Williamsport has chance to avenge loss to Delaware Valley
Player after player filed past the Williamsport bench. All quietly did so last October, some showing anger, some frustration and others tears.
The Millionaires were still 6-1 and controlled their district playoff destiny, but losing at Delaware Valley five weeks ago hurt bad. It was not just that Williamsport lost, but how it did so: giving up big plays, falling behind by double-digits early, then making a furious fourth-quarter comeback and tying the game before losing, 49-42, in the final minute.
Now, the Millionaires have a second chance. Now they have a chance to erase that memory. Now they have a shot at program immortality.
Williamsport hosts Delaware Valley Friday night for the District 2 6A championship. The Millionaires (10-1) are trying to win the program’s first district title since 1995 and exact some revenge against the only team that has beaten it.
“Winning so big (the first six weeks) and then losing such a close game was such a dagger to our hearts,” Williamsport offensive lineman Eli Clary said. “It humbled us and it made us realize we had to work so much harder than we had been if we want to make a state run. They are a great team and we have to play way better than we did against them the first time.”
Losing is an awful feeling, but how athletes and teams bounce back from them often dictates the future. If they learn from defeat, that loss can become a positive. Yes, it is a painful positive but Williamsport appears better off after experiencing that heartbreaker.
Williamsport responded by winning its next four games in convincing fashion. After erasing a second-half deficit against Coughlin, Williamsport mercy-ruled Wyoming Area and Berwick teams that are competing for district championships Friday and then hammered Hazleton, 48-14 in last week’s semifinals.
Instead of demoralizing Williamsport, that Delaware Valley loss might have re-energized it. The Millionaires stampeded down the the stretch, earning the program’s first home playoff game in the 2000s, reaching 10 wins for the first time since the 1990s and winning the first playoff game since 1997.
“They learned that Del Val is a real good team and they are a real good team,” Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said. “We showed we can fight back against anybody or anything. A loss is still a loss, but we learned a lot about ourselves from that game.”
Williamsport also learned how explosive and balanced Delaware Valley is and that it can play pretty strong defense, too. Yes, the Millionaires gained 528 yards, but they struggled early, gained just one first down on their first two series and trailed 27-14 at halftime.
The most important lesson Williamsport learned is that it needed to get better. The Millionaires did just that the past four weeks, but how far they have come will be determined during Friday night’s rematch.
“Offensively we have our errors but the defense is getting better every week and it’s helping our offense and our offense helps our defense,” Clary said. “We just have to get better in all three facets of the game and we can be a great team.”
That is what Williamsport has strived for since Crews took over last season. A year ago, Williamsport made a huge turnaround, going from 2-8 to 6-5 and reaching the postseason for the first time since 2010. Most starters returned this season so expectations were high. Still, it was not good enough to just be good. Crews said from Day 1, he wanted his team to attain perfection.
The perfect football game probably does not exist, but Williamsport nearly has a perfect record. Delaware Valley is the only team preventing the Millionaires from having that unblemished mark.
Second chances are rare, so what a perfect opportunity the Millionaires now have.
“We had a big turnaround in this program and I’m excited to be a part of that, but we have to prepare for this game mentally and physically,” senior wide receiver Dante Wright said. “We have to go hard and come ready to ball out.”
Williamsport has captivated its fans and community this season, averaging 517 yards per game and playing some of the most exciting football fans have seen in decades on the hill. A few years ago when those fans talked about all-time great Williamsport teams they talked about the past. They looked back almost in a sad way at how good things used to be.
Then this 2016 Williamsport team came along. Win tomorrow night and these Millionaires take their place aside those super teams of the past.
Williamsport already has established itself as one of the most exciting teams in program history. Now it has a shot at making its case for being one of the best.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Crews said. “Hopefully the stands will be packed. Hopefully it will be standing room only, just like the old days.”
