Dr. Masse’s Preseason Power Rankings
1. Jersey Shore
Instead of rebuilding last year, a young Jersey Shore team reloaded, won six straight late-season games and captured the District 4 Class AAAA championship. Most of the starters on both sides of the ball are back from that team and expectations are high for a program that has been one of the district’s best since 2013. Quarterback Elijah Shemory led District in yards and earned all-state honors as did linebacker Dominic Williams who led the area with seven interceptions. Jersey Shore opens its season at Thompson Street Stadium against Bellefonte. A year ago, Jersey Shore built a 27-0 halftime lead before having to rally from a one-point deficit in the final minutes to win, 33-28.
An unfortunate offseason knee injury to all-state running back Treyson Potts prevents the defending District 2-4 Class AAAAAA champions from reclaiming the top spot it held all season a year ago. Potts is out with a torn ACL, meaning offensive lineman Kurt Danneker is the only remaining all-state selection from last year’s six-player haul. The Millionaires were one of the state’s most explosive teams last season, averaging 50 points per game. The challenge now is showing they can keep the good times and the winning going after losing so much star power. It seems silly saying a team that went 12-2 and reached the state quarterfinals is an underdog with plenty to prove but that is exactly what Williamsport is now. With that in mind, tonight’s game at Central Mountain looks mighty interesting.
3. So. Williamsport
The Mounties have built themselves into one of the district’s premier programs and reached their fourth district final in five seasons last year while winning a fifth straight league crown. The schedule again is difficult but South has the players and coaches to keep building on its tradition. The foundation has been built up front the last five seasons and South again looks formidable on both lines with players like Ben Johnson, Reilly Barnes helping lead the way. Two-way starter Gideon Green nearly topped 2,000 rushing yards last year and is part of a stout linebacking unit and combines with Ashton Martin (931 yards, 13 touchdowns) to form one of the area’s premier backfields. South hits the road for a tough three-game road trip next week, playing at Danville, Hughesville and North Penn-Mansfield.
The Lancers have some big holes to fill, but also have a good core back from last year’s team that won at least eight games for a fourth straight season. Quarterback Connor Watkins is on the Division I radar and could be primed for a big season after shining as a freshman and sophomore. Running back Cole Cavanaugh topped 1,000 yards last year and the offensive line, despite losing all-stater Crae McCracken, looks like it could be solid again. All-state linebacker Hunter Webb ignites a defense that ranked second among area teams in yards allowed last year. The Lancers face a big challenge in their opener Friday, hosting Mount Carmel, a 2016 playoff qualifier that returns most of its starters and that beat them, 42-41 in overtime last season.
Scoring against the Green Hornets was about as easy as watching the Kardashian Family fret over which caviar to buy. Wellsboro shutout seven teams and allowed just 33 regular-season points. Repeating that dominance is unlikely, but Wellsboro again looks mighty dangerous on both sides of the ball. Linebackers Robert Brown and Collin Pietropola are among the best in the area and the secondary remains strong. Quarterback Quinn Henry leads a potentially explosive offense and has a shot at topping 1,000 passing and rushing yards in the same season for the second time in three years. Wellsboro does have some key voids to fill, especially up front, but if they stay healthy, the Hornets should continue building on an impressive run that includes 39 wins the last four years.
It is unusual to see this perennial power outside the top 5, but the defending District 4 Class AAA champions are facing their biggest challenge since 2010. The Warriors took major graduation hits on both sides of the ball and lost all-state quarterback Brycen Mussina and all-state wide receiver after both had historic seasons. Montoursville also lost all-state tight end Mitchell Rothrock, all its starting skill players, dynamic linebacker Torin Lewis and many other quality players. The cupboard is not bare, but facing, arguably, the district’s toughest schedule, these new-look Warriors will need to grow up fast to remain a title contender. The plus for Montoursville is that it is strong up front where Dalton Tubbs is one of the district’s best linemen. All-state defensive lineman Owen Hoffman and seniors Anthony Washington and Brian Shaffer also are excellent players.
