Williamsport playing with chip on shoulder

Area and District 2 football followers knew it all season. They quickly knew Williamsport could play.

The Millionaires knew it, too. The rest of the state? That’s another story.

As Williamsport (11-1) started bulldozing opponents and putting together one of the best seasons in its long program history, those around the state seemed to sleep on it. The Millionaires never appeared in the Class 6A rankings and not until the last couple weeks were they even mentioned as a team to watch. Williamsport noticed, too. The Millionaires used the slights as fuel and made history, capturing the program’s first district championship since 1995 after a 55-21 mercy-rule win over Delaware Valley last Friday.

But do not think the Millionaires are satisfied. Do not think they have forgotten how overlooked they have been.

“Hopefully they continue to overlook,” Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said. “Let’s continue to overlook us and fly under the radar. Let’s keep everyone else in the state rankings and we’ll just keep moving along. We’ve had a chip on the shoulder all season.”

That chip could becoming a boulder this week as Williamsport prepares to face perennial power State College in its state tournament opener. This is the opportunity Williamsport has craved. After 12 weeks, it finally has a chance to make a statewide statement against a team that wins District 6 championships nearly every season.

“That was (district championship) was one of our goals from early on that you heard Coach Crews talking about it,” two-way starter Jalen Jackson said. “We wanted 700 (all-time program wins), we wanted to make a state run. We got a district title and now we want a state title and we want to go all the way. That’s our mentality.”

“We’re going to keep working hard,” two-way starter Treyson Potts said. “We’re going keep doing what we have been doing and see how far we can get.”

In a season filled with big statements, Williamsport can make its loudest yet if it beats State College. The Little Lions (10-1) are the establishment, a consistent state qualifier that reached the 2009 state final. From the outside, it feels like Williamsport is the revolutionary trying to shake up the old guard.

Williamsport started 6-0 and beat Wyoming Valley West in Week 4. It put up 62 points against Scranton and, after a gut-wrenching, 49-42 loss to Delaware Valley in Week 7, Williamsport went into overdrive. It also averages a state-best 50 points and 519 yards per game.

The Millionaires routed Coughlin, Wyoming Area and Berwick before mercy-ruling Hazleton in the district semifinals and getting its coveted rematch against Delaware Valley. That whole time Williamsport reamined anonymous throughout the state, not receiving any statewide “team to watch,” recognition.

Williamsport just kept moving forward. Actions speak louder than words or rankings.

“We’ve been trying to instill that winning mentality in them but you have to practice like a champion and act like a champion before you are a champion,” Crews said. “You have to prepare llike a champion before you become a champion. That was the first quote we hung up this season. It’s a Bill Walsh quote and sitting there on the wall all year so it’s all molded in now, but it sank in.”

In some ways, it is not shocking that Williamsport has received minimal statewide recognition. This was a long-dormant program that before last season had produced just two winning campaigns since 2002. Williamsport won eight games in four years before going 6-5 last year. Statewide accolades seems like they are about where a team or program has been instead of where it is or where it may be going.

Finally, however, the state might be noticing. After decimating nine-win Delaware Valley, 55-21 and scoring 41 straight points against it in the middle quarters, Williamsport is now ranked No. 8 in the Pennsylvania Football News Rankings–one spot below State College.

Still, there’s only 16 teams still playing football so one can hardly tell if the state has finally embraced Williamsport or not. All that, though, is moot. Williamsport has the opportunity to silence any doubters come Friday at Selinsgrove.

And after seeing the huge crowd at last week’s district final, Williamsport likely will be playing in front of an army of Millionaire fans. The state might have ignored it for most of the season, but Williamsport’s fans have understood that something special has been going on.

“The fans are amazing,” quarterback Isaiah Hankins said. “The community is behind us.”

If Williamsport can win Friday it will have more of the state behind it as well. It is establishment vs. the new kid on the block and it should be quite a battle.

“We’ve always been doubted since we’ve been up here,” Hankins said. “We go into every game with a chip on our shoulder and we want to prove to everybody that Williamsport is back.”

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter @docmasse