Red Raiders hope win brings a spark

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Montgomery’s Coty Steele tries to get though the Cowanesque Valley defense Friday night.

MONTGOMERY — As Eithan Marino took the game’s opening hand-off, three Cowanesque Valley defenders engulfed him. Marino bounced off the defenders, barreled over a few more and gained 32 yards, turning a negative play into something big.

That set the tone and immediately told the story. This is not the same old Montgomery team. The Red Raiders are strong, physical and hungry. The past is dead and they are going forward to full-throttle speed.

And they are eager to run over those that try getting in the way.

Hunter Budman ran for a career-high 192 yards and scored three touchdowns, Marino added 93 more yards and Montgomery dominated all facets Friday night as it thumped Cowanesque Valley, 27-6 and won its home opener. The offensive line overwhelmed CV and the defense allowed just 136 yards as a team that made big strides a year ago signaled that it could be poised for a big breakthrough.

“I’ve been here through the tough times and I think we’ve paved the way for something good this season,” offensive lineman/linebacker Nick Pryor said. “I’m glad it’s finally starting to show.”

“It was a good stepping stone,” Montgomery coach Paul Bozella said. “I told them our path for the rest of the season is going to depend on whether we get a win early. Last year we didn’t get a win until Week 5 and it was hard to build on that momentum. We matched up pretty well and I told them if we do our jobs than everything will take care of itself.”

It certainly did as Montgomery (1-1) never trailed, took a 21-6 halftime lead and clinched the game with an eight-run, 90-yard touchdown drive. The offensive line played the part of a sledge hammer, Budman and Marino were like bowling balls bouncing off defenders to gain extra yards and the defense swarmed as CV (0-2) gained just two second-half yards.

It was a performance as complete as it was impressive. This was not one or two players doing all the heavy lifting. This was a true team effort and Montgomery looked mighty dangerous as all those moving parts jelled as one.

“Everyone kept improving and kept working harder in the offseason to make themselves better,” Bud­man said. “They not only worked to make themselves better, but the team as well. I was very impressed with our offense and defense tonight. We have a few things to work on but other than that we were pretty good.”

Montgomery ran for 352 yards, its most in a game since the 2014 season opener. Pryor, Dan Beckley, Jacob Gearhart, Noah Eshenaur, Alex Hans, Nick Winters and tight end Coty Steele owned the line of scrimmage, growing stronger as the game progressed. Montgomery suffered a big blow earlier in the week when starting right tackle Brennan Bailey injured his knee, but Beckley flourished in his first start at that position as Montgomery put together four long scoring drives and overpowered the Indians.

Budman and Marino ran equally hard behind the line and that combination was a potent one. Budman repeatedly ripped off big runs, Marino provided superb inside running and Jensen Drick scored on a 12-yard, first-quarter run that put Montgomery up, 14-6. Add in quarterback Brayden Strouse running for 37 yards on just three carries and Montgomery looked especially dangerous offensively.

“Our offensive line did a heck of a job. That was the best game of the past two years I’ve ever seen out of the offensive line,” Budman said. “We had a play scheduled and they were calling out where they were going and where we should go and it was almost spot on every time. I couldn’t be more thankful for a better line.”

“That was our plan last year. We just weren’t physical enough to execute in most of the games so we ended up spreading it out a little bit,” Bozella said. “This year if these boys continue this physical aggressiveness, I would like to have a balanced running attack with those two. They are two special players.”

CV running back Matt Barber played a sensational game, catching six passes for 86 yards, running for 42 yards and intercepting a pass. He caught four first-down passes on 3rd and 4th-and-longs and his 7-yard first-quarter touchdown pulled CV within, 7-6. Montgomery, though, dominated from there with Drick’s touchdown answering CV’s only score. Budman, who scored on a 22-yard run to cap the game’s opening drive, added a 5-yard second-quarter touchdown that put Montgomery up, 21-6.

The defense proved as stingy as the offense did powerful and repeatedly shut down CV throughout the second half. Two interceptions put CV inside Montgomery territory, including at the 13-yard line late in the third quarter. Each time, Mont­gomery snuffed out the drives. Hudson Werner recovered a fumble to stop the first one and his sack set up a 4th-and-long the next series when Tyler Shadle made a leaping interception in the end zone.

Werner was a force, finishing with three sacks while linebacker Rhyle Strausbaugh made eight tackles. Seniors Damien Doane and Jermaine Bolden are first-time starters and were both part of a line that suffocated CV’s running game, holding it to 15 yards on 28 carries.

“Our defensive line did a great job helping us linebackers be able to read and attack,” Pryor said. “They opened everything up.”

Montgomery is learning to win and revealed that as it put the finishing touches on its emphatic win. CV was on the ropes and Montgomery delivered the knockout blow, running eight straight times on the game-clinching 90-yard drive. Budman carried the last six times, running for eight yards on third down and then scoring the clincher from a yard out. That was the game ender, but for Montgomery it might just be the beginning.