Loyalsock beats Montoursville for Bridge trophy

Alden Mileto (43) and Marcus Williams (3) of Loyalsock tackle Nolan Ott (30) of Montoursville Friday night at Loyalsock.

Alden Mileto (43) and Marcus Williams (3) of Loyalsock tackle Nolan Ott (30) of Montoursville Friday night at Loyalsock.

By CHRIS MASSE

cmasse@sungazette.com

Seniors Marcus Williams and Brendan Downs grabbed “The Battle of the Bridge Trophy” and started running. Only a swarming Loyalsock student section slowed them down.

Loyalsock waited three years to win that trophy again and for players, coaches and the community it felt much longer than that. Together they ran, jumped and yelled into the cold, night air, creating a memory they likely will never forget.

Bigger goals remain, but anyone who ever has ever worn a Loyalsock uniform knows how special Friday night was.

Cole Cavanaugh ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns, the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and the defense made a dramatic goal-line stand as Loyalsock defeated rival Montoursville, 27-14 at Kenneth Robbins Stadium. The Lancers (8-2) snapped a three-game losing streak against Montoursville (8-2) that included a 2014 district championship loss, won their fourth straight game and gathered some big playoff momentum.

“I’ve been anxious every week. I know you’re supposed to think about the next week, but every week I always thought about this game coming up,” two-way senior lineman Crae McCracken said. “I was pretty excited and I knew we could get the job done. We’ve been really stepping it up over the last few weeks. I did touch the trophy. It’s a little dusty. We haven’t had it in a while so we’ll take care of it.”

Ultimately, the game’s outcome did not impact anything. Montoursville and Loyalsock already had clinched District 4 Class AAA’s top seeds. The Warriors will host No. 4 Lewisburg in next week’s semifinals and Loyalsock hosts No. 3 Danville.

But anyone who thought the game might not mean as much realized how wrong he or she was watching the ferocity with which both teams played. Loyalsock never trailed and took a 14-0 halftime lead, but Montoursville twice pulled within seven in the second half and Loyalsock was not assured of victory until 1 minute, seven seconds remained. Then the celebration started as Loyalsock released three years of frustration and jubilant students rushed toward the fence, ready to storm the field.

“We hadn’t won the Bridge in three years so I’m so glad to be a part of it,” defensive end Nahiem Davis said after making 10 tackles. “Once one kid makes a big play that gets us up and it makes me want to make a big play and makes our whole team want to make a big play. That makes us want to go harder and it motivates us.”

“The game feels awesome but the reality is it’s the euphoria of these guys believing in themselves so much and believing in the process so much,” Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. “In the winter it didn’t look good, it didn’t feel good internally, it didn’t feel good on the outside. We had major issues and these guys bought in. When I was down they picked me up and I owe them for a long time. I love this team.”

Loyalsock scored on two of its first four possessions as Connor Watkins capped a long scoring drive with a 10-yard shovel pass touchdown to Marcus Williams and Cavanaugh ended another with a 43-yard touchdown run. In between those scores that made it 14-0 was one of the game’s biggest sequences.

Montoursville went on a time-consuming 14-play drive and had a 1st-and-goal at the 9. Two runs put the ball at the 2-yard line where Alden Mileto (14 tackles) stopped Nolan Ott at the 1. The Warriors literally were inches from tying the game, but the entire Lancer defense engulfed Torin Lewis on the next play up the middle, stopping him for no gain.

“It was the most stressful thing of my life. My heart was in my throat. I couldn’t even think straight,” Davis said. “The whole team was in on it. We knew what was going on. We knew they were going to run up the middle and we all got there.”

Montoursville has been one of the district’s most resilient teams this season and the 14-0 halftime deficit did not faze it. Instead, the Warriors opened the second half with a 12-play scoring drive that Ott (22 carries, 113 yards) capped with a 1-yard touchdown run. Montoursville looked like it might tie the game a series later but a potential touchdown pass was dropped.

As good as the Loyalsock defense was at times, Montoursville will be haunted not by the plays Loyalsock made, but by the ones it did not. Following the dropped deep ball, Alden Mileto punctuated a long drive with a 4-yard touchdown. Again, Montoursville responded as Brycen Mussina (165 yards) hit Tommy Shea in stride for a 48-yard touchdown that made it 21-14 in the third-quarter’s final moments.

The Warriors appeared poised to tie the game on their ensuing series when Mussina connected on another deep throw and the receiver looked like he might run all the way for a touchdown. Instead, he fumbled while running at the Lancer 30-yard line. Williams scoooped it up, returning it 39 yards. The mistakes continued plaguing Montoursville on its last drive as receivers dropped four straight first-down passes after the Warriors reached Loyalsock’s 30-yard line.

Montoursville has found a way to win close games all season, living dangerously at times, but could not overcome this time.

“If there’s a coaching staff and kids and community that I respect more than Montoursville I don’t know where it is,” Van Fleet said. “J.C. Keefer is not only a great coach but one of the better human beings I’ve ever met and that coaching staff and players integrity reflects that.”

McCracken and fellow offensive linemen Pat Swink, Dylan Armson, Max Dugan, Hunter Knott were outstanding all night and paved the way for Loyalsock’s last scoring drive. The Lancers moved 65 yards on nine plays with Cavanaugh ripping off chunk runs. Cavanaugh neared 1,000 yards this season and, after Connor Watkins made a clutch 17-yard throw to Brock Hepler on 3rd-and-7, he took the final three plays 24 yards. Cavanaugh’s 2-yard touchdown made it 27-14 as Watkins raised his arms in celebration and the Loyalsock bleachers shook.

“We got together and looked at each other and said it’s this or nothing,” said McCracken, a potential all-state candidate on both lines. “We have to go all out and get this and push as hard as we can. We need this last drive and we can get it.”

The defense took a similar approach and held Mussina to nine first-half passing yards. Loyalsock sacked Mussina three times in the first half, including on his first two dropbacks. Dom Fischetti and Carmen Barone set the physical tone with sacks on Montoursville’s first series while Mileto and fellow linebacker Hunter Webb, who also had a sack, seemed to be everywhere.

Montoursville kept fighting back, but whenever Loyalsock needed a big play, it almost always made one. That included Gerald Ross making a spectacular 31-yard catch in the fourth quarter and Williams not giving up on the play that ended with his improbable fumble return. Some counted Loyalsock out last winter and Davis did not even play football last season. Friday night, though, Loyalsock stood tall.

“Tonight was one of the best feelings of my life,” Davis said. “I never felt so good.”

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