Millionaires have been productive on other side of ball, too

\When many think Wil­liamsport football this season, they immediately think offense.

It is understandable. The Millionaires are averaging a state-best 50 points and 518 yards per game. As explosive as that offense is, it is an emerging defense that could hold the key to potential state playoff success. And that defense played its best game at the best time last Friday as Williamsport thumped explo­sive Dela­ware Valley, 55-21 and captured its first District 2-4 championship since 1995.

The starting defense allowed only 14 points, none in the middle quarters, and on a night the offense again erupted, the defense might have actually stolen the show.

“Our offense is very dangerous but our defense is definitely slept on,” two-way starter Isaiah Hankins said. “We have athletes who are very fast and very powerful up front and our defense cannot be slept on.”

Williamsport needs that defense to again come up big Friday when it faces State College (10-1) in its state tournament opener. The way it played against Delaware Valley, however, provides a good lift going into that game against a perennial state title contender.

Delaware Valley was the only team to beat Williamsport, edging in a 49-42 thriller six weeks ago. The Warriors gained 498 yards in that game, ran at will and repeatedly hit big pass plays. Delaware Valley had won seven straight games, averaging 36 points and 424 yards per game.

But after starting slow, the Williams­port defense smothered Delaware Valley. That unit changed the game’s complexion in the second quarter and sparingly gave up yards. Cameron Dickey also recovered two fumbles that set up touchdowns. Kurt Danneker forced a fumble that Hankins scooped out of the air and returned 20 yards for a touchdown that made it 28-14 and sent a big Williamsport crowd into near delirium.

“We made adjustments the last couple weeks and we just played football (Friday),” linebacker Jalen Jackson said. “We took a lot of the thinking out and just played football. We manned up and we did what we had to do against them.”

“There were adjustments made, but this was the biggest game we played all season so we just had to come out as hard as we could,” defensive back Trey­son Potts said after making four tackles and running for 141 yards and scoring five touchdowns. “All season it’s been Williamsport’s offense and this and that. The Williamsport defense hasn’t really been on the map so we just came out and showed it (Friday) and got the championship.”

The defense playing so well against such a good team in such a big game might have been hard envisioning during that first Delaware Valley game. Even in the first half the following week against Coughlin, Williamsport struggled as the Crusaders ran the ball well and took a 21-20 halftime lead. But things started changing in the second half of that same game as Williamsport rallied for the win. Strong performances the next three weeks followed as Williamsport adjusted and came together.

One of the biggest moves defensive coordinator Doug Thiel made was moving all-state defensive end Ross Stebbins to defensive tackle since opponents consistently were running away from him. The Millionaires also inserted 315-pound lineman Kurt Danneker into the defensive line and the run defense immediately stiffened. That was especially evident last Friday. After Delaware Valley running back Ryan Obiso gouged Williamsport for 191 yards and four touchdowns in the first game, the starters held him to 15 carries for 23 yards and no touchdowns.

“Coach Thiel has been flying under the radar all year but he’s a mad scientist,” Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said. “He got it done. All the coaches and players got it done.”

While Williamsport stuffed the Delaware Valley run, quarterback Matt Cavallaro picked it apart in the first quarter. The senior nearly threw for 3,000 yards this season, breaking the District 2 record and started 8 for 11 with 108 yards and two touchdowns. But that first quarter appeared to just a tease, making Delaware Valley think it was going to ravage Williamsport again.

Players like Dickey, Stebbins, Jamaire Burget and Keough Johnson consistently pressured Cavallaro and disrupted his timing. Potts, Hankins, Elliott Walker and Marcus Simmons provided strong coverage as well and Cavallaro completed only 3 of his last 16 passes against the starters.

“The last time we played them we didn’t pressure them. We sat back in that base and gave Cavallaro time and he picked us apart but it’s tough to throw when you can’t set your feet set and he was on the move all night,” Crews said. “It was a great job by the defense.”

“We kept Del Valley in our minds every week. Forty-nine points is the most we’ve ever let up and we knew it was up to the defense to win the game for us,” Hankins said. “Our offense puts up numbers, but our defense had a lot of pressure and we fulfilled our goal.”

Now the goal is to keep the best Williamsport season in 21 years going. The Millionaires face their toughest challenge yet against a 10-win team with a balanced offense and a stingy defense. The district championship was a good start for this defense, but they hope the best is yet to come.

“Our defense has come a long way from the beginning of the season. We were letting up touchdowns that should not have been touchdowns and now we’re stopping people in the red zone which is something we struggled with early on,” Jackson said. “We’re making big stops. We’re being aggressive defensively and playing fast. We need our defense to carry us from here on out.”