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Chris Masse on high school football: Despite early blowouts, Montoursville still conditioned

A victim of its own success, Montoursville found itself in a precarious situation as it battered its first two opponents.

Montoursville built a 35-point halftime lead at North Penn-Mansfield, then led Hughesville by 28 points less than three minutes into its second game. While happy that it was dominating, Montoursville faced a dilemma. It could keep the starters in and try getting them into four-quarter mode or put in the young players and let them receive some varsity action.

Despite knowing his team faced a major challenge in Week 3 against Jersey Shore, Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer chose the second option. The starters, pretty much bored by their early destructions, did not like it and it raised a question about how conditioned Montoursville would be when it faced a four-quarter fight.

Montoursville provided some emphatic answers Friday at Memorial Stadium.

Playing against a team that outscored its first two tough opponents by 56 points, Montoursville grew stronger as the game progressed, rallied from a 12-point first-quarter deficit, scored 49 straight points and defeated Jersey Shore, 49-12 in a battle of undefeated defending district champions. The Warrior starters embraced the opportunity to go longer Friday while showing how dangerous this defending District 4 Class AAA champion can be.

“They hated it (not playing a lot) and they were mad at me, but they can be mad at me. They want to play in a game that’s 42-0 in the first quarter and that’s just something I’m not going to do,” Keefer said. “I was worried about their conditioning. We’ve been on them hard with their conditioning and they responded like a veteran team responds. They didn’t whine and complain and ask why are we doing this? They got after it and worked really hard. This was a product of that.”

Montoursville scored 115 points in those first two games, mercy-ruling North Penn-Mansfield and Hughesville by halftime. With the starters seeing so little time, those games more resembled NFL preseason contests.

To compensate, Keefer and his coaching staff altered the practice routine. Often, Thursday practices are among the week’s lightest. They often are walkthroughs for the next night’s game after going after it hard Tuesday and Wednesday. Montoursville tweaked that schedule and players were going at it on Thursday the way they would on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Instead of two all-out practices, Montoursville had three and that paid dividends against Jersey Shore.

The Warriors owned the line of scrimmage and stifled what had been the district’s most productive offense through two weeks. The Bulldogs struck early and led 12-0 in the first quarter, but Montoursville shut down the run, intercepted two passes and never let Jersey Shore move past its 30-yard line again. Instead of wearing down against a team that runs a rapid-fire, no-huddle offense whose pace might make Chip Kelly blush, Montoursville looked fresh. It surrendered just 45 yards on 25 plays after Jersey Shore scored its second touchdown.

“The last couple weeks have enabled us to practice all the way up through and that has helped with our conditioning,” Keefer said. “When you have older guys that understand there’s a reason why we’re running on a Thursday night when we never have before that goes a long way. That was all for (Friday).”

Conditioning was one thing, Jersey Shore taking a 12-point lead was another. Montoursville did not trail in its first two games and outscored the first two teams by 98 points. Playing from behind was not the plan, but it was needed. This is a team that hopes to play into December and facing some adversity against a challenging opponent certainly helps toward reaching that goal.

Montoursville scored on three straight series and went up 28-12 on Dillon Young’s 22-yard interception return. The Warriors inflicted the mercy rule in the fourth quarter and overpowered a team coming off a dominant 36-0 win against Selinsgrove.

“We had to find out how this team was and what we were made of,” two-way starting lineman Will Carson said. “We just had to get back into it. It wasn’t a big deal. Nobody really hanged their heads and that was good to see.”

“We had to take back what we lost last year to them,” running back Rocco Pulizzi said after running for a career-high 208 yards and three touchdowns. “We just wanted to try and smack them in the mouth. Coming back the way we did (Friday) helps us.”

SILVER LININGS: Hughesville and Montgomery both suffered what looked like lopsided defeats last Friday. South Williamsport defeated Hughesville, 39-7 and Wellsboro downed Montgomery, 70-28. Still, both teams take positives from those games that could serve as launching pads moving forward.

Hughesville fought hard against South a week after losing 66-0 to Montoursville took a first-quarter lead and trailed by just six at halftime. Quarterback Jacob Corson played his best high school game, completing 17 of 28 passes for 219 yards, and Ethan Snyder caught six passes for 105 yards. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong the previous week, but Hughesville regrouped, battled and displayed its character.

“I was proud of the kids, compared to what they showed last week,” Hughesville coach Adam Gehr said. “I hope it (the mindset) stays good. This team showed me (Friday) what it can do and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.”

That is true at Montgomery as well. The Red Raiders have been a whipping boy for Wellsboro in recent years, but led in the first quarter and were tied in the second quarter. Kaide Drick ran for a career-high 123 yards and the offensive line played its best collective game. Logan Almeida and Steve Prince connected for two touchdowns and Montgomery never sulked despite the score.

“These kids are very mentally tough. Wellsboro is an extremely well-coached team. I have a lot of respect for them. There were times in the last three or four years where they put the game out of hand in the first five minutes of the game and that didn’t happen (Friday) and we’re younger than we have ever been,” Montgomery coach Paul Bozella said. “There’s potential for this team. We started getting the run game. Kaide Drick did well and is making a name for himself. Our line, we challenged them and made some adjustments and they ended up plugging the gaps.”

SURGING SOUTH: A team that features just 25 players, South Williamsport continues doing good things early this season and turned a late second-quarter deficit into a 39-7 win against Hughesville. It was the first time South trailed this season and the Mounties responded well, controlling the line of scrimmage and continuing to force turnovers. Landon Lorson made a game-changing interception and Grant Bachman added his third in two weeks, giving South 10 interceptions in three games.

