Ross’ return big boost to Sock offense

DAVE KENNEDY/For The Sun-Gazette Gerald Ross, right, and Loyalsock open the District 4 Class AAA playoffs Friday vs. Lewisburg.

Gerald Ross made an immediate impact as a Loyalsock freshman basketball player, helping a young team make a late playoff push. His football days seemed long gone and a potential collegiate basketball future beckoned.

As well as Ross played, though, that football itch could not be extinguished. The only reason he stopped playing was because he wanted to stay healthy for basketball. But he figured, why stop doing something he loved when the future is never guaranteed, anyway?

Ross gave football another chance as a sophomore and that decision has paid huge dividends throughout 2017. As good as he is at basketball, Ross might even be a better football player. Loyalsock’s opponents would not argue.

Fast, tall and athletic, Ross has become an outstanding wide receiver. And in just his second high school season, Ross already has made history. The junior caught eight passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns in Friday’s 34-13 win at Montoursville, breaking the single-season record for touchdowns (12) in the process.

“I always enjoyed playing, but I stopped because I didn’t want to get hurt for basketball but then I was like if you love something why not do it while you can?” Ross said. “I’m very happy with the decision. I came out and worked every day and it’s paid off.”

That is an understatement. Ross is having one of the best receiving years in program history. He has given an already dangerous offense another dynamic. Ross has become a game-changer and is a big reason Loyalsock (6-4) is a serious District 4 Class AAA title contender.

What Ross produced Friday was just a taste of what he has done throughout this breakout season. He caught multiple touchdowns in a game for a third time and leads the area in touchdown catches. Ross also is among the district leaders with 46 catches for 850 yards, averaging 18.5 yards per catch.

“It’s a lot of summer 2-a-days and it’s hot on the turf and it’s just grinding and not giving up,” Ross said. “It’s keeping your head and staying focused and working on every little thing like route running and dropping the hips. Hard work pays off all the time so I just have to keep putting in the hard work.”

Loyalsock is enjoying the fruits of Ross’s labor. Running back Cole Cavanaugh is approaching a second straight 1,000-yard season and Ross is part of a deep and talented receiving group. But his ability to stretch the field, to make difficult catches and to make things happen after the catch has opened up the offense more.

What Ross does goes beyond the numbers. He caught two touchdowns and only a terrible call in which he extended the ball across the goal line before being tackled prevented him from having a third against Montoursville. He caught three passes that went for 40 or more yards and it was how Ross made those eight catches. He outfought a defender for one grab, he slid and made a difficult diving catch for another. He leaped high for a catch and he simply blew by a defender on a 60-yard touchdown. Ross basically unleashed his entire arsenal, helping Loyalsock break open a game that was scoreless until late in the second quarter.

“He’s a big basketball player so he can get up there. The plays he makes jumping over people to get the ball are huge. It gets us going,” Cavanaugh said. “In the first and second quarter, we were down and he got the momentum going with a big catch. He does that game in and game out. We’re just happy to have him on the squad this year.”

Ross showed flashes as a sophomore, but that year was more about learning. Ross caught 10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown but did make a big 31-yard catch against Montoursville in a 27-14 win against the eventual district champions. Others might not have seen it, but Ross was making strides and showing why he could help fill the void left by all-state receiver Marcus Williams.

Ross wasted no time showing how far he came either. He made a brilliant touchdown catch in the opener against Mount Carmel then produced a three-touchdown performance two weeks later against Mifflinburg. He has gone into overdrive late this season and has 15 catches for 268 yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks against Montoursville and HAC-I champion Shikellamy.

“Last year I was nervous,” Ross said. “It was my first time back in two years and I didn’t know what could happen. One dropped ball and my confidence hit the floor and I wouldn’t recover but that’s not the case this year.”

“Last year was kind of his reaccliamation process. He was able to get it going and pick up some of the tendencies and get back into the game,” Van Fleet said. “This year, when you’re approaching school records for a lot of receiving categories he’s found an absolute love and enjoyment.”

