Montgomery no longer just hoping for change

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Montgomery’s Steven Prince, right, reaches for a pass intended for Cowanesque Valley's Matt Barber Friday night, in a game Montgomery won to even its record at 1-1.

Those who followed Montgomery football over the last decade might have thought they were dreaming as the Red Raiders warmed up before playing Cowanesque Valley Friday.

After struggling to field more than 25 players, including just 16 in 2012, spectators watched as 37 players prepared. That number might not seem overwhelming but it speaks volumes. So does first-time seniors like Damien Doan and Jermaine Bolden joining the team and becoming starters.

There is a buzz surrounding Montgomery and it is growing louder. More and more are eager to hop on board as the Red Raiders try taking off and write quite a comeback story.

Much work has been done and much work remains, but Montgomery is taking big steps and it showed as it routed Cowanesque Valley, 27-6 in its home opener. CV had outscored Montgomery by 40 points the past two seasons, but this is a new Raider team with a new belief. A team that has not enjoyed a winning season since 2000 believes its can win. It believes it can become a contender.

The power of that belief was evident Friday as Montgomery outgained CV by 300 yards, owned the line of scrimmage and made a nice early-season statement.

“You have to believe you can win to win,” two-way starter Hunter Budman said after running for 192 yards and three touchdowns. “If you just go out and think, ‘Cowanesque Valley beat us last year, we’re probably going to lose to them again,’ then that’s going to happen. You have to go in with a positive mentality and come out with the win.”

“We always talked about in practice how we knew we could do it and now it’s time to bring it to the table,” senior two-way starter Nick Pryor said. “We try to breed positivity. Stay positive and go hard every play. That’s what we want.”

That is what Montgomery started delivering last year under new coach Paul Bozella. The Raiders went winless in 2015 and lost 19 straight games before beating CMVT, 54-30 last September. The Raiders ended their season with a 43-0 shutout against Bucktail. They also were more competitive than in years past, including being a play away from beating NTL-II champion Sayre.

The 2-8 record and some close losses might not seem like much, but it was a good start. Before a team can win and has to learn to win and believe it can win. Players started buying in and believing they could do good things. That stayed with them throughout the offseason. Returning players and incoming players joined forces, lived in the weight room and worked to make 2017 the ultimate breakthrough.

Time will tell if that happens, but the CV performance was a good sign. Montgomery paid back a former bully, ran for 352 yards and played superb team football on both sides. If the Raiders build off that they could start arriving at where they want to go.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Pryor said. “Everyone is going to face adversity. It’s all about how you can handle it.”

“I challenged the line up front and challenged the backfield to try and win the game in the trenches and this is one of the first times we did that which shows what the offseason did for us,” Bozella said. “These boys are in the weight room since November and it really showed (Friday).”

Pryor, Dan Beckley, Jacob Gearhart, Noah Eshenaur, Alex Hans, Nick Winters and tight end Coty Steele overwhelmed the CV defense up front and Budman and Eithan Marino ran wild, combining for 285 yards. The defensive line was equally impressive and Montgomery allowed just two second-half yards. Jensen Drick and Tyler Shadle made end-zone interceptions and the Raiders repeatedly made big plays when it mattered most, something it struggled to do in the past.

All those are encouraging signs. The 18 penalties, obviously were a negative, but it spoke volumes that Montgomery kept making plays on both sides of the ball when it so often would have unraveled in the past.

“Coach preached to us the whole offseason and everyone was in on it,” Budman said. “We ended last year with a win over Bucktail and ever since then we really didn’t look back.”

That is what Montgomery is about now. The past is dead and Montgomery only cares about the future. It has a chance to be the team that breaks the trend and paves a new way.

Even those who do not play high school football are buying in, too. The junior high has 40 players this season and a three-day youth camp last summer drew 67 players each day. A new dawn might be breaking in Montgomery and so many want to make it happen. Heavy lifting remains, starting with a tough game at Sayre Friday, but a positive vibe is surrounding Montgomery football.

And that is a change the entire town can get behind.

“I think we can keep going,” Budman said. “I think we can continue to roll and build as one team and continue to make giant strides.”

“I’m very humbled by the numbers and the turnout this summer,” Bozella said. “It was awesome. I really applaud the community for their involvement.”

HUDSON HAWK: A year ago Montgomery senior Hudson Werner was part of a crowded secondary. He played safety but Montgomery thought it could utilize his talents differently this year. When the coaches asked Werner about moving to defensive end, Werner jumped at the opportunity. And Friday, he looked like a player who has spent his scholastic career playing that position.

Werner was all over the field, making three sacks, adding two hurries and recovering a fumble. Werner repeatedly burst through the CV line and was a constant presence in the backfield. He helped snuff out CV’s best second-half scoring opportunity with a third-down sack and emphatically helped start sealing the win when he made a punishing hit for a drive-killing fourth-quarter sack.

“Something clicked this year and he’s an animal,” Pryor said.

“We needed some guys up front and this is something he never has done before but Hudson really came alive last wrestling season,” Bozella said. “He started to get a lot of confidence in who he is as an athlete and that really translated to the field. All of camp we put him up front and he’s so quick and strong. It was an awesome sack there at the end.”

