Consistent line play brings consistent results for South

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Correspondenta Luke Winner (9) and Chris Klem (5) of South Williamsport bring down Ori Shaner (12) of Hughesville in the first half Friday at Hughesville as South improved to 2-1.

Go back five years and one sees the foundation that South Williamsport football built its resurgence upon.

It was in 2012 when the Mounties started putting one of the district’s best offensive lines on the field each week. Those units have become like mini-families since then, brothers in arms who have helped South consistently own the line of scrimmage and win 53 of 66 games. This year the family welcomed three new members, Rion Withers, Dakota Hill, as well as tight end Chris Klem.

The family appears as bonded and as strong as ever.

Those three have joined returning starters Reilly Barnes, Ben Johnson, Griffyn Metzger and tight end Chevy Bolay, helping South again feature one of the more formidable units in District 4. It certainly looked that way Friday as South gained 417 yards, scored 48 straight points and recorded an impressive 54-13 win at Hughesville.

“Reilly, Ben and I have been playing since we were in Pop Warner together,” Metzger said. “Rion and Dakota came in a little later, but we took them right under our wings and they hang out with us almost every day after school. They’re like brothers to us.”

Withers, Hill and Klem have quickly jelled and South has moved the ball at will in three straight games. The Mounties are averaging 45 points and 368 yards per game. Running back Gideon Green leads the area in rushing and quarterback A.J. Flick has thrown six touchdowns. And that success starts up front.

“We have some of the best running backs in the district and we’ve had amazing running backs ever since Eiswerth has taken over,” Barnes, a four-year starting center, said. “The line makes the running backs look a lot better and having the great running backs makes the line look better, too.”

That is what South has done since the program re-established itself as one of the district’s best. Brandon Stonge, Dominick Bragalone, Nate Koletar and Green have topped 1,000 yards each season, with Bragalone coming within 39 yards of the national single-season rushing record in 2014. The backs and line feed off each other and have brought an old-school, physical hard-nosed style to South that would make Woody Hayes smile.

“You talk about the amount of games that Barnes and Johnson and Metzger have played and the things that they have done it helps so much,” South coach Chris Eiswerth said. “Withers and Hill come in and we moved Klem to tight end and they are coming along. We continue to work that and work that.”

Barnes, Johnson and Metzger all have started for at least the last three years. All also are receiving college interest. But they know exactly how Withers and Hill feel. They were once first-time starters, joining veterans who had started making bulldozing-like blocking a South tradition. The one-time students are now the teachers and a cycle of excellence continues moving forward.

“They’re doing great and a big part of it is the position they’re in,” Barnes said. “You have Metzger, and then a new starter, me. and a new starter and Johnson. It’s great to have those guys in between the three veterans so that if they have any questions or doubts about what they are doing they can ask us.”

South scored on seven of its last nine possessions against Hughesville. It mounted a game-tying, 21-play, 86-yard drive that forced overtime against Danville and gained 406 yards against a Montgomery team that has allowed just six points in its past two games. Some of the names change each season, but the results do not.

Going back to that turning point 2012 campaign, South has had at least one first team league and Sun-Gazette all-star each season. Since 2014, the Mounties have had at least one lineman earn all-state honors, including two in 2014. Both streaks could continue this year.

The running backs have been sensational during that time but would not be able to achieve what they have without those brothers in front of them. The foundation remains strong and so does the entire South team. This is a family not easily broken.

“We just teach them what they need to know and make sure they come off the ball 100 percent hard all the time,” Metzger said. “Without us, we wouldn’t be able to run the ball the way we do. It’s nice to have all us up front make a difference.”

PLAYMAKER: Chris Klem became a breakout South player last year, helping solidify the defense as the Mounties reached the District 4 Class AA championship. Now the junior outside linebacker simply is becoming a dynamic player. Klem was sensational against Hughesville, making 10 tackles, including two for loss. He added a quarterback hurry, blocked a punt that Ashton Martin recovered for a touchdown and spent most of his night in Hughesville’s backfield.

