Preview: Williamsport at Hazleton

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette The Williamsport High School football team charges onto the field before playing Mifflin County at home on Sept. 1.

Williamsport facts: The Millionaires face their first big test this season against an old rival and in a rematch of last year’s District 2-4 Class AAAAAA semifinal. Williamsport has won three straight in this series and thumped Hazleton twice last year, but the Cougars bring back the majority of their starters from a young team that made strides throughout the season. Williamsport lost the majority of its starters but has looked strong again thus far, mercy-ruling Mifflin County in last week’s 49-26 victory. The starters outscored Mifflin County, 49-6 by halftime and the offense has scored touchdowns on 12 of its last 14 series. Quarterback Joe Fagnano has been terrific thus far, throwing an area-high nine touchdown passes. Marcus Simmons is becoming a dynamic playmaker and has topped 100 receiving yards in both games. Tight end Ethen Stryker also is coming on strong and has caught three touchdowns in his first two games. Ohio-bound guard Kurt Danneker anchors a stout offensive line that has controlled the line of scrimmage in both games and that has helped Williamsport average more than 40 points over the last two seasons. The defense has been equally impressive with the starters surrendering only two touchdowns and allowing fewer yards than all but one area team. Linebackers Alec Dickey and Nathan Welch were forces against Central Mountain in the season opener and Jamaire Burget is a good pass rusher. Ben Garverick had a sack in the season opener while both Welch and Thomas Robinson added interceptions. Robinson also blocked a field goal in the first quarter as the defense forced a 3-and-out after Central Mountain had took over at the Millionaire 14-yard line.

Williamsport player to watch–Tucker Kreisher: The senior two-way starting lineman has played a vital role in Williamsport’s success the last two seasons. He is one of three returning starters along the offensive line and has helped that unit keep humming early this year. He also provides good run-stuffing ability when called upon defensively.

Hazleton facts: The Cougars look as dangerous as anyone in a wide-open district field and showed how dangerous they can be last week, defeating Wyoming Valley West, 17-15. The defense has been stingy in both games and stymied an offense that scored 41 points in its season opener. Hazleton held Berwick to just 233 yards in the season opener and limited to Valley West to nine points through three quarters before preventing a potential game-tying 2-point conversion. The offense is experienced and dangerous with nearly all of last year’s starting skill players and linemen back. Quarterback Ryan Wolk came on strong last season and has thrown for 381 yards in his first two games, including 220 against Valley West. Wolk also is dangerous with his legs and ran for 37 yards on five carries against Valley West. Wolk threw for 1,204 yards and nine touchdowns last season. David Smith and Damon Horton are dangerous receivers and Horton played his best varsity game last week, catching four passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. The running game has struggled the first two weeks, but Adrian Otero is a three-year starter who ran for 946 yards and topped 100 yards three times last year. Otero also is a threat out of the backfield and caught 23 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.

Hazleton player to watch–David Smith: The 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior is one of the top playmakers in the Wyoming Valley Conference and gave Williamsport problems in last year’s semifinal when he caught six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Fast and strong, Smith finished his season with 32 catches for 528 yards and four touchdowns, going over 100 yards in three of his last four games. He and Horton will present a young secondary with quite a challenge.

Outlook: Tonight’s game kicks off a tough stretch of games for Williamsport and will be a barometer to see where it is at early this season. These two have played some close and entertaining games in years past and this one likely will be another.