EXTRA POINTS: Hughesville earned 160 playoff points going to Central Mountain and pounding the 5A Wildcats, 31-13. The Spartans ran the ball at will behind their surging line and scored 24 second-half points. Jase Wright could be poised for a big season and ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Dale Shrawder ignited the defense, making 16 tackles, including 14 solos … Muncy is 2-0 for the first time since 2013 after thumping Troy, 31-21. The defending District 4 Class A champions have opened the season by beating two opponents that defeated them by 59 combined points last year and are building off last year’s championship momentum. Larry Bilyeu, who had three sacks in the opener, helps lead a defense that allowed just two touchdowns for a second straight week and a powerful offensive line helped Colby Alpaugh again top 130 rushing yards … Warrior Run captured the Tomato Bowl Trophy for a third straight year, downing rival Milton, 34-14. Pacey Howard is playing his fourth position in four seasons and looking like a pro there after running for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Gage Anzulavich threw for 127 yards and found Riley Daubert for two touchdowns … Bucktail quarterback Richard Perry accounted for three touchdowns, Logan Long caught two scores and three players intercepted passes in a 47-20 loss to Towanda … North Penn-Mansfield linebacker Garrett David was in on 21 tackles in a 26-12 loss at Athens while Judson Wise made 12 solo tackles and Kipp Hillson added 10 more and a sack. Dylan Wesneski caught a career-high seven passes and a touchdown.

Dr. Masse’s top five in high school football

1. Williamsport (2-0): The Millionaires made quick work of Mifflin County, scoring 49 first-half points and winning, 49-26. The starting defense allowed just one score for a second straight week and the offensive line paved the way for 431 yards. Quarterback Joe Fagnano threw for a program-record five touchdowns, completing 21 of 29 passes for 270 yards. Marcus Simmons is developing into an elite playmaker and topped 100 receiving yards for a second straight week. Simmons can be lined up just about anywhere on the field and caught six passes for 114 yards while also running for a score. Going back to the season opener, the starting offense has scored on 12 of its last 14 possessions and Ethen Styrker is having a breakout season at tight end, catching two touchdowns against Mifflin County. Keep an eye on Colin Esposito as well. He is making strides and caught his first varsity touchdown, a 23-yarder.

2. South Williamsport (1-1): The Mounties dropped a 34-33 overtime heartbreaker at District 4 Class AAA title contender Danville, but there are sure plenty of positives to take from a gutty, resilient performance against a team that defeated it by 16 last year. The Mounties erased two second-half deficits and their game-tying 21-play, 86-yard touchdown drive that took 9 minutes, 6 seconds off the clock represented everything that has made them such a good program since 2012. All-state running back Gideon Green spent three hours in the emergency room Friday morning and essentially had one good eye because of cellulitis but wore out a strong defense, running for 158 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-tying one, on 37 carries. Green plays both ways but seems to just grow stronger throughout games and this performance symbolized what he has meant to South the last four years.

3. Jersey Shore (1-1): A week after dropping their season opener, the Bulldogs took out their frustration on Mifflinburg, winning 38-0, and showing why they remain serious District 4 Class AAAA title contenders. Jersey Shore owned the line of scrimmage and the offensive line blew defenders off the ball as the Bulldogs piled up 506 yards of offense. A refocused Jersey Shore team is a dangerous one the and the defending District 4 Class AAAA champions allowed just eight rushing yards while forcing three turnovers. Hunter Frantz was a breakthrough player last season and continues doing damage on both sides of the ball. Frantz caught three passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard strike, while also returning a fumble for a score. Quarterback Elijah Shemory threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns and senior leader Jason Dincher caught a score.

4. Wellsboro (2-0): Zach Florio has made quite a varsity debut, recording five sacks in his first two starts. He added two more last Friday as Wellsboro romped to a 48-14 win after building a 42-0 halftime lead. Florio is part of a stingy unit that has 11 sacks in two games and that has allowed just 26 rushing yards in two games. Hunter Brown is having another good season and made a team-high 10 tackles. The offense is pretty good, too. Chase Moser has done a bit of everything over the last three seasons and ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries. He also returned an interception for a touchdown, doing so against Sayre for a second straight season.

5. Loyalsock (1-1): Everything Shamokin tried last Friday went nowhere as the Loyalsock defense played one of its best games in recent memory, allowing just 64 yards in a 27-7 victory. The defense did not allow a point or a passing yard as Loyalsock showed dramatic improvement after being gouged against Mount Carmel. Carmen Barone and Geno Ginobile were tough to move inside and Shamokin averaged fewer than three yards per play. Quarterback Connor Watkins kept the offense going after a sluggish start, throwing for 212 yards and accounting for three touchdowns. Watkins has thrown five touchdowns to five different receivers, including Brock Hepler who caught a game-clinching 19-yarder against Shamokin. The offensive line played a strong game and Cole Cavanaugh ran for 109 yards.

Players of the week

Timmy Ward, Canton and Kyle Tomb, Jersey Shore: Ward was virtually unstoppable against Wyalusing Saturday, catching 13 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns while also returning a fumble 67 yards for a score. Ward made a series of tough catches, took over the game in the fourth quarter and added nine tackles. Tomb wore out the Mifflinburg defense, running for a career-high 216 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Tomb is a hard-nosed runner who has shined since becoming a starter in Week 9 last season. This was the third time since then he has gained at least 120 yards.

Game of the week

Williamsport at Hazleton: District 2-4 Class AAAAAA looks especially strong this season with the four teams a combined 7-1. This rematch of last year’s district semifinal should be an excellent game between long-time rivals. Hazleton showed how dangerous it is, beating Wyoming Valley West, 17-15 last week and has a strong core of talented starters back from last year’s team. Both teams will be eager to make statements and Williamsport will be hoping to show that the road to a district championship still runs through it.

“We’re not playing to win games in September. Those days are over where we’re happy to get a victory,” Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said. “We play and practice and work hard to win games in December. That’s Millionaire football now. Millionaire football is cold, cow bells, hoodies, parka jackets and ski masks. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

–CHRIS MASSE

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

COMMENTS