Millionaires march on in state playoffs

Elliott Walker of Williamsport stiff-arms State College defender Pete Haffner Friday at Selinsgrove.

Elliott Walker of Williamsport stiff-arms State College defender Pete Haffner Friday at Selinsgrove.

SELINSGROVE — As Williamsport players embraced, a sea of red-clad Millionaire fans above them roared. Listen closely throughout Pennsylvania, though, and one could hear silence.

No matter what Williamsport did the first 12 weeks as it romped to a District 2-4 Class AAAAAA championship, doubters remained and questioned its legitimacy. Now they have no material left. Williamsport has become one of the state’s best eight teams. You better believe, the Million­aires have made a statewide splash now.

Isaiah Hankins accounted for four touchdowns, Elliott Walker caught three touchdowns and the defense made a series of key stops Friday at Selinsgrove as Wil­liamsport edged perennial power State College, 35-28 in the state tournament’s opening round. The Mil­lionaires (12-1) won their sixth straight game and their first state tournament game since 1995 while never buckling on a wild night that saw more momentum shifts than a blockbuster movie.

“Every game people always say we’re not this, we’re not that. We don’t play anybody and stuff like that,” Hankins said after breaking Ron Powlus’s Wyoming Valley Con­ference record for career touchdowns (64). “Every game we make a statement in Pennsylvania that we’re back and that we’re ready to come out against anybody.”

“Everyone sleeps on me and sleeps on us,” Walker said after dazzling in all three facets. “When we get the job done we can just look at them and go, are you done? Are you done sleeping on us?'”

They should be now.

Williamsport built two 21-point second-quarter leads before holding off a determined State College comeback that twice pulled it within seven in the second half. The Millionaires overcame two onside kick recoveries, two successful fake punts and some calls that took away big plays and made their biggest statement yet. Williams­port is going where only one other Millionaire team ever has and plays two-time defending state champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the state quarterfinals next weekend at a site to be determined.

“It means a lot. This is the first time we’ve ever experienced a season like this and got to go to the playoffs and it’s been a great run,” said defensive end Keough Johnson who made a crucial, drive-stopping fourth-quarter sack. “I have no words.”

Walker caught (4 catches, 136 yards) caught three first-half touchdowns and, following a Treyson Potts 1-yard touchdown run, his 31 and 18-yard scores put Williamsport up 21-0. He capped his first-half explosion with an 80-yard touchdown catch, outrunning the defense over the final 50 yards, giving Williamsport a 28-7 lead.. State College twice pulled within seven in the second half, but Walker was part of a defense that let it pull no closer and his interception and 31-yard return to midfield helped Williamsport start put the finishing touches on a big win.

Hankins completed passes to Marcus Simmons and Walker before Marty Clark gained some tough yards behind a surging line as Williamsport drove to the 10-yard line. Angelo Girardi missed a game-clinching field goal by inches with 61 seconds remaining but Williamsport forced State College to use its final two timeouts and the defense then delivered the knockout blow.

Williamsport’s pass rush was superb all night and continued coming after Tyler Snyder on the last series as he completed only 3 of 10 passes. He was hurried again on fourth-and-10 with five seconds remaining and his receivers did not have enough time to get downfield against a defense playing deep. The pass sailed incomplete and Williamsport celebrated its biggest win since 1995.

“We’ve been overcoming the same obstacles all year,” Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said. “It’s to the point where the kids are immune to it. They just keep playing. They don’t know anything else but playing hard and we just had so many contributions from so many different players.”

While the offense topped 30 points for a 13th straight game, the defense again flexed its collective muscle and made a huge impact. Cameron Dickey recorded his second straight two-sack game, Ross Stebbins appeared unblockable at times up front and Jalen Jackson had a team-high nine tackles. Walker provided lock-down coverage in the secondary while Hankins, Potts and Simmons also made crucial plays.

Snyder threw for 246 yards but completed only 16 of 46 passes and Williamsport forced State College to become one dimensional, stifling a running game that gouged Erie McDowell in the District 6-9-10 championship. Still, the Lions kept battling back and threatened to tie the game, driving to the Millionaire 37-yard line with five minutes remaining. That was when Johnson made one of the game’s biggest plays, blowing past the line and sacking Snyder for a 10-yard loss and bringing up a 4th-and-20. State College again tried a fake punt, but Walker intercepted it and the Lions never seriously threatened that lead again.

“It was close the whole game and the whole team was pretty nervous, so when I got that sack that was a big turn and the momentum went our way and we kept going from there,” Johnson said. “When I got that sack I just knew I had to get there. We needed a big play. I knew it would mean a lot to my team. The whole game we were on him and was big to get him down there.”

State College held Potts to a season-low 55 yards rushing, but Hankins continued his sensational senior season and played one of his best games. The senior quarterback repeatedly made big third-down throws and runs that extended scoring drives and totaled 319 yards.

Hankins (238 passing yards, 81 rushing) made his best play on the third-quarter’s final play, running for a 23-yard touchdown that will be near the top of Williamsport’s season highlight reel. State College forced Hankins out of the pocket and he was nearly sacked, but managed to roll right and then made a superb cut, back up field. Hankins split the defense and finished off the run by shaking off a defender while giving Williamsport a 35-21 lead.

“I have so many weapons so it’s real easy. My line gives me time and I get the ball to our playmakers and they do the rest,” Hankins said. “It’s a real team effort. I love my guys and we deserved this win.”

As Williamsport built its 21-0 second-quarter lead, the defense dominated and held State College to one first down in the game’s first 20 minutes. And every time it appeared State College was seizing momentum in this heavyweight fight, that defense fought off the ropes and ultimately delivered a knockout blow.

Spread the news, Williamsport is not just an offensive fireworks display. It is an excellent team, period.

“Whoever is on the schedule we’ll play,” Crews said. “Let the critics say what they want about who we play, how we play, when we play…we’re still playing. That’s all that matters.”

COMMENTS