The Mounties also have forced a district-high 15 turnovers. Lorson threw for two scores, Austin Nash caught his third touchdown and running back Luke Winner topped 100 yards for a third straight week, totaling 186 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’ve been so fortunate. The parents have been so supportive and the kids have worked,” South coach Chris Eiswerth said. “They worked tirelessly to get into great shape. We play a physical game and it was a dogfight for a while (Friday), but I think we grew up a little bit.”

EXTRA POINTS: Muncy is rapidly growing up and a team that is playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores but has won two straight and recorded an impressive 24-14 win at Towanda. The Indians (2-1) are playing outstanding defense and the starters have surrendered just two touchdowns the last two weeks. Muncy forced three turnovers against Towanda, the offensive line dominated and five players produced 213 rushing yards … Darryn Callahan and Isaac Keane returned interceptions for touchdowns in Wellsboro’s win at Montgomery. Callahan intercepted two passes and Keane threw for another score … North Penn-Mansfield quarterback Colton Litzelman continues playing well and completed 17 of 26 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown in a 42-12 loss at Bloomsburg. Litzelman is completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 490 yards and six touchdowns … Cowanesque Valley quarterback Seth Huyler threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns, running another 88, in a 55-21 loss to Athens. Kole Hurler caught a career-high six passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

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

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Football Teams

1. Montoursville (3-0)

Jacob Stoner, Travis Johnson and Will Carson all started a year ago on a formidable offensive line that peaked at the right time and helped Montoursville win its third district championship in five years. They are excelling again, but this time they are doing some teaching as well. Freshman tackle Michael Dincher (250 pounds) and sophomore guard Joel Feleppa (235) have earned starting jobs in their first varsity campaigns and are meshing well with the veterans, helping Montoursville run for 349 yards against Jersey Shore.

“They’re two of the toughest kids we have,” Keefer said. “Our seniors have brought them along really nicely and this was the first big game they were in, so for them, it was nice to have those last two weeks to kind of get their feet underneath them.”

2. Williamsport (2-1)

This team obviously is not into moral victories but Williamsport should still be encouraged by its performance at Berwick in a 17-10 loss. The Millionaires held Berwick to its fewest points this season and the defense bent, but never broke. Defensive end Nassir Jones continues wreaking havoc in the backfield and if the defense continues holding opponents down like it has the first three weeks, Williamsport will have a shot at winning any game it competes in. Williamsport returns home Friday and faces a potential playoff preview against Hazleton. These teams have met in three straight district semifinals with Hazleton winning the last two games.

3. Jersey Shore (2-1)

Although Friday’s loss stings, the defending District 4 Class AAAA champions still lead the race for homefield advantage in their field and looked good early against the best team they have played this season. Quarterback Tanner Lorson threw for 195 yards and has totaled 13 touchdowns in three games. Stanton Westlin is blossoming into one of the area’s premier wide receivers and caught a touchdown in his fourth straight game going back to last year. The Bulldogs have another challenge Friday when they go to the Silver Bowl and play Mount Carmel.

4. Loyalsock (2-1)

Two major takeaways resulted from Friday’s 30-12 win at Shikellamy. 1, the defense is quickly improving and 2, Davion Hill is becoming quite a weapon. Loyalsock surrendered a season-low 125 yards and twice stopped Shikellamy inside the 10-yard line following turnovers. Linebacker Joeb Schurer continued his outstanding season and intercepted two passes, while adding 10 tackles. Hill dazzled, totaling 200 yards and four touchdowns. The freshman running back has played two high school games and topped 100 yards each time. He ran for 134 yards and three scores against Shikellamy while turning a short pass into a 62-yard score that opened the scoring. Chase Cavanaugh threw for 218 yards and is averaging more than 200 yards per game.

5. Canton (3-0)

Make it three straight blowout wins for the Warriors whose offensive line against dominated an opponent. That line paved the way for 524 yards, including 424 on the ground, as Canton pounded Wyalusing, 44-7. Quarterback Uriah Bailie (192 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Carson Stiner (148-2) ran over and around defenders and Owen Wesneski added two touchdowns as Canton mercy-ruled its second straight opponent. The defense has surrendered just one touchdown in each of its three games and limited Wyalusing to minus-24 rushing yards. Canton also is opportunistic on defense, forcing nine turnovers and intercepting eight passes. Cooper Kitchen has three interceptions the last two weeks and linebacker Garrett Storch continued his strong season by adding a pick.

Players of the Week

Riley Daubert, Warrior Run and Aidan Hauser, Wellsboro

Daubert was a force in a 35-20 loss against Danville. The senior wide receiver caught nine passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns while returning a kickoff 95 yards for another score. Hauser put on a show against Montgomery, running for a career-high 272 yards and five touchdowns. Hauser leads District 4 in rushing a year after tearing his ACL in Week 10 and moved into second in Wellsboro career rushing yards, going over 3,000 in the process. Hauser topped 100 yards for an 11th straight game and his 272 yards were the third most in Wellsboro history.

“He’s a special kid. We put the ball in his hands and you never know where he’s going to end up,” Wellsboro coach Matt Hildebrand said. “He has speed and he also shows a little bit of power running through the tackles as well. I’m really happy with how he bounced back from last year, coming from the injury at the end of the year, and where he’s at at this point. Every week he continues to get better.”

Game of the Week

Muncy at South Williamsport

Friday’s annual showdown could be a playoff preview with both teams holding District 4 Class A championship aspirations. Muncy used a thrilling 32-24 home win against South a year ago as a springboard to its second district title in three years. South likely is eager to exact revenge, but the Indians have grown up fast early this season and this game looks like it could be every bit as entertaining as last year’s.

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