Canton dominates 2nd half to defeat Montgomery

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Canton’s Carson Stiner (39) tries picks up yardage during the first half of a game against Montgomery on Friday at Montgomery.

MONTGOMERY–Four consecutive penalties pushed Canton back 20 yards. The Warriors faced a 2nd-and-30 as they protected a tenuous eight-point, third-quarter lead.

Four plays later, Canton converted a 4th-and-9. Three plays after that it scored a touchdown. Whatever the situation, Canton always had an answer throughout the second half as a young offensive line rapidly grew up and took charge.

Linemen Garrett Storch, Trevor Williams, Derek Atherton-Ely, Conner Davis and Caiden Williams helped Canton dominate the second half as the Warriors scored 22 unanswered points and turned a halftime tie into a big 28-6 win against rival Montgomery Friday at Red Raider Stadium. Canton was equally impressive defensively, allowing just 94 yards as it improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2009.

“Our line needed to step it up and they really did. In the second half they came out and they showed up in a big way,” two-way starter Levi Gaiotti said. “I give this whole win to the linemen. The linemen were the ones that really stepped up and that win is all on them.”

Gaiotti ran for two second-half touchdowns, setting up his game-clinching 1-yard score with a 25-yard interception return. Carson Stiner capped a seven-run drive early in the third quarter that broke a 6-6 tie and put Canton ahead to stay. A week ago, the Warriors carved up Towanda by utilizing an explosive passing game. Quarterbacks Michael Smithers and Uriah Bailie combined for 150 more yards last night, but the Warriors went old school in the second half, running behind those linemen and wearing down a tough Montgomery defense.

Canton did not score a first-half offensive touchdown with Timmy Ward’s 82-yard kickoff return providing its only points. Montgomery bottled up the run that entire half, but Canton put the game on its linemen’s collective shoulders for the second half and that group featuring two freshmen and a sophomore delivered. The Warriors scored on three of their first four possessions and likely would have added a fourth touchdown had it not taken a knee at the 5-yard line in the final minute. Baillie, Gaiotti, Stiner, Smithers and Ward all ripped off runs of 10 or more yards and Canton opened a 22-6 lead by late in the third quarter.

“We told them (Montgomery) beat you on the line offensively and defensively in the first half. We challenged them and they accepted it and they came out and played a lot better,” Canton coach Tyler Sechrist said. “I’m real happy with those guys. They executed really well.”

“This is a much better Canton team than we played last year and I give all that credit to Tyler Sechrist and what he’s done with that team. They are quick and run their offense very well,” Montgomery coach Paul Bozella said. “It was a constant chipping away at our defense and by the end they were exhausted from being out there so much.”

Give the Canton defense an assist on that one. The Warriors built off a strong performance last Saturday and stifled nearly everything Montgomery tried. Canton surrendered just 21 second-half yards and one first down. The Montgomery defense was outstanding during the first half but rarely had time to catch its breath before it was back on the field, encountering a surging offense. Canton loaded the box and held 1,400-yard rusher Hunter Budman to 25 yards on 10 carries while adding four sacks and forcing two turnovers.

Rhyle Strausbaugh gave Montgomery a lift early in the second quarter when he took a third-down fullback dive 28 yards for a touchdown and put the Raiders up, 6-0. Steven Prince set that score up when he hit Chris McClintock with a 31-yard pass. Take those two plays away and Canton limited Montgomery to 37 yards on 41 plays. Storch continued his strong early-season play and had two sacks while Gaiotti and Knapp added sacks. Ward answered Strausbaugh’s touchdown with an 82-yard touchdown down the right sideline that tied the game, ended a late first-half drive with an interception and made eight tackles.

“Our down linemen were the ones who got the win for us. We played good pass coverage, but they are the ones that changed it,” Gaiotti said. “We’re changing the program around. The last couple years Canton hasn’t been there and we’re changing that.”

“Those are things last year that we weren’t quite there with. We couldn’t run the ball and we couldn’t stop the run and those are two things we did tonight so that’s really encouraging,” Sechrist said. “It’s going to motivate them. It’s showing them what they can do if they play like they can.”

Prince made his first start at quarterback and handled it well, replacing injured Brayden Strouse. Montgomery misses Strouse a lot on defense, but all is not lost. Two games does not define a team and the Raiders still have a lot of time to get things going a year after reaching the District 4 Class A final.

It helps, too, having a leader like Strausbaugh. The senior literally did everything Friday. In addition to running for a team-high 51 yards, Strausbaugh made a team-high 12 tackles, ended a long Canton drive with a sack, broke up a pass, blocked a kick, nearly blocked a punt and averaged more than 30 yards on seven punts.

“The effort that he puts out every play is tremendous. He doesn’t even take special teams off ever. If he’s punting, he’s going to make the tackle, if he’s kicking off he’s going to make the tackle,” Bozella said. “The kid is an animal. His level of play is at the point right now that I can’t see how he’s not an all-state candidate. This kid spent every day in the weight room in the offseason. He has earned everything he’s gotten out there.”