 1-yard line on a Nolan Ott 1-yard third-down run. That set the stage for Loyalsock stuffing Montoursville on fourth down, just inches from the goal line. Mileto, Hunter Webb and Dom Fischetti all had big games and have developed into one of the district’s premier linebacking units. Senior Mike Stopper also made his presence felt and was a difference-maker on special teams.

5. Montoursville (8-2): This reporter did not hear coach J.C. Keefer’s postgame Loyalsock speech but would guess he channeled his inner-Bill Belichick and basically said, “it’s on to Lewisburg.” While Friday’s loss stings, Montoursville has its biggest goals in front of it and now has a chance to attain them. The top-seeded Warriors face No. 4 Lewisburg in Friday’s District 4 Class AAA semifinals in a rematch of two straight playoff meetings, in addition to a Week 6 game that was close until the final six minutes. Montoursville is seeking its third straight district final appearance and second championship in four seasons. Tommy Shea caught a 48-yard touchdown pass against Loyalsock and is up to 1,150 yards, the second-most by an area player during the 2000s.

Players of the week

Quinn Henry, Wellsboro and Dylan Farronato, Lewisburg: Henry has given North Penn-Mansfield fits the past two seasons and ran for 111 yards and three touchdowns in the NTL championship. Henry also threw a 55-yard touchdown pass and was part of Wellsboro’s stifling defense, making a timely tackle to stop NP-Mansfield on a 4th-and-2. Farronato also made a huge impact on both sides of the ball. The sophomore cornerback returned two interceptions for touchdowns, igniting a unit that forced six turnovers. Farronato intercepted three passes total and also caught a 69-yard touchdown in a must-win game.

Game of the week

Danville at Loyalsock: Friday’s semifinal edges some other excellent playoff games and is a heavyweight showdown between peaking teams. Danville (6-4) likely would have eight wins had injuries not taken a midseason toll and has two 1,000-yard rushers in Trent Hilkert and Gannon Feldman. Quarterback Peyton Riley also has thrown for 755 yards. This is the fourth time Danville and Loyalsock are meeting in the playoffs since 2009 with Danville holding a 2-1 lead.