DISTRICT 2-4 CLASS AAAAAA CHAMPIONSHIP: No. 2 Delaware Valley (9-2) at No. 1 Williamsport (10-1)
(Compiled by Chris Masse)
Del Val PPG–36.1, PPA–15.0; YPG–424.5
Williamsport PPG–49.5, PPA–22.1; YPG–517.3, YPA–275.5
Delaware Valley facts: The Warriors have become a perennial district title contender over the last decade and have won six straight games. Delaware Valley handed Williamsport its only loss, edging it 49-42 in a Week 7 thriller last month. The Warriors never trailed in that game and held four different double-digit leads, but Williamsport tied it with 2:39 remaining. Delaware Valley then mounted an impressive game-winning drive as Ryan Obiso capped a big day with a 15-yard touchdown run. Obiso ran for 191 yards and four touchdowns in that game and has shined since becoming the starter in Week 4, running for 1,222 yards and 16 touchdowns. Obiso consistently gained yards after contact against Williamsport and the Warrior offensive line consistently won the battle up front. The hard-nosed junior ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 35-0 semifinal win over Scranton. Delaware Valley is the most balanced and explosive offense Williamsport has faced. Quarterback Matt Cavallaro has broken a District 2 record, throwing for 2,625 yards and 31 touchdowns. Cavallaro was outstanding against Williamsport as well, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns. He has topped 200 yards in nine of 11 games and threw for a season-high 334 yards and six touchdowns in a Week 4 win over West Scranton. Tyler Smith and Dylan Kelly form a dangerous receiving tandem and both had strong games against Williamsport. Smith has 43 catches for 640 yards and nine touchdowns. Kelly has excellent speed and has 42 catches for 738 yards and seven touchdowns. He caught a long second-half touchdown against Williamsport, finishing with 111 yards on three catches. Delaware Valley’s defense has been stifling since playing Williamsport. The Warriors have allowed just 22 points in those four games since and no team has scored more than eight points against it during that time. The Warriors are quick, active and physical and held Scranton to just 100 yards, including only 31 on the ground.
Delaware Valley player to watch–John Manganella: The junior linebacker is one of District 2’s best and has a team-high 9 1/2 sacks. Manganella was all over the field against Williamsport, making 14 tackles and leads the Warriors in tackles. He also had four sacks two weeks ago in a 26-8 win against Abington Heights.
Williamsport facts: The Millionaires are seeking their first district championship since 1995 and also are hoping to draw their biggest crowd since the 1986 Eastern Conference championship that featured current Dallas Cowboys coach Gary Brown. Williamsport has won four straight since the Delaware Valley loss and has topped 40 points in seven straight games, including last week as it routed Hazleton, 48-14. The Millionaires lead the state in yards per game and the starters scored on all six series against Hazleton, gaining 348 yards and scoring five first-half touchdowns on just six plays. Offensive linemen Tyler Anderson, Chance Bower, Eli Clary, Kurt Danneker and Tucker Kreisher are paving the way for this explosive offense and have especially surged in the season’s second half. Quarterback Isaiah Hankins topped 2,000 passing yards for the second time in three seasons last week and has accounted for 2,479 yards and 35 touchdowns. Hankins played one of his best games against Delaware Valley, completing 18 of 27 passes for 321 yards and also scoring a game-tying, fourth-quarter touchdown. Wide receiver Elliott Walker had a huge game that day as well, catching 10 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown. Dante Wright missed the first Delaware Valley game and is having a breakout season. Wright caught four passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns against Hazleton. Delaware Valley did all it could to slow running back Treyson Potts in the first game, but the sophomore still ran for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Potts has scored 31 touchdowns three different ways this season and leads District 4 in rushing while averaging 12.2 yards per carry. Marty Clark is another dangerous running back and is the third Williamsport player to top 500 yards. He ran for 63 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win. The defense has struggled at times, but has played better the last few weeks, especially against the run. Danneker is playing defensively now and the Division I recruit has made a big impact. Keough Johnson and Jamaire Burget had sacks last week and linebacker Nathan Welch leads the team in tackles.
Williamsport player to watch–Ross Stebbins: An all-state defensive end last year, Stebbins constantly has dealt with teams focusing on him and doing all they can to slow him down. If Stebbins and his teammates can consistently get pressure on Cavallaro and disrupt his timing that would be a huge plus.
Winner plays: District 6-9 champion, State College or Erie McDowell at a District 4 site
Outlook: Flip a coin here in what should be a fantastic game from start to finish. Delaware Valley has the defensive edge and for the Millionaires to win, they not only have to avoid some of the offensive mistakes that hurt them in the first game, but also prevent the big plays that doomed them that first time. This should be an electric atmosphere with a big crowd tonight. Williamsport has waited a long time for a game like this and it should be a lot of fun.