Colleges are starting to notice. Ross said some Division II and III schools have reached out. Because he did not play a lot until this year it is understandable why there is not greater interest yet. That could change if Ross keeps going strong.

What matters most, though, is the present and Ross is giving Loyalsock all he can. It has been a tough personal time for Ross, but he keeps battling and improving. This basketball player is becoming a model football player.

“Gerald is a heck of a receiver. To be able to shed what is going on and focus and put it forward is a testament to his character,” Van Fleet said. “You always recognize that character is exposed in these moments and he has it in bunches. We’re excited to have a player and person like that on our team who’s able to push himself forward in tough moments.”

FINISHING STRONG: Hughesville ended its season on a big high, mounting a last-minute, 56-yard game-winning drive and beating Muncy, 35-29. The lead went back and forth as both teams put together one of the most exciting games in this excellent rivalry series. The Spartans (2-8) battled back after Muncy took the lead with 61 seconds remaining. Ori Shaner produced three touchdowns and Devon Bushor made a magnificent fourth-down catch on the game-winning drive that Pat Rogers capped when he caught Shaner’s 6-yard touchdown with just 8.2 seconds remaining.

Hughesville’s offensive line played its best game and Shaner threw for 129 yards. With several promising players returning next year, Hughesville winning could provide a springboard into 2018.

Muncy (7-3) has a chance to bounce back in the best way possible. The top-seeded Indians are seeking a second straight District 4 Class A championship and open their quest Friday against Wyalusing which played Towanda tough in its finale. Coleman Good threw for 221 yards and Colby Alpaugh topped 100 yards rushing while catching two touchdowns and totaling 192 yards.

EXTRA POINTS: Montgomery clinched its first District 4 home playoff game since 1999, thumping Bucktail, 35-8. The Red Raiders (5-5) reached five wins for just the second time since 2001 as Hunter Budman ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Brayden Strouse threw for 131 yards and the defense was outstanding. Montgomery is the No. 2 seed and will host No. 3 Bucktail Friday … Lewisburg (4-6) clinched its 10th straight District 4 playoff berth, erasing a 14-point first quarter deficit and a 3-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 27-22 win at Mifflinburg. The offensive line dominated Mifflinburg and freshman running back Max Moyers ran for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Nick Shedleski went over 1,000 yards for a second straight year … Warrior Run quarterback Gage Anzulavich threw for a career-high 294 yards and two touchdowns in his final scholastic game, but Danville defeated the Defenders, 63-21. Anzulavich topped 1,000 yards for a third straight year and finished with a career-best 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns … Milton quarterback Phil Davis threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-21 loss at Shikellamy, going over 2,000 yards. The junior quarterback has 2,094 yards and 19 touchdowns … Montoursville sophomore quarterback Hunter Shearer threw for 145 yards against Loyalsock, going over 1,000 yards and finishing with 1,047 in his debut season … Canton’s Timmy Ward capped a sensational sophomore season with six catches for 91 yards and a 48-yard punt return touchdown in a 34-24 loss to Troy. Ward set program records with 51 catches and 925 yards. Quarterback Michael Smithers threw for 265 yards against Troy and his 1,620 yards are the second-most in program history.

Dr. Masse’s top five in football

1. South Williamsport (9-1): The Mounties completed their fifth nine-win regular season in six years, recording a quality 27-12 road at playoff-bound Line Mountain. It sounds like a broken record, but the offensive line was brilliant again, paving the way for 325 rushing yards. Gideon Green ran for 262 yards and went over 2,000 yards this season while Ashton Martin continued his late-season surge and ran for two touchdowns. Hunter Finn has made a big impact and threw a touchdown to quarterback A.J. Flick who is closing in on a 1,000-yard season. The defense bottled up an explosive offense, consistently harassing 1900-yard passer Evan Herb and allowing just 186 yards. South has one of the toughest’s area first-round games Friday, hosting Mount Carmel in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals.

