Chris Masse on football: Williamsport’s Jones made impact in first varsity start

Nassir Jones did not record a sack against Central Mountain, but he sure came close. The Williamsport defensive end repeatedly burst past offensive linemen and hurried the quarterback five times.

What Jones did do might be more impressive than piling up sacks. He constantly disrupted Central Mountain’s offense, forcing incompletions and turnovers while helping Williamsport bury Central Mountain, 62-26 in the season opener last Friday.

And he is only a sophomore. And this was just his first varsity start.

The Williamsport offense stole the show against Central Mountain, piling up eight first-half touchdowns and seemingly doing whatever it pleased. But Jones showed why the defense might be developing its explosive playmaker.

“He is truly just a puppy so the future is bright for that young man and for the program,” Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said. “He’s got two more offseasons to make himself into what he needs to be.”

If Jones stays dedicated and hungry over those next two offseasons then, look out. In just a little over a half against Central Mountain, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder forced a fumble that he returned 39 yards to set up a touchdown and made three tackles for loss. He also forced three incompletions with his pressure as well as an early third-quarter interception. The sacks would have been nice, but Jones inflicted plenty of damage anyway.

“I take a lot of pride in that, but I would like to get the sacks, though. They’re going to be there one day,” Jones said. “I learned a lot from Coach (Josh) Rogers and I want to thank him. It was really exciting experiencing and learning from other people when I was out there.”

Jones looks like a star in training. He is big, strong and fast. But there are a lot of players in all sports who look like big-time playmakers. It takes more than size and talent to become special. The bonus for Williamsport is that Jones seems like he understands that.

Jones is hungry and driven. He wants to keep improving and continue making an impact. For a defense that struggled mightily at times, having someone like Jones could be a huge blessing.

“Conming off the edge he’s hard to stop,” Minnesota-bound running back and safety Treyson Potts said. “He’s a great athlete. He can do his thing.”

Had it not been for Jones, Central Mountain might have done a lot more first-half damage. He forced two hurried throws that ended drives and Zane Probst was forced to rush a pass as Jones closed in that Brock Moyer intercepted. Three times, Jones tossed aside the opposing blocker and dropped the running back behind the line of scrimmage.

Jones might experience some growing pains. He is a first-time starter who played no varsity football last year. But he also looks like a potential game-changer.

“You know the (opponent) is waiting for you,” Jones said. “They’re watching you and coming for you. They know you’re big so you have to sell out.”

Oh yeah, Jones could give the offense a boost, too. The Millionaires already have Potts, who ran for 150 yards and five touchdowns. They have an all-state quarterback Joe Fagnano (10 of 12, 250 yards, 3 total touchdowns) and they have one single-season receptions record holder Marcus Simmons (4 catches, 151 yards, touchdown). Collin Esposito is another dynamic playmaker, but Jones looks like a tight end who could make this already lethal offense even better.

Jones caught two passes for 26 yards and displayed nice hands, hauling in both his targets. He also ran well after the catch on a 21-yard reception. Ethen Stryker earned all-state honors at tight end last season and his ability to dominate the middle of the field provided the offense a huge boost. Jones could assume a similar role as the season continues.

“He’s going to probably see a lot more time on field (offensively),” Potts said. “He’s a great blocker on the edge but he also uses his speed and versatility to catch the ball.”

Potts will play at Minnesota next fall and both Fagnano and Simmons have received Division I interest. Kurt Danneker earned his second all-state selection last fall and is playing at Ohio so Williamsport continues popping up on Division I recruiters radars. If Jones aims high, keeps progressing and puts together some dedicated offseasons, maybe he will become a future target.

“You win the battles, as far as football goes in the offseason,” Crews said. “How much stronger, how much faster is he going to get? How much film work is he going to put in? Once we get that going, the sky is the limit for that young man.”