As good as Klem was, his teammates were not surprised. It speaks volumes that when Metzger and Barnes were both asked about Klem, the word “all-state,” was one of the first spoken.

“He’s fantastic. I consider himself all-state potential just like everyone else on our team does,” Metzger said. “He’s an amazing player. He’s extremely physical and fast and he makes plays.”

“He’s turning into a contender for all-state as an outside linebacker,” Barnes said. “He put on a ton of weight and gained a ton of strength from last year. Even though we’re a pretty senior-laden team, he has stepped up as a leader for our team.”

Klem was among the team’s leading tacklers a year ago and has been instrumental to it shutting down the run in three straight games. He helped change the game’s complexion with his defense and his blocked punt against Hughesville and was part of a starting unit that allowed just 111 yards.

Entering the season, Klem was one of South’s best kept secrets. He was good last year, but bulked up and became more explosive in the offseason. Looks like his days of anonymity are ending.

“He has taken his game to another level,” Eiswerth said. “He’s worked so hard in the offseason and it’s rewarding him to see him playing the way he is.”

EXTRA POINTS: Montoursville is never satisfied with earning moral victories, but there sure are a lot of positives it can take from Friday’s 7-0 loss to District 4 Class AAA-leading Danville. The young Warriors played their best game, stifled an offense that scored 34 points last week and were a yard from tying the game late in the fourth quarter. Montoursville knows it can play with anyone in Class AAA now and has a defense led by Owen Hoffman who had a sack and three tackles for loss. Dylan Moll intercepted a pass, Jaxon Dalena made 12 tackles and Anthony Washington caught a career-high nine passes for 90 yards … Muncy is 3-0 for the first time since 2013 after routing Cowanesque Valley, 52-13. The defense played about as well as any unit can. Take away a 92-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass against the backups and the defense surrendered just eight yards. Colby Alpaugh scored three touchdowns and Coleman Good threw two … Montgomery has won back to back games for the first time since 2009 after routing defending NTL-II champion Sayre, 27-0. The Red Raiders (2-1) outgained Sayre, 368-163 and beat it for the first time since 2009 as Hunter Budman ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Brayden Strouse added touchdown passes to Trevor Kennedy and Riley Cox … Lewisburg linebacker Drevin Doebler was all over the field in a 41-7 win over Milton, intercepting two passes, making 14 tackles and helping Lewisburg (2-1) take a shutout into the fourth quarter… Michael Smithers threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns as Canton defeated Bucktail, 32-6. Smithers has thrown for 528 yards and five touchdowns the past two weeks. Levi Gaiotti caught six passes for 139 yards and a touchdown, Timmy Ward topped 100 receiving yards for a second straight week while scoring a touchdown and all-state linebacker Kaden Martell made 16 tackles.

Dr. Masse’s top five in high school football

1. Williamsport (3-0): The Millionaires lost four fumbles in their own territory, trailed by 12 on the road and still rallied to beat Hazleton, 28-26 last Friday. That speaks volumes about what has made Williamsport so good the last three seasons. Williamsport is talented and well-coached, but it also is resilient and it repeatedly made big plays on both sides of the ball when it was absolutely necessary against a good team. As explosive as the offense is, the defense has been outstanding as well and held Hazleton to just 31 second-half yards. Williamsport is ranked second in the area in defense and Chance Bower sparked a ferocious pass rush, recording three sacks in his first defensive start in three years. The offensive line paved the way for 484 yards and quarterback Joe Fagnano continued to impress, completing 23 of 29 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Ethen Stryker is developing into a nice weapon and caught seven passes while running back Blaze McClements topped 100 yards for the second time in three weeks. Williamsport has another tough game Friday at home against Wyoming Valley West and is seeking its second straight 4-0 start.