2. Wellsboro (10-0): Quite a tradition is being built at Wellsboro and the Green Hornets finished their third undefeated regular season since 2013 in dominating fashion, hammering North Penn-Mansfield, 36-7. Wellsboro has won 21 straight regular-season games and outgained the playoff-bound Panthers, 555-138. The starting defense finished the regular season scoring more touchdowns (8) than it allowed (5) as Alex Kozuhowski intercepted a pass and Collin Pietropola added a sack. The offensive line has been one of the area’s best and Wellsboro ran and threw the ball well against a what had been a stingy defense. Wellsboro has a chance to make a statement if it can make a playoff run. The Hornets have a challenging first-round game Friday against Line Mountain.

3. Williamsport (7-3): When the Millionaires put everything together they are a mighty dangerous team and they showed it against Berwick, winning 32-27. Williamsport defeated the Bulldogs (8-2) for a second straight year and for the first time at home in the 2000s. The defense showed vast improvement and Jamaire Burget clinched the win with a sack at midfield on a late 4th-and-2. The offensive line manhandled a defense allowing less than 200 yards per game and Williamsport finished with 454 yards. Marcus Simmons caught seven passes, scored his 11th touchdown and broke Jerah Reeves’ record for single-season catches. Simmons has a district-best 63 catches for 860 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ethen Stryker caught his eighth touchdown and his 48 catches are the most by an area tight end in the 2000s. Colin Esposito is emerging as a dangerous weapon and caught two touchdowns. Williamsport needs a similar well-rounded team performance Friday when it hosts surging Hazleton in the District 2-4 Class AAAAAA semifinals.

4. Jersey Shore (7-3): The Bulldogs are playing some of their best football at the perfect time and routed rival Central Mountain, 49-14. The starting defense allowed no points and Jason Dincher returned a fumble for a touchdown. Linebacker Hunter O’Connor continued his big season with 13 tackles, including three for loss. Kyle Tomb ran wild behind a strong offensive line, rushing for 181 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. Tomb has produced 1,552 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first full season starting. Wide receiver Hunter Frantz caught four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown and has 799 yards. Jersey Shore and Selinsgrove have played in the last four district championships, splitting those games. Now these long-time rivals meet in Friday’s 4A semifinals at Selinsgrove and Jersey Shore has a shot to exact some revenge after losing, 25-6 in Week 6.

5. Loyalsock (6-4): The Lancers captured the Bridge trophy for a second straight year and the defense shined. Quarterback Connor Watkins totaled 335 yards and four touchdowns, but the Lancers are quickly turning the page. Danville defeated Loyalsock in the Class AAA semifinals a week after the Bridge game last year, providing it a valuable lesson. The Lancers are seeking their first playoff win since 2014 and host Lewisburg Friday.

“We have a lot of guys returning who know the feeling last year, know what we have to do the first game,” Cavanaugh said. “We know what’s coming and we’re ready.”

Players of the week

Joe Fagnano, Williamsport and Quinn Henry, Wellsboro: Fagnano has been brilliant in his first-year starting and completed 25 of 37 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns against a team that had held nine teams to 17 points or fewer. Fagnano broke Isaiah Hankins’ single-season program record for touchdowns (29) and has thrown for an area-best 2,316 yards. Henry has put together one of the best seasons in program history and totaled 432 yards against North Penn-Mansfield. Henry ran for 241 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 191 yards and topping both 1,000 rushing and passing yards for a second time. Henry went over 7,000 career yards and has totaled 40 touchdowns this season.

Game of the week

Mount Carmel at South Williamsport: These tradition-laden programs both have lofty goals and Friday’s game at Rodney K. Morgans Stadium is an early-round heavyweight showdown. South blanked Mount Carmel in last year’s quarterfinals but that was a team playing without most valuable player John Ayres who has topped 1,100 rushing yards. Mount Carmel also has a 1,000-yard passer and Mount Carmel presents South one of its toughest challenges this season.

— CHRIS MASSE

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