Simmons responds to demands at Williamsport

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Marcus Simmons and Williamsport are coming off a home loss to Delaware Valley.

Marcus Simmons caught 11 passes as a sophomore last year. And that made him the team’s leading returning receiver entering 2017.

Obviously, Williamsport had a big void to fill. The team’s top five receivers either graduated or were injured, putting a lot of pressure on Simmons, a player who never started offensively last year.

Looks like Simmons likes the pressure.

The junior receiver has developed into one of the district’s best. He provided a bright spot in Friday’s 55-17 loss to Delaware Valley, catching a game-high eight passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. Simmons leads District 4 in catches with 44 for 616 yards and also has caught an area-high seven touchdowns. Williamsport (5-2) again features one of the district’s premier passing games and Simmons emergence as a big-time playmaker is a major reason why.

“Going into the season I knew that I was going be the most experienced wideout and I just wanted to use that to guide the other wideouts and help them out as much as I can and lead by example,” Simmons said. “I also knew that plays were going to have to be made and I just visualized me being a big playmaker on a big stage and with the loss of Treyson (Potts) I did feel like for us to be more successful I was going to have to make plays.”

Simmons has done that each week. He was the player who jump-started Williamsport’s season in the opener when he took a short screen pass, absorbed a hit in the backfield, bounced off the defender and went 49 yards for the year’s first touchdown. Simmons has not stopped since, scoring in all but one game, topping 100 yards three times and averaging nearly seven catches per game.

Not that this is completely shocking. Simmons stood out a year ago, averaging 17 yards on those 11 catches. He also started in the secondary for a 6A state quarterfinalist and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. It was obvious the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder had ability but he was stuck behind a deep, experienced and talented receiving core.

Simmons displayed the potential to look like someone could replicate what Elliott Walker did last year but nobody knew until he actually became the starting receiver. Simmons, though, proved early and often that he could be the weapon this team hit hard by graduation needed. He also showed he could be a swiss-army knife play and ran for two touchdowns against Wyoming Valley West.

“I definitely feel like I have made a big jump from last year to this year,” Simmons said. “I had a lot of help from the seniors from last years team and the help with the coaching staff to prepare me to perform this year.”

“He’s the same player he was last year ability-wise, he just sees the field more,” Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said. “He did the same thing last year when he was on the field. He made plays. He’s always had the skill set and he’s our most valuable option.”

Opposing defenses know that and try neutralizing Simmons. Still, he keeps making plays. Simmons caught eight passes in a Week 6 comeback win against Scranton and consistently beat a stout Delaware Valley secondary. Simmons turned a 1-yard pass into a 73-yard second-quarter touchdown against the undefeated Warriors and set up a third-quarter touchdown with a 37-yard catch and run.

Simmons can make the big plays, but he also can make the consistent ones. That is a big reason Williamsport is 5-2 instead of 2-5 after winning three games in which it trailed by double digits. This season might look a lot different if Simmons had not embraced his new role and grown into it so well.

“He’s a good football player. He does a lot of good things,” Delaware Valley coach Keith Olsommer said. “He catches the ball, he runs the ball and when you get the ball in his hands in a little bit of space, look out, because he can make things happen.”

STREAK BUSTERS: Montgomery put together a dominant second half, scoring 34 points while erasing 11 years of frustration in a 34-7 win at Canton. The Red Raiders (4-3) defeated Canton for the first time since 2005, dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and took a huge step toward securing their first District 4 Class A playoff berth in nine years. The game was scoreless at halftime, but Montgomery erupted in the second half, scoring 34 points in a near-15 minute span while forcing six turnovers.

Eithan Marino played his best scholastic game, running for 138 yards and a touchdown, Brayden Strouse accounted for three touchdowns and Hunter Budman scored his 14th touchdown. The defense forced six turnovers and Chris McClintock shined in Trevor Kennedy’s absence, setting up a key touchdown with an interception. Jensen Drick clinched the win with a 71-yard touchdown run and also intercepted his third pass.

Montgomery has been the district’s most improved team this season and is above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2001. It also is second in the District 4 Class A playoff standings and opened a 310-point lead over No. 5 Canton. The top four teams advance. Montgomery has made huge strides on both sides of the ball and the offensive line helped it total 411 yards while the defense allowed just 172 yards.

Montgomery snapped an 18-game losing streak just last year and the current players and coaches are creating one of the best turnarounds in recent memory. The Raiders are serious district title contenders and, with a good core of returning players and a strong junior high team, they might just be getting started.

EXTRA POINTS: Loyalsock gained a season-high 601 yards and routed Warrior Run, 48-7. Loyalsock (4-3) produced five touchdowns of 39 or more yards. Quarterback Connor Watkins totaled 183 yards and two touchdowns, Gerald Ross caught five passes and a touchdown and Dom Fischetti broke free for a 43-yard touchdown as Loyalsock (4-3) played one of its most complete games. The offensive line was brilliant and cleared the way for 407 rushing yards … North Penn-Mansfield played stifling defense but dropped a 7-6 heartbreaker to Towanda. The Panthers (4-3) allowed just 199 yards and the starting defense has surrendered just 15 points over the last three games. Linebacker Garrett David made 13 tackles and added his fifth sack … Dylan Farronato did all he could to help Lewisburg upset Danville. The Ironmen won, 48-28 but Farronato helped Lewisburg make it a one-score game three times, catching nine passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns while running for two touchdowns and setting up a score with a one-handed interception. Farronato has totaled 13 touchdowns three different ways this season … Central Mountain rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit and defeated Shamokin, 28-7, winning its first game. Tanner Weaver and Austyn Carson combined for 134 yards and four touchdowns and the defense allowed a season-low 211 yards while forcing three turnovers. Mason Campbell recorded two more sacks and has seven this season while Weaver also had two sacks … Milton quarterback Phil Davis threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in a 70-28 loss to Mount Carmel. Davis has thrown for more yards this season than any Milton quarterback in the 2000s and has 1,504 yards along with 12 touchdowns.