SWITCH-A-ROO

Canton made quite a statement in its season opener Saturday, rallying from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit and beating Towanda, 25-21. Quarterback Uriah Baillie was outstanding, throwing for 220 yards and three touchdowns while also running for a 41-yard score. Early in the game, he and 2017 starter Michael Smithers were alternating nearly every play. Smithers injured his ankle in the first quarter and stayed on defense for all but three plays the rest of the way. Still, Canton has quite a quarterback tandem and plans on utilizing both players.

“They do a few different things but they can both play quarterrback and tt gives you a lot of security,” Canton coach Tyler Sechrist said. “A lot of times if your quarterback goes down you’re scrambling. That gives us some securitty knowing we have another quarterback. They both are great and show a lot of heart.”

Smithers threw for 1,620 yards last season and also led Canton in rushing. Baillie started making an impact late in the season and the strong-armed junior threw 56 and 24-yard touchdowns to Timmy Ward (7 catches, 126 yards) in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner with 46 seconds remaining. Both quarterbacks have good arms and are athletic and can make plays on the run. If not for their jersey numbers, it can be hard picking out which one is actually in the game and that is the way Canton likes it.

Baillie rewarded Canton for its faith in him by consistently making big throws in clutch situations. On all three touchdown passes, Baillie extended plays and found his targets while taking hits.

“Last year I really couldn’t take a hit but we worked out all offseason and with the weight trianing I felt so much better,” Baillie said. “I gained so much more strength in myself and I put it together.”

EXTRA POINTS

A new-look South Williamsport team shares the old-school toughness that past Mountie squads so good. South roared back from a seven-point deficit, scoring 25 points over the final 6 minutes, 8 seconds to beat Montgomery, 25-7. The defense forced four turnovers and made several timely stops while Gannon Guerrisky ran for a career-high 172 yards and two touchdowns. A.J. Flick threw for 147 yards, ran for 74, intercepted a pass and found Hunter Finn for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:46 remaining. Luke Winner caught a touchdown and run for another score … Wellsboro delivered coach Matt Hildebrand his 50th career win as he starts his sixth season, thumping Cowanesque Valley, 49-6. Karter Witmer and Silas Wagaman formed a dynamic duo with Witmer finding his speedy receiver for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Wagaman also intercepted a pass. Sophomore running back/linebacker Alex Moore was terrific in his first start, running for 71 yards and a touchdown, making eight tackles, intercepting two passes and adding a sack … Muncy played super defense, blanking Warrior Run, 17-0. The Indians allowed just 183 yards and forced three turnovers while making two key red-zone stops. Coleman Good and Dylan Wilt sparked the offense, connecting on an 89-yard touchdown pass. Good threw for 223 yards and Wilt had a career-high 160 yards receiving. Warrior Run’s Jackson Welliver made a career-high 16 tackles and linebacker Austin Hampton made 11 tackles while adding an interception … Milton wide receiver Quaylin Rice put on a show in a heart-breaking 34-33 loss to Shamokin, catching five passes for 167 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Phil Davis threw for 244 yards and sophomore running back Jason Valladeres ran for a career-high 125 yards and a score.

DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 TEAMS

1. WILLIAMSPORT (1-0) — The Millionaires renew an old rivalry Friday at Altoona. Throughout the 20th century this was one of the state’s premier rivalries in both football and basketball. This will be a better test for Williamsport as it pursues a fourth straight 2-0 start. Tucker Kreisher is the team’s only returning starter along the offensive line and is playing a new position, starting at center for the first time. Beau Smith, Ethan Williamson, Ian Welshans and Jason Kelley are first-time starters so time will tell how this line jells throughout the season. Early indications, however, are promising. The line gave Fagnano time to throw and helped Potts break free for two long touchdowns, as well as going untouched on an 11-yard score. This offense could really be special if the line builds off that strong opening act. Defensively, keep an eye on sophomore linebacker Malik Jones who made four tackles and added two quarterback hurries.

