Football preview: Loyalsock at Montoursville

Background: Montoursville can clinch a District 4 Class AAA playoff berth if it defeats Loyalsock tonight. The Lancers won last year’s Battle of the Bridge game and are seeking their first win at Montoursville since 2007. Loyalsock will be the No. 2 seed in the Class AAA field and host either Lewisburg or Mifflinburg next week. Montoursville is trying to reach districts for a seventh straight season.

Loyalsock facts: The Lancers are district-bound for a sixth straight season and are coming off a heartbreaking 32-26 loss to HAC-I champion Shikellamy. Loyalsock twice overcame deficits, including in the final five minutes and showed why it could be a serious district title contender. The offense is surging at the right time and Cole Cavanaugh ran for 105 yards and a touchdown. Connor Watkins totaled 246 yards and is second in the area with 22 touchdown passes. He also has run for 297 yards and seven touchdowns. Gerald Ross continues being a tough matchup and caught seven passes for 93 yards and three touchdowns. Ross twice has produced three-touchdown games and is tied for the area lead in touchdown catches with 10. Brock Hepler, Jaiden Cioffi and Sam Newton also have produced solid receiving performances. The offensive line has improved the last three weeks and Loyalsock controlled the clock against Shikellamy. The defense bottled up Shikellamy until the fourth quarter and made an impressive first-half goal-line stand. All-state linebacker Hunter Webb made a game-high 15 tackles and intercepted a pass. Webb leads the area in tackles per game, averaging 14.8. Fellow linebacker Dom Fischetti has a shot at a 100-tackle season and defensive end Bam Bam Brima continues making a nice impact. Brima produced a career-high nine tackles against Shikellamy and also is a good pass rusher. Carmen Barone and Geno Ginoble also have played well up front and Newton has a team-high three interceptions. Loyalsock has played better on the road than at home this season and is 3-1, winning those three games by 100 combined points. Loyalsock defeated Montoursville, 27-14 last year as it gained 401 yards. Cavanaugh ran for 153 yards and Watkins threw for 152.

Loyalsock player to watch–Brad Conroy: The senior two-way lineman has helped boost both units and is a big part of Loyalsock’s offensive success. Conroy is tough to move and has been a key part of teams that have won 21 games the last three years. Montoursville has run the ball well the last two weeks so Conroy again will be a key contributor.

Montoursville facts: They started 0-7, but Montoursville kept working and improving and has earned a coveted opportunity tonight. The Warriors can reach the playoffs with a win and also have a chance to exact a measure of revenge following last year’s game. Montoursville has won two straight to turn its season around and could be dangerous if it qualifies. After winning an overtime thriller against Milton, Montoursville controlled Hughesville from start to finish in last week’s 29-7 win. The Warriors have played well at home, winning those two games and putting a major scare into top-seeded Danville in a 7-0 Week 3 loss. The offensive line has been outstanding the last two weeks and Oleg Bonner has been dynamic running behind those players. Bonner has run for 384 yards and three touchdowns, going over 180 yards in each game. The line, anchored by Dalton Tubbs, also has given quarterback Hunter Shearer time to throw and he produced 160 yards and two touchdowns against Hughesville. Anthony Washington, one of the area’s premier cornerbacks, leads the team in receiving and freshman Dylan Moll provided a glimpse into the future last week when he blew by the defense and caught a 33-yard touchdown. The defense played its best game last week, stuffing the run and harassing the passer. Safety Jaxon Dalena is having a breakout year and intercepted his third pass while emerging sophomore Cole Ranck added a sack. Sophomore Logan Balouris was all over the field and made 11 tackles while senior linebacker William Dewald added eight. Defensive lineman Keegan Leahy was a big part of the team’s success against the run and has a team-high seven tackles for loss. If Montoursville reaches districts it would play at top-seeded Danville in a rematch of last year’s championship.

Montoursville player to watch–Brian Shaffer: The senior safety has been one of the year’s premier defensive backs the last two years and broke up a potential second-half touchdown pass last week. Shaffer is second on the team in tackles per game, has fought back hard from injuries and has provided strong leadership.

Outlook: This is the area’s top rivalry and would mean a lot to both teams and communities if both teams were 0-9. That there is something big again riding on this game only adds to the drama and intrigue. Expect a hard-hitting, physical contest. Do not be surprised if it goes back and forth as well. Whoever wins the turnover battle, though, will be hoisting the trophy at game’s end.

–by CHRIS MASSE

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