Lancers earn Battle of the Bridge

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Oleg Bohner (21) of Montoursville runs with the ball as Cole Cavanaugh (25) of Loyalsock reaches in and strips it Friday at Montoursville.

Loyalsock linebacker Aiden Gair did not start Friday’s Battle for the Bridge Game against Montoursville. But he sure helped end it.

Gair lived the dream that so many Loyalsock and Montoursville players share when they first start competing against each other. On the big stage, under the bright Friday night lights, he made a game-changing play that gave his team a coveted rivalry win. Gair worked for his moment and then he owned it. Make that, he caught it.

Gair returned a fourth-quarter interception 60 yards for a touchdown that broke things open just when it looked like Montoursville might make it a one-score game. Gair’s touchdown gave Loyalsock a 21-point lead and helped his team drop the hammer. Quarter­back Connor Watkins totaled 343 yards and four touchdowns, Gerald Ross caught two touchdowns and Gair’s pick 6 punctuated a strong all-around performance as Loyalsock defeated Montoursville, 34-13 and captured the Bridge Trophy for a second straight year. Loyalsock (6-4) also won at Montoursville for the first time since 2007 and eliminated the Warriors (2-8) from playoff contention.

“With this being our last rivalry game against Montoursville I can’t even explain the emotions. I’m ecstatic,” senior lineman Hunter Knott said. “I’ve never felt the way I feel right now. To be able to leave on this note as a senior is really something you can’t replace. That’s always going to stick in your mind forever.”

So will Gair’s play.

Oleg Bonner ran for a 3-yard touchdown with 9 minutes, 43 seconds left that cut Loyalsock’s lead to 27-13. One play later, Cole Cavanaugh fumbled and Owen Hoffman recovered at the Lancers’ 41-yard line. It looked like Montoursville might soon make it a one-score game, seize the momentum and possibly make a huge comeback. Instead, Gair changed everything and silenced the large Montoursville crowd that seconds earlier had grown so loud.

Gair was replacing standout linebacker Dom Fischetti on that play and dropped into coverage as Montoursville attempted a halfback pass. The sophomore was not fooled as he backpedaled, covered his man and leaped high. Gair made an impressive catch and then showed off his moves, breaking a tackle and gliding down the right sideline for the back-breaking touchdown. Montours­ville never threatened again as Loyalsock silenced its offense and the line allowed Watkins and Cavanaugh (71 yards) to chew up yards and time.

“Aiden saved my butt,” Cavanaugh said. “You don’t want to fumble in any game and him making that pick and taking it all the way just shows the young guys we have coming up. They have a lot of skill and heart.”

“Aiden in practice is grinding every day and he deserved that interception,” Ross said. “Dom is a great linebacker, Aiden came in for him and I almost fell when he took it for a touchdown. It was crazy. It was a two-score game and it could still go either way and Aiden runs it in for six and it changed everything.”

Ross changed a lot as well. The junior wide receiver caught eight passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the program’s single-season record for touchdown catches (12). Ross had 101 yards by halftime and his big-play ability and nice catches helped opened up the run game. Following a scoreless first quarter, Loyalsock mounted a 13-play, 66-yard drive late in the second that Watkins capped with a 2-yard touchdown.

Loyalsock led 7-0 at halftime but the offense started taking control and scored 20 third-quarter points with Ross catching 10-yard and 60-yard touchdowns. The last score gave Loyalsock a 27-7 lead. Montoursville had made it an 8-point game following Dylan Moll’s 10-yard touchdown run, but the Lancers needed just seven plays on their next two series to go up 20. Watkins hurt Montoursville with his arm and legs, throwing for 275 yards and two touchdowns while adding 68 rushing yards and two scores. Knott and fellow linemen Dylan Armson, Max Dugan, Carmen Barone and Malaki Parlante helped Loyalsock produce 412 yards and Loyalsock moved the ball at will throughout the second half.

“Our offensive line had some miscommunications at the beginning. Once we got together and got solid that’s when we started driving the ball and then we kept pounding them,” Knott said. “That’s when things got rolling.”

Montoursville turned its season around with two straight wins entering Friday and that it nearly reached the postseason a year after losing all but four starters speaks volumes. The Warriors played the district’s toughest schedule but the senior leaders kept the team together and nearly wrote quite a comeback story. The future is bright with many starters returning but the Warriors can take comfort, too, knowing they did all they could to make 2017 memorable.

Senior William Dewald played well in his final game, making a team-high 10 tackles. Fellow senior Owen Hoffman had two sacks, senior Keegan Leahy had two tackles for loss and Brian Shaffer set up Bonner’s touchdown with a 36-yard catch on a 4th-and-12. Sophomore Hunter Shearer threw for 145 yards and went over 1,000 in his first year starting.

“Montoursville gave us everything we could handle and I give them a ton of credit,” Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. “Those kids are exceptional, the coaches are wonderful and you can’t turn your season around if you’re not like that. They have a great tradition and they are a really good team.”

Loyalsock slowed Montoursville with a physical defense and its success started up front. Bam Bam Brima, Geno Ginoble, Carmen Barone, Ian Wimer and Brad Conroy swarmed throughout the game, stuffing running lanes and pressuring the quarterback. Brima and Ginoble were forces and often were in the Warrior backfield. Brima had two tackles for loss and Ginoble added a sack as the line did a nice job freeing up linebackers to make plays. Add in cornerback Sam Newton intercepting his fourth pass and providing strong coverage and it was a defensive performance as complete as it was impressive.

“We challenged the defensive front at halftime to come out and do their jobs and attack,” Van Fleet said. “We know we have physical kids and we wanted them to start imposing their will on their defensive line and they were able to start doing that. Across the board that’s a good team and our kids came out and played in a heated rivalry game and played smart and did a lot of the little things well. It’s a good time to be a Lancer.”