2. LEWISBURG (1-0) — Although Selinsgrove lost many starters from last year’s Class AAAA state quarterfinalist, it remains a title contender. That is why Lewisburg’s come-from-behind 32-22 win was especially impressive. The Green Dragons rallied for 13 points in the final six minutes and Dylan Farronato showed why he was an all-state player on both sides of the ball last season. Farronato went over 100 career catches, finishing with 9 catches for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He also set up an interception with a tipped pass, returned a punt to set up a score and made big plays at the most opportune times. Three-year starting quarterback Nick Shedleski keeps improving and threw for 224 yards while accounting for four touchdowns. The defense stiffened during the fourth quarter and forced four turnovers. There is a long way to go, but Lewisburg showed why it could be so dangerous, especially with a potentially strong running game not yet hitting its stride.

3. MONTOURSVILLE (1-0) – A team that was so young last season is now grown up and Montoursville looks poised for success this year and beyond. Montoursville made rapid work of NTL-I title contender North Penn-Mansfield, winning, 51-6. The defense shut down a dangerous offense an Montoursville scored touchdowns in all three facets, including two on special teams. Logan Ott returned both a kickoff 87 yards and an interception 25 yards for a score while Logan Balouris returned a blocked punt 30 yards for another touchdown. Quarterback Hunter Shearer was efficient, completing 9 of 10 passes for 100 yards, Cameron Wood looked like a potential force on both sides of the ball in his first high school game and Connor Morse added a sack. Jaxon Dalena combines with Ott to anchor a strong secondary and Montoursville utilizes a lot of playmakers offensively. Do not be surprised if Montoursville emerges as a district title contender once again.

4. LOYALSOCK (0-1) – The good news for Loyalsock is that its passing game looks as strong as ever. The bad news is the defense struggled and allowed 454 yards in a 42-21 loss at North Schuylkill. Loyalsock obviously has time to fix those issues, but it also plays a demanding schedule so it has to improve quick. All-state quarterback Connor Watkins threw for 272 yards and accounted for three touchdowns. Derek Gee, all-state receiver Gerald Ross and Jaiden Cioffi all played strong games and look like a trio that will keep pressure on defenses throughout the season. Cioffi made two impressive touchdown catches and Gee caught a career-high seven passes.

5. JERSEY SHORE (0-1) – Jersey Shore’s traditional strong defense made a nice impact in a 17-14 last-second loss to defending District 6 Class AAAA champion Bellefonte. Linebacker Hunter O’Connor might be even better than he was following last season’s monster junior campaign and made a game-high 17 tackles while adding three tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Dalton Dugan made a nice impact as well, recording a sack and recovering two fumbles. Anthony Darby also is a player to watch and recovered a fumble. Jersey Shore has another big test Friday when it goes to rival Selinsgrove in a 4A heavyweight battle.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK–Ben Knapp, Canton and Treyson Potts, Williamsport

Knapp is another sophomore who is showing game-changing ability on both sides of the ball. The tight end was sensational against Towanda, catching eight passes for 116 yard and a touchdown. He caught everything thrown his way and highlighted his performance with a leaping, one-handed touchdown grab. Knapp added seven tackles and half a quarterback sack. Potts looked like he never left despite missing last season with a torn ACL. The Minnesota-bound running back ran for 150 yards and five touchdowns on just nine carries. He also was an ankle tackle from taking the opening kickoff for a touchdown and scored on four of his last six touches.

GAME OF THE WEEK–Danville at Loyalsock

It might be too early to call this a must-win game for Loyalsock, but this is a big one. It also is a District 4 Class AAA championship rematch. Loyalsock exorcised some past playoff demons when it defeated Danville, 35-6 in last year’s final. The Ironmen will likely be extra-motivated for this one and are coming off a 41-7 thrashing of Shikellamy. Look for this one to be both exciting and a lot closer than last November.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse

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