Knapp becoming a playmaker for Canton

The incoming pass seemed like it might be too high, but Ben Knapp adjusted his body, stretched his arms high and caught the 8-yard pass while being hit.

That reception became a small footnote Friday as Canton dominated both lines of scrimmage, defeating Montgomery, 28-6, and improving to 2-0 for the first time since 2009. That catch, though, said so much.

Knapp looks like an impressive football player, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 210 pounds. But now the sophomore also is playing like one. Knapp already has more catches (11) in two games than he had all of last season. He is catching nearly everything thrown his way, is becoming a potential game-changing weapon and also is making a strong defensive impact. Knapp showed glimpses of what he could do as a freshman last season.

Now he is displaying the whole package.

“Ben Knapp is amazing,” Canton two-way starter Levi Gaiotti said. “He’s going to be one of the Canton stars the next few years.”

“He’s huge. We call him Gronk for a reason. If you toss it up against a kid a foot shorter than him he’s going to get it,” quarterback Uriah Baillie said. “He can just make plays.”

Knapp has the physical tools, but the reason he has 11 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown is because he paid the price this offseason. As a freshman, Knapp caught 10 passes for 147 yards. Drops were an issue and, more than anything, it was a learning season. Knapp would like to play college football one day and he understood the only way to take the next step was to work.

Rarely since that 2017 campaign ended has Knapp taken a day off. He is still young and still learning, but Knapp is so much more polished now. He took over Canton’s opener against Towanda at times, catching eight passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. On Canton’s second scoring drive, Knapp caught four passes for 65 yards before making a leaping, one-handed touchdown catch. That play and some of the other difficult ones Knapp has made is the result of opportunity meeting preparation.

“Last year as a freshman he was nervous which was understandable,” all-state wide receiver Timmy Ward said. “His biggest thing in the offseason and coming into camp was he was not going to make mistakes. He was going to use his head and focus and work hard and have fun.”

Canton is having a lot of fun right now and Knapp is a big reason why. Teams already are respecting the impact he can make with Montgomery paying special attention. They really have no choice. Knapp can outjump most defenders, is fast enough to be a downfield threat and is tough to tackle, making him a threat to gain many yards after the catch.

Knapp was held to three catches for 39 yards last Friday, but that opened up opportunities for others, including Dennis Saar (3 catches, 50 yards) and an improved running game. Teams already are concerned about Ward, and Knapp’s emergence makes this offense especially potent.

Oh yeah, Knapp is pretty strong defensively. He has recorded a sack in both games and is averaging seven tackles in two games. The defensive lineman was part of a stout defense which surrendered just 94 yards against Montgomery and which has stifled two opponents who feature returning 1,000-yard rushers. Knapp frequently was in the backfield last Friday as Canton scored the game’s final 28 points and surrendered just one second-half first down.

Games like these first two are why Knapp spent all that time working this past offseason. So are future games and opportunities. As impressive as Knapp has been, he is still so young. He can still become so much better.

“He was the hardest worker in the offseason. Whether it was in the weight room or Penn State camps or anywhere he went, he was working hard,” Canton coach Tyler Sechrist said. “He wants to play college football and he has the frame to do it. He’s ready. He’s ready to go.”

CALEB STRONG

Whatever football uniform one wears, everybody is playing on Caleb Leone’s team these days. The Jersey Shore senior suffered a serious brain injury during the preseason and has been in a medically induced coma, in critical condition since suffering a helmet-to-helmet hit. District 4 schools have held fundraisers and raised thousands of dollars the last few weeks, trying to help Leone and his family.

Selinsgrove has been Jersey Shore’s biggest rival since 2013. The perennial title contenders have met in five straight postseasons, including four times for the district championship. Last Friday, they played for the 11th time since 2013 with Selinsgrove winning its home opener, 31-10. The rivalry, though, stops when it comes to Leone. That is why Selinsgrove wore No. 20 stickers, honoring Leone, who wears that jersey number.

“We have a heck of a rivalry with Jersey Shore, but once that clock hits zero, there’s a lot of things that are way bigger than football, and that young man is certainly one of them, and his health,” Selinsgrove coach Derek Hicks said. “They respect Jersey Shore tremendously. It’s a heck of a rivalry, but at the end of the day, you’ve got a kid that needs some prayers and our community recognizes that. There’s not a team in District 4 we know better than them, and when I saw it pop up on social media, it’s crushing to know that a team you respect is going through that and a coach you have tremendous respect for is going through that situation. His family, I just can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. But we’re thinking of them.”

SHINING STARS

Saturday was a fantastic day for some former Sun-Gazette all-stars who are now performing well in college. South Williamsport graduate Dominick Bragalone ran for three touchdowns and 137 yards, becoming Lehigh’s all-time leading rusher and touchdown scorer in a 21-19 win against St. Francis. The three-time Patriot League all-star has run for 3,704 career yards.

Montoursville graduate Brycen Mussina was brilliant in his first collegiate start, completing 22 of 35 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns as Shippensburg pounded Clarion, 35-3. Mussina threw three of those touchdowns in the second half when Shippensburg scored 28 points. Williamsport graduate Jerah Reeves played well for Albany in a 33-7 loss at Pittsburgh, catching three passes for 58 yards. Hughesville grad Josh Dauberman played strong up front and Wellsboro alum Mike Pietropola made six tackles as IUP rallied past No. 15 Ashland, winning, 21-17.