Another team that has a lot to replace and a lot to prove. Hughesville made a late push to reach districts for a third straight season last year but dynamic all-state quarterback and dominant all-state lineman Josh Dauberman both graduated, along with several other good players. Hughesville does look strong up front despite Dauberman’s loss and the coaches have done a good job the past three seasons of maximizing their players’ abilities and putting them in good places to flourish. Like Montoursville, Hughesville has a tough schedule and will be immediately tested with road games at Lewisburg and Central Mountain the first two weeks. Keep an eye on Jase Wright who could be poised for a big year.
8. Cent. Mountain
While the Wildcats lost do-everything star Justin Neff, they look like they could be building toward a breakthrough. Neff carried the offense last year, led the team in tackles and also returned three kicks for touchdowns. But Central Mountain made nice strides as last year continued and it was the emergence of other players who are returning this season that helped make it happen. Austyn Carson might not be the runner Neff was, but he might be a better passer and the offense could have more balance. Tanner Weaver looks like a breakout player in the backfield and Mahlik Houtz is an excellent linebacker. The Wildcats will be trying to make a big statement against Williamsport tonight.
If the Green Dragons can improve up front and establish a running game, they could be dangerous in 2017. Sophomore quarterback Nick Shedleski is one of the area’s most talented and three-year starting wide receiver Dylan Farronato is a game-changer. Shedleski topped 1,000 yards in his debut season despite being under heavy pressure. The defense must replace all-state linebacker Trey Delbaugh but returns some solid starters. Lewisburg lost two close games the first two weeks last season and reversing that trend could signal good times ahead.
10. Warrior Run
The Defenders showed marked improvement in coach D.J. Flick’s first season a year ago, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2007. Warrior Run won four games but struggled during the season’s second half. The positive is that several of those starters are back and are hungry after progressing. The Defenders could be ready to take the next step and secure a district playoff berth after reaching last year’s Eastern Conference final. Three-year starting quarterback Gage Anzulavich has topped 1,000 yards the last two seasons and if the offense can build more balance, Warrior Run might really take off.
The Indians were young last year but still made huge strides late in the season and captured the program’s first district championship since 1989. Muncy has a good shot at repeating if it stays healthy and focused after last year’s success. Three-year starting quarterback Coleman Good is one of the area’s premier dual threats and all-state defensive end Hunter Poust returns as does standout linebacker Michael Kustanbauter. While Muncy rallied to win districts, taking both games on the road, it did not record a signature regular-season victory. If the Indians can go to Turbotville on Friday and beat the Defenders they can change that this time around.
The Panthers could end up much higher than this by season’s end, but they are in the same position so many other area teams are. NP-Mansfield must replace, not only all-state and standout players, but the core of good offenses and defenses. The passing game took a major hit with quarterback Brock Burleigh and wide receivers Joel Whitteker and Garrett Bickhart all graduating. The defense also took a big hit but linebacker Garrett David put together a sensational sophomore season and is one of several promising players who could help NP-Mansfield remain one of the NTL’s top teams.
Stop me if you have heard this one before … Canton has some big holes to fill. The Warriors, though, remain a threat in a wide-open Class A field and have all-state linebacker Kaden Martell igniting a potentially stout defense. The Warriors must replace last year’s entire starting backfield and how they handle that transition will go a long way in determining how successful this season becomes.
The Red Raiders have a shot at becoming this year’s true breakout team. Montgomery went 2-8 last year, a two-win improvement, and was competitive in several more games. The bonus is that several starters are back on both sides of the ball. The Raiders are a hungry and motivated team that could emerge as a major player in the Class A field.
15. Milton (0-10)
Milton can only go up this season. The Black Panthers endured their first winless season of the 2000s last year and lost each game by 15 points or more. Improvement could be measured more in how competitive Milton stays in games this year as much as by wins.
16. Cowanesque Val.
The Indians made nice progress last season and equaled the program high for wins in a season since football was reinstated in 2004. CV lost some quality players, especially up front, but has some good skill players to build around. Keep an eye on running back Matt Barber who finished among the area’s top 10 leading rushers a year ago.
17. Bucktail (0-10)
The Bucks were one of the district’s youngest teams last year. Combine that with small numbers and they took some lumps. The state’s smallest public school has only 18 football players this season but most of them are returning starters and the Bucks could have a nice rebound this season.