2. South Williamsport (2-1): A hidden but huge play at Hughesville came when kicker Dean Seman tackled Carter Marquardt following a 63-yard, first-quarter kickoff return. Seman is a first-time kicker who plays soccer, but did not hesitate when he became the last line of defense and he saved a touchdown. If Seman does not make that play Hughesville goes up, 13-7. Instead, the defense forced a three-and-out, South scored on its ensuing possession and the game’s complexion drastically changed. Seman has been a valuable asset, converting 15 of 17 extra-point tries.

3. Jersey Shore (2-1): The Bulldogs offensive line has been overpowering the past two weeks, helping Jersey Shore top 500 yards each time. That line dominated again Friday as Jersey Shore routed Troy, 48-7. Hard-nosed running back Kyle Tomb is developing into one of the area’s best and ran for 243 yards and two touchdowns, going over 200 yards for a second straight game. The offense is balanced well and quarterback Elijah Shemory threw for 241 yards and four touchdowns, two each to Hunter Frantz and Koby Peacock. Frantz continues making big plays and leads the area in receiving yards (404) and touchdowns (5). The defense has been as stingy as the offense has been explosive, surrendering just seven points and 375 yards the last two weeks. Zakery Kline and Darren Stetts intercepted passes for a unit that has forced seven turnovers in two wins.

4. Wellsboro (3-0): The Green Hornets made a convincing statement, pounding previously undefeated Athens, 42-7 in a showdown of the last two NTL-I champions. The starting defense did not allow a point for a second straight game and Wellsboro built a 28-0 halftime lead against a team that surrendered just 12 points the first two weeks. The Hornet offensive line has been dominant and Wellsboro already has topped 1,000 yards rushing. Aidan Hauser and Chase Moser combined for 274 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries. Those two and quarterback Quinn Henry have each run for 244 yards through three games, highlighting their playmaking ability and the line’s strength. The defense shut down a strong running game and Hunter Brown wreaked havoc once again, recovering a fumble and adding two sacks.

5. Loyalsock (2-1): The Lancer defense has come alive the last two weeks, allowing just one offensive touchdown and 217 yards. Loyalsock dominated all facets against Mifflinburg, winning 41-7 after taking a 41-point halftime lead. Cornerback Sam Newton is becoming one of the area’s premier cover men and intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown. Loyalsock is playing good defense at all three levels, not allowing an opponent to break 100 rushing yards the past two weeks. The offense is pretty solid, too, with the line clearing the way for 35 first-half points 308 rushing yards. Running back Cole Cavanaugh (163 yards) went over 100 yards for a second straight game and Connor Watkins hit Gerald Ross three times for touchdowns. Ross (4 catches, 95 yards) is giving Loyalsock a dynamic player on the outside and the junior receiver scored from 20 or more yards out each time. Ross is averaging 20.8 yards per catch and has four touchdowns in three games. Watkins is off to the best start of his scholastic career and the junior is the only area quarterback who has not been intercepted.

Players of the week

Rhyle Strausbaugh, Montgomery and Dylan Farronato, Lewisburg: Strausbaugh is having a big season and was a force against Sayre, making 17 tackles. Strausbaugh is a hard hitter who helps set a physical tone for the Raider defense. He has 38 tackles through three games, averaging 12.7 per game. Farronato does a bit of everything for Lewisburg in all facets. The area’s active leader in career receptions caught two touchdowns, finishing with six catches for 75 yards, against Milton. He also ran for a game-high 134 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries.

Game of the week

Muncy at Montgomery: The Old Shoe Game has some extra excitement this season as the long-time rivals both have started strong and both look like District 4 Class A title contenders. Muncy captured last year’s championship and is off to its best start since 2013 while Montgomery is above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2004. The last time Muncy and Montgomery both had winning records when they played was 1999 so this annual hard-hitting contest is especially meaningful. These are the games high school kids love playing in the most and Friday night should be pretty fun in Montgomery.