Warriors eliminated in first round of states
KINGSTON — J.C. Keefer had to take a chance. Trailing Scranton Prep by two scores on the first possession of the second half, he couldn’t afford to just punt the football right back to the Cavaliers’ offense.
So on fourth-and-9 from his own 46-yard line, the Montoursville head coach called for a fake punt. Punter Brycen Mussina had an open receiver for a first down, but the pass was a little low and went through the receiver’s arms.
Scranton Prep marched after the turnover on downs and kicked a 33-yard field goal to push its lead to three scores, and all of a sudden Montoursville was in trouble. The Cavaliers defense allowed only 101 yards to the Warriors in the second half and pitched a shutout over the final 31 minutes in a 37-13 win over Montoursville in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs at Wyoming Valley West on Friday night.
Montoursville’s season ended with a 10-3 record in a season in which 12 of its 13 games came against playoff teams. Scranton Prep won a state playoff game for the first time in school history and advances to play District 3 champion Middletown next week at a site and time to be determined.
“If we don’t get that fake punt, it’s a mistake on my part. But I felt like it was there and if we get it, maybe it’s a spark on our part,” Keefer said of the fake punt. “And then if we get it, maybe we can go down and make it a game. That’s all it was.”
Montoursville never really found an answer for Prep quarterback Jake Ryan and running back Matt Gilmartin, despite making numerous in-game adjustments against the Cavaliers’ two most dangerous offensive weapons. Coming off their best defensive game of the season in the district final against Danville, the Warriors struggled to get the pressure up front to duplicate last week’s results.
Instead Gilmartin, Prep’s back-up running back, ran 34 times for 173 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a screen pass for a 28-yard touchdown reception in the first half.
He helped the Prep offense operate at optimal efficiency as the focus on the run game helped Ryan complete 15 of 18 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Prep punted on the game’s opening series, but didn’t punt again until there were less than 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Cavaliers converted on 11 of 16 third down opportunities last night, including 6 of 8 in the first half. The Cavaliers were also 2 for 2 on fourth down.
“We never really found an answer,” Montoursville linebacker Torin Lewis said. “That first drive our D-line had their offensive line backing up and we stopped them that first series. After that, I don’t know what happened.”
“We were sloppy and you can’t be,” Keefer said. “We’ve been playing our best football. But good football teams bring out the sloppiness. The way they block, they’re going to get a hat on a hat and there’s going to be one guy to make the tackle. Early on I felt like we were doing that at times. But we didn’t do it consistently enough.”
Scranton Prep’s offense operated in the first half picking up an average of better than 7 yards per play. They scored on a four-play, 50-yard drive, a five-play, 67-yard drive, a three-play, 28-yard drive, and a 14-play, 68-yard drive.
Gilmartin softened up the defense running between the tackles or just off-tackle. From there, it helped opened up some short pass plays to the flat or on swing passes which Montoursville struggled to cover early. A 15-yard swing pass on third down to Tommy Doherty converted a third down in the first quarter, and Gilmartin scored on a 29-yard run one play later.
Gilmartin then took a screen pass on the first play of the second half for a 28-yard touchdown pass. A throw into the flat to Doherty turned into an 11-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. And fullback Braden Burrier also caught a pass in the flat which ended up as an 11-yard touchdown pass.
“There didn’t seem to be a lot of linebackers, or anyone, out there really,” Ryan said. “So I just took advantage of what I could get. Pass it out to those guys and let them run and see what they can do.”
Montoursville kept pace for much of the first half, even answering Scranton Prep’s first touchdown drive with a nine-play, 77-yard drive of its own. Tom Shea caught a 19-yard pass on third-and-10, to set up a 9-yard scoring run from Nolan Ott, the first of his two TDs last night. That gave Montoursville a 7-6 lead.
The Warriors cut into the Cavaliers’ two-score lead in the second when Lewis (10 carries, 108 yards), made a great cut at the line of scrimmage and ran 42 yards to set up Ott’s 5-yard touchdown run. Montoursville was making yards with its running game in the first half, but after failing on the fake punt in the third quarter and going down three scores, the Warriors were forced to throw the ball more than it wanted to.
“Our guys were engaged on blocks. We said they just had to hold it for a couple seconds and the backs could make plays,” Lewis said. “It worked for a little while.”
“I guess I could have tried to stay with that, but if we’re taking six minutes off the clock, I’m just shooting myself in the foot,” Keefer said. “I probably forced it maybe too early. (The run game ) was working, but we got to the point where we’re a couple scores down and we weren’t patient enough to be able to keep doing that.”
Scranton Prep’s defense allowed just two passes of 20 yards or more last night, as it happily gave up short hitch routes to the Warriors. Mussina completed just 11 of 30 passes for 133 yards, and just 5 of 18 in the second half.
The senior finished his season with 2,866 passing yards and finishes his career as District 4’s career passing leader.
“Our coaches said keep them in front all day, don’t get burned deep,” said Ryan, one of Prep’s cornerbacks. “We were OK with those five and 10-yard hitches. In the long run we knew our defense could hold up to that.”