Montoursville District 4 AAA champs

Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer shakes with quarterback Brycen Mussina during the medal ceremony after beating Danville for the District 4 Class AAA title.

Mitchell Rothrock was running free down the seam. Brycen Mussina dropped his throw perfectly between the ‘4’ and the ‘7’ on Rothrock’s chest.

From there, the Montoursville tight end just had to run. He high-stepped out of one tackle on his way to a 57-yard touchdown which simultaneously made Mussina District 4’s career passing leader and put the dagger into Danville in the District 4 Class AAA title game.

Mussina threw for 151 yards, passing Bloomsburg’s Blake Rankin in career passing yards, and Torin Lewis ran for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Montoursville beat Danville, 28-10, to win its second district title in three years. The Warriors’ defense held Danville to just 175 yards of offense in one of its best performances of the season.

Montoursville advances to the PIAA tournament where it plays District 2 champion Scranton Prep next week at a District 2 site to be determined.

“This is a defensive win,” Montoursville head coach J.C. Keefer said. “We shut out Lewisburg last week and I think we’re playing our best football right now, and our best defensive football, especially.”

“Defensively, that’s the best performance we’ve had played against us this year,” Danville coach Jim Keiser said.

Mussina’s pass to a streaking Rothrock came just just three plays after the Warriors’ defense had swiped all the momentum of the game with a stand inside their own 30-yard line. Montoursville forced the Ironmen to turn the ball over on downs thanks to a sack by Chris Bushyeager and Owen Hoffman. And on third-and-3, Rothrock found an opening in Danville’s zone defense and outran the Ironmen to the end zone to give Montoursville a 21-10 lead just over 2 minutes into the second half.

That whole sequence changed the course of Friday’s game. Danville had cut Montoursville’s lead to 14-10 with a Peyton Riley 37-yard field goal to end the first half. It then forced a fumble which was recovered by the Ironmen’s Ken Cooper on the first play of the second half.

A 2-yard gain and a pair of incompletions and the sack by Bushyeager and Hoffman forced the Ironmen to give the ball back to Montoursville. Mussina made the defensive stand count as the route combination left Danville’s safety on an island deciding which of two receivers to cover. Mussina made the read and hit Rothrock in stride for the touchdown.

Mussina has thrown for 6,833 yards in his career, 62 more than Rankin accumulated as a four-year starter at Bloomsburg.

“I was pretty mad at myself at the end of the first half because I made a dumb mistake (and threw an interception),” Mussina said. “So I came back out and the line was doing an awesome job pass blocking to give me enough time to put that out there. We put their safety in a tough spot and all I had to do was make a read.”

“It was a perfect throw from Brycen. I really felt the momentum go our way with that,” Keefer said. “The defense kind of got the momentum and pinned their ears back. When that play happened, you didn’t know it at the time, but that was the ballgame.”

From there, the Warriors turned the game over to the defense. They all but shut down Danville’s Wing-T offense which ran for 323 yards in last week’s semifinal win over Loyalsock. Montoursville allowed the Ironmen just 3 yards per attempt on their 39 carries last night.

It was a drastic change from the first game these two teams played when Danville ran for 360 yards on 47 carries (7.65 per carry). Montoursville slowed down the running game by switching to a five-man defensive front early. The Warriors penetrated the Danville offensive line early and often and held 1,300-yard rusher Trent Hilkert to just 46 yards on 17 carries.

“We did it so we could stop Hilkert because he ran all over us the first time we played them,” Hoffman said. “We came in knowing their line is tough and we had to battle up front. But I think we won overall up front.”

“Coach (Dave) Myers and our coaches do a phenomenal job of watching film and putting our guys in the best position to be success,” Keefer said. “It was getting some quick guys on the edge to stop (Gannon) Feldmann and those Wing-T sweeps, and Torin and some bigger guys in the middle to stop some of the isos they like to pound. It was a really good game plan and it was executed perfectly.”

Montoursville had to battle back from an early 7-0 deficit when Danville used a first-quarter fake punt to extend a drive and set up Peyton Riley’s 1-yard scoring run. But the Warriors responded immediately, using a 41-yard pass from Mussina to Tom Shea to set up Lewis’ first touchdown run from 1-yard out.

Rothrock recovered a fumble on Danville’s ensuing possession, setting up Lewis’ second 1-yard touchdown run to give Montoursville a 14-7 lead. Montoursville then put the game away when Lewis ripped off a 44-yard run leading to a Nolan Ott 5-yard scoring run.

Danville was forced to throw 21 times because of its stagnant running game, and the two and three-score deficit. Riley completed just six passes for 58 yards, including an interception. The Ironmen also had nine penalties for 69 yards, one of which erased a Riley 74-yard touchdown run.

“(Friday) was a bad night for us to be doing that,” Keiser said. “I think it was a bit of nerves. Seven sophomores starting on offense, and even though it’s their second playoff game, it’s their first district championship and I think the nerves took over a bit.”

“I’ve told my coaches for year, when it comes to this time of year, you’re going to have conditions like this with a gusty wind, so you have to be able to run the football and play defense,” Keefer said. “We did that and we’ve been doing that.”