Dr. Masse’s top five in high school football

1. South Williamsport (6-1): The Mounties gathered momentum for a showdown against Central Columbia by snapping Bloomsburg’s four-game winning streak and taking a 42-14 decision. The offensive line again shined and paved the way for 367 rushing yards and South never led by fewer than 14 points. Tight end Chevy Bolay is a two-way starter who caught his fourth touchdown pass and also helped the defense surrender just 162 yards. Senior Reilly Barnes is another valuable two-way starter who helped both lines dominate, finishing with 1 1/2 sacks. Austin Nash is having a breakout season and intercepted his second pass while A.J. Flick intercepted another and threw his 12th touchdown. Over the last two weeks, South has outscored two quality opponents, 49-15 in the second half.

2. Wellsboro (7-0): Chase Moser returned his third interception for a touchdown in the past two seasons and Wellsboro set a program record for points in a game as it blanked Cowanesque Valley, 75-0. The starting defense has produced more touchdowns (5) then it has allowed (4) and Wellsboro held CV to minus-8 yards. Hunter Brown had two sacks, Dalton Prough intercepted a pass and Brent English continued his strong play. Wellsboro’s offensive line has played as well as any area group and helped the Hornets gain 548 yards as eight different players scored touchdowns. Alex Burrell ran for a career-high 129 yards and a touchdown, becoming the fourth Hornet this season to top 100 yards. Sophomore Aidan Hauser ran for 85 yards and a touchdown on just four carries and is having a breakout season, totaling 678 yards and eight touchdowns.

3. Williamsport (5-2): The Millionaires have a lot of soul-searching to do after the Delaware Valley game. The Warriors are an outstanding team, but it was not that Williamsport lost. It was rather, how it lost, getting beat in all facets. The arm-tackling and other bad habits Williamsport developed while starting 5-1 were exposed so the team’s leaders will have to get it refocused and prepared for a tough game Saturday at Coughlin. The Millionaires are still No. 2 in the district standings and all their goals are still there. They just have to play a lot better to attain them.

4. Muncy (6-1): The Indians dominated the line of scrimmage against CMVT in Saturday’s 63-24 win, gaining 577 yards. Senior running back Colby Alpaugh scored twice and went over 1,000 total yards this season. Alpaugh has 1,048 yards and 13 touchdowns. Center Donovan Diehl is a big part of that offensive success and also helps ignite the defense. The 5-9, 185-pounder is having a strong season on both sides of the ball and consistently drove defenders off the ball while helping the defense allow just 54 yards over the game’s final 22 minutes.

“Donovan is a great kid. He stepped in at center this year and is playing two ways full-time and we can’t ask for more from that kid,” Muncy coach Sean Tetreault said. “He’s tough. He’s small, but he packs a punch. He’s ready to hit somebody.”

5. Jersey Shore (4-3): Turnovers continue to plague Jersey Shore and five more doomed it in a 32-21 loss to Shikellamy. The Bulldogs have 21 turnovers this season, including nine in two straight losses, and 12 in three losses total. Jersey Shore likely will have to go on the road in the playoffs but the defending champions still have title potential if they can clean up those mistakes. The defense played a strong game against Shikellamy, shutting down the run, and running back Kyle Tomb ran for 154 yards and a touchdown. Tomb became the second area running back to go over 1,000 yards and has had a big season, running for 1,118 yards and 10 touchdowns. It is the fourth time in five seasons that Jersey Shore has both a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard passer.

Players of the week

Gideon Green, South Williamsport and Hunter Webb, Loyalsock: Green ran over and around Bloomsburg defenders, carrying the ball 45 times for 312 yards and five touchdowns. Green also helped ignite the defense and leads District 4 in rushing. The senior has come up big in consecutive tough games, running for 551 yards and nine touchdowns. Webb was a wrecking ball on both sides of the ball and put on a dazzling show against Warrior Run. The all-state linebacker, who leads the area in tackles per game made a game-high 15 tackles, including seven for loss and added four sacks. It was about as dominant a game as a defender can have. Webb was just as impressive offensively, running for 149 yards and three touchdowns on just four carries. The Connecticut-bound senior scored touchdowns on runs of 72, 63 and 14 yards and is providing a dangerous offense another weapon.

Game of the week

South Williamsport at Central Columbia: This basically is the HAC-III championship with both teams undefeated in league play. Central is undefeated and has big wins over Loyalsock and Danville. South also defeated Loyalsock and is hoping to make another big statement against its toughest opponent yet. This game also has major District 4 Class AA playoff points ramifications and should be exciting and close from kickoff to the final second.