EXTRA POINTS

North Penn-Mansfield made a nice statement and recorded an impressive bounceback win, blanking rival Athens, 42-0. The Panther defense dominated, allowing just 34 yards, and a balanced offense produced 28 first-half points. Mikah Kolb ran for a career-high 109 yards and three touchdowns and Brent Burleigh threw touchdowns to Garrett David and Dylan Meyer … Two-time defending NTL-I champion Wellsboro received a huge special teams lift from Tanner Button as it defeated Troy, 36-8. Button returned two punts for touchdowns and also caught a 57-yard touchdown pass from Karter Witmer who threw for a career-high 198 yards. Tyler Hancock and Hunter Brown combined for 24 tackles and Wellsboro forced six turnovers … The Muncy offensive line was outstanding Friday at Cowanesque Valley, paving the way for 472 yards as Muncy won, 48-14. Running backs Mike Kustanbauter and Paul Pepper both topped 100 yards and Ethan Gush ran for 66 yards and two scores in his season debut. Tight end Kolby Moyer caught a career-high six passes for 74 yards and a touchdown and Coleman Good threw for 137 yards … Milton played its best defensive game in three years as it won a hard-fought 20-14 decision at rival Warrior Run. Josh Rodriguez had three tackles for loss and Milton allowed just 114 yards.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 football teams

1. Lewisburg (2-0)

A week after surging past defending District 4 Class AAAA champion Selinsgrove in the fourth quarter, Lewisburg made quick work of Central Mountain, building a 41-point halftime lead and winning, 41-7. The offensive line played a sensational game, paving the way for 413 rushing yards and the defense stifled an opponent that gained an area-high 548 yards in its season opener. Lewisburg is 2-0 for the first time in three years and has showcased both an explosive passing game and a smash-mouth running attack. When those two come together in the same game, Lewisburg could be really dangerous. The Dragons have a tough game Friday, hosting Mount Carmel. Lewisburg is seeking its first win against the Tornadoes since its 2010 district championship season.

2. Montoursville (2-0)

The Warriors inflicted the mercy rule by the third quarter for a second straight week, blanking Hughesville, 42-0. Montoursville has outscored its first two opponents, 93-6 and the defense dominated against Hughesville, surrendering just 92 yards. Montoursville is playing strong team football on both sides and built a 35-0 halftime lead Friday. It also is spreading the wealth as six players scored touchdowns in that win. It can be hard game-planning against Montoursville since so many different players have done good things early this season and the offensive line has controlled things up front. The defense is playing better than it has since 2015 and has held both opponents to just 249 yards while forcing five turnovers.

3. Loyalsock (1-1)

It is much too early to say that Loyalsock’s thrilling 41-40 comeback win against Danville was a season-save, but the Lancers really needed it. And more impressive than winning the District 4 Class AAA championship rematch was how Loyalsock won it. The Lancers rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit, fell behind again late and then mounted a last-minute, 12-play game-winning drive. If Loyalsock does big things moving forward this game could be looked at as the turning point. Quarterback Connor Watkins displayed excellent leadership, totaling 275 yards and five touchdowns while adding 10 tackles and an interception. Jaiden Cioffi, Derek Gee and Gerald Ross continued making good catches and Aidan Gair ran for a career-high 77 yards. Linebacker Chase Cavanaugh was all over the field, making a game-high 14 tackles and Loyalsock forced four turnovers. This game was as much about resilience as it was about talent.

4. South Williamsport (2-0)

So many starters are new, but the results are not. South looks strong again and showed why as it battered defending District 4 Class A champion Wyalusing, 55-6. South ran the ball well, made some big pass plays and scored in all three phases. Gannon Guerrisky took the opening kickoff 79 yards for a touchdown while topping 100 yards rushing for a second straight week. Quarterback A.J. Flick threw two more touchdowns and also returned an interception for a score and South’s defense slowed Wyalusing’s power running game. Cole Lentz enjoyed a breakout season as a junior and looks even better as a senior. Lentz caught two touchdowns and intercepted two passes in addition to completing a pass. He, Flick and Lane Lusk combined for six interceptions. Flick and Lusk have an interception in each game and South already has forced nine turnovers.

5. Williamsport (1-1)

Yes, Treyson Potts did not play. Yes, it was a monsoon and that made throwing the ball harder. Still, the 38-0 loss at Altoona is hard to wrap one’s head around. Williamsport broke down in all facets against a team that allowed 42 points in a season-opening loss and that won four combined games the previous two seasons. That loss obviously does not define Williamsport, but how it responds will, and the Millionaires have a tough game Friday against undefeated Berwick.

Players of the week

Max Moyers, Lewisburg and Qamar Bradley, Milton

A year after becoming the area’s first running back to top 1,000 yards as a freshman, Moyers seems focused on going to another level and put on a show against Central Mountain. Moyers ran for 320 yards on just 14 carries, scoring on runs of 93, 62, 52, 30 and 16 yards. His 320 yards were the most by a Lewisburg player in the 2000s. Bradley had never before played quarterback so what he did replacing 2,000-yard passer Phil Davis was especially impressive. Bradley ran for 192 yards and three touchdowns, added 37 passing yards and made a game-clinching interception as Milton defeated Warrior Run for the first time in four years.

Game of the week

Montoursville at Jersey Shore

This has been an excellent series throughout the last five years. Montoursville is 3-2 during that time, but Jersey Shore used a second-half rally to win last year’s battle, 29-14. In all five of those games, the team trailing at halftime has come back and won. Forget the records here. This will be a physical, hard-fought and entertaining game.

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

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