Montoursville at Loyalsock football preview

Background: The annual Bridge Game looks as good on paper as any game before it. Montoursville and Loyalsock are a combined 15-3 and have secured District 4’s top two Class AAA seeds. Loyalsock has won seven of its last games, including three straight by 102 combined points. Montoursville has won two straight and has excelled in close games, going 5-0 in games decided by five points or fewer. Montoursville has won three straight in this series, including 38-14 at Loyalsock last year and 21-19 in the 2014 District 4 Class AA championship. That ended a run of nine straight games in which the home team won.

Montoursville facts: The Warriors have walked a high-wire act all season against a demanding schedule and have consistently prevailed, including last week as it held off a furious Hughesville rally and won, 38-35 to secure district homefield advantage. Montoursville will host either Mifflinburg or Lewisburg in next week’s semifinals as it seeks a third straight district final appearance. The Warriors have defeated District 4 Class AAAA’s top three seeds and beat Selinsgrove in Week 2 for the first time since 2000. While the defense has struggled at times, it also has made huge stops in close wins over teams like Shikellamy, Selinsgrove, Mount Carmel and Jersey Shore. Linebacker Torin Lewis is having an excellent season, averaging 9.1 tackles per game and making a team-high nine for loss. Owen Hoffman has 8 1/2 sacks and safety Nolan Ott intercepted two passes against Hughesville. Anthony Washington is a quality cornerback who returned a fumble for a touchdown in a big Week 3 win over potential playoff opponent Danville. Quarterback Brycen Mussina has thrown for 2,210 yards and a district-high 25 touchdowns, topping 2,000 yards for a second time in three seasons and going over 6,000 career yards. Wide receiver Tommy Shea might be having the best receiving season in program history, leading District 4 with 1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns. Mussina threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns against Hughesville and Shea had six catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Hughesville contained Montoursville’s running game last week, but Lewis and Ott have combined for three 100-yard games. Montoursville scored 28 straight fourth-quarter points in a seven-minute span last year to break open a close game against Loyalsock and take a 31-point lead.

Montoursville player to watch–Riley Conboy: A three-way threat, Conboy is fifth among area receivers in catches and returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week. He also is an excellent cornerback who likely will line up opposite the dynamic Marcus Williams. Conboy held Hughesville’s leading receiver to one late, fourth-quarter catch last week and has two interceptions.

Loyalsock facts: The Lancers are surging at the right time and have excelled on both sides of the ball during their three-game winning streak. The starting defense has allowed just three touchdowns and shut down a strong offense in last week’s 35-15 win at Shikellamy. Even with all-state caliber two-way lineman Crae McCracken being injured and playing just offense last week, the defense continued controlling the line of scrimmage. Sophomore Carmen Barone was a force up front and linebackers Hunter Webb, Alden Mileto, Nahiem Davis and Dom Fischetti continued swarming. Webb is averaging an area-high 12.3 tackles per game and combines explosiveness with physicality. Mileto averages 10.2 tackles per game and Davis and Fischetti keep making big plays in their first years starting. The secondary has come a long way since the season’s start and safety Derek Gee intercepted two passes last week, giving him a team-high four. The offense is second in the area in yards per game and is as balanced as it is potent. Cole Cavanaugh is fourth among area rushers and Williams is among the area’s top 10 in rushing and receiving. He ran for a career-high 134 yards and two touchdowns against Shikellamy. Sophomore quarterback Connor Watkins has built off his impressive debut season a year ago and has become a dual threat. Watkins has topped 1,000 yards for a second straight year, is second among area quarterbacks in efficiency and also has run for 394 yards and five touchdowns. An offensive line that lost three starters from last year has become a team strength and paved the way for 464 yards against a Shikellamy defense that has held three teams to seven points or fewer. Loyalsock hosts No. 3 Danville in next week’s semifinals, the fourth time these teams have met in the postseason since 2009.

Loyalsock player to watch–Marcus Williams: He receives a lot of publicity, but Williams deserves it. He is the engine powering Loyalsock and hurts opponents in so many different ways. A year after tearing his ACL, Williams has produced 21 touchdowns four different ways and provides tremendous leadership. Williams likely will be covering Shea and that matchup alone is worth the price of admission.

Outlook: Last year’s game was an anomaly in this series defined by close games. And that was a game that was a 3-point contest early in the fourth quarter. Toss a coin on this one because one can analyze it forever and still be uncertain who will win. Expect a close and thrilling contest.