Plethora of title games a boon for local teams

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Players like Gary Brown, Darrell Blackman and Brandon Smith became the exceptions and not the norm.

Those were three area football players who played major Division I football. Still, throughout the previous three decades, District 4 appeared a near forgotten place. Maybe some would stop here on the way to catch a big-time recruit on the way toward Western Pennsylvania.

Maybe it’s time college recruiters spend a little more time here. There certainly is some outstanding football being played.

While I hate to be an instant historian who thinks anything that happens now is the best ever, it is hard to argue that this might indeed be the area’s best football season ever. Take a look at Friday night’s schedule. Seven teams are playing for district championships and two others are playing for spots in a final.

Yes, the Sun-Gazette area covers a wide region that includes 17 teams and stretches north toward Williamson and south toward Milton. But heck, just look at our four closest schools that all play within 10 miles of each other.

Williamsport, South Williamsport, Montoursville and Loyalsock are a combined 37-7. The Millionaires (10-1) and Warriors (9-2) are playing in district championships tonight while South (10-1) plays in the Class AA semifinals. Never before have all neighborhood schools played so well simultaneously.

Williamsport is putting up video-game like offensive numbers, averaging 49 points and 516 yards per game and showcases three current players receiving Division I interest. South is as physically imposing as Williamsport is dynamic, smothering opponents with hard-hitting defense and a smash-mouth offense that would make Vince Lombardi smile. Montoursville features a blend of both teams and has put together one of the most exciting seasons in area history, winning five games by five points or fewer. Loyalsock (8-3) played its last game a week ago but won eight of its last nine regular-season games, has Crae McCracken receiving major Division I interest and featured Marcus Williams, one of the district’s most entertaining players.

Take a trip down 220 South and stop at Jersey Shore. There resides a program that has done a complete 180 over the last four seasons and will be playing for its fourth straight District 4 championship tomorrow. The Bulldogs (8-3) went 3-37 from 2009-12 and had not had a winning season since 1997 until a few years ago. Now they are a District 4 power that has won a district championship, a league title and reached four straight district finals.

Do not forget about Wellsboro. The Green Hornets are again showing the Northern Tier League plays some good football, too, and are having the best season in program history. Wellsboro is 11-0 for the first time, allowed just 33 regular-season points and shutout seven opponents.

Up near the New York border , Muncy plays for its first District 4 Class A championship since the 1980s against Sayre tonight. The young Indians look like a rising small-school force. And then there are teams like Hughesville and North Penn-Mansfield who also have become perennial winners and feature all-state caliber players.

Speaking of individual performers, this year has featured some historic player achievements. Athletes are doing things that have either never been done or rarely been achieved.

Montoursville quarterback Brycen Mussina has tied the District 4 record for career touchdown passes (68) and is 89 yards from breaking the yardage record (6,771). He has thrown for 2,582 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. Teammate Tommy Shea is having the best receiving season any area player has had in the 2000s and the second-best all-time, catching 58 passes for 1,254 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Williamsport’s Isaiah Hankins and Jersey Shore’s Elijah Shemory have joined Mussina in the 2,000-yard club and Shemory has broken the program record for single-season touchdowns (27) in his first year starting. Hankins is rewriting the Williamsport record book and owns virtually every passing mark there is in a program that has lasted more than 100 years. He has 2,749 total yards and has accounted for 35 touchdowns this season. A two-time 2,000-yard passer, Hankins has produced more touchdowns (86) than any player in Williamsport’s history. He is joined by running back Treyson Potts (1,749 yards, 31 touchdowns) who is conjuring up images of Blackman.

Williams accounted for 22 touchdowns four different ways, Wellsboro quarterback Quinn Henry is approaching his second straight 1,000-yard passing/rushing season, Hughesville quarterback Landon Henry threw 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions, Jersey Shore wide receiver Todd Sanford caught 56 passes in 6 1/2 games before tearing his ACL, South running back Gideon Green has recorded eight 100-yard games … the list goes on and on. The bottom line is this: These kids can play.

And the coaches sure can coach. Williamsport’s Chuck Crews, South’s Chris Eiswerth, Jersey Shore’s Tom Gravish and Wellsboro’s Matt Hildebrand have breathed life into what had been dormant programs and helped them explode. Only Southern Columbia has won more games over the last five years than Eiswerth’s Mounties who are 50-11 during that time.

Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer has become one of the district’s best, Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet is a tireless worker and a big reason many more players are receiving college exposure. Dan Tucker and Sean Tetreault are making big impacts at Hughesville and Muncy and D.J. Flick had a solid first season at Warrior Run.

Not only are these good coaches, but good people who are working as hard off the field as one it. They are opening doors that might have been blocked in the past, giving more kids opportunities at the next level.

Spread the word to colleges throughout the country. Something special is going on here.

Where many of these standout players compete in the future is uncertain. But from a high school football fan’s perspective, there really is one thing to do right now and especially tomorrow night.

Sit back and enjoy the ride. For area football, this about as good as it gets and we might never see a perfect storm like this ever again.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com.

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