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Montoursville Warriors

45 and 4 celebrate after a 4 catch for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Montoursville football has never focused on who it has lost. It just focuses on who it has. So often, that has been plenty and Montoursville has built one of District 4’s best traditions.

That is why Montoursville remains unfazed after one of the program’s most decorated senior classes graduated last June. One does not win six district championships since 2005, capture three straight league titles and play in three consecutive District 4 Class AAA finals without knowing how to replace excellent players. It often is not a case of rebuilding at Montoursville, but reloading.

So, despite so many starters gone on both sides of the ball, Montoursville is not changing its goals. The next man up is ready, so is the new coach, and so is the whole team.

“A lot of it is we’ve established some tradition here. We preach to the kids that you can’t just expect because of what your jersey looks like that you’re going to win,” first-year coach Mike Boughton said. “It takes a lot of work and effort. They have seen that from the kids that have gone before them and they know it works.”

Montoursville has faced situations like this before and thrived the next year. The 2014 team was replacing the majority of its starters on both sides of the ball and last year’s team averaged more than 50 points during the regular season, started 8-0 and reached another district final despite losing multiple all-staters from the 2019 district champion.

Yes, those 2020 seniors were terrific players but Montoursville has a group of other Warriors who also are talented. They simply could not show it often in the past because they were stuck behind those older players. This is their time now and if a dedicated offseason is any indication, they are eager to make a big statement.

“Our expectations are always really high and these kids are hard-working kids and multi-sport athletes. We push that,” Boughton said. “They have gained experience with basketball, baseball, wrestling and football and all that will them in the long run. Those guys will continue to progress and the goal is to be in the playoffs and see where we go.”

Like former coaches J.C. Keefer and Jim Bergen before him, Boughton has been a long-time assistant and a big key to the program’s success. As the line coach, Boughton played a prominent role in helping Montoursville repeatedly feature some of the area’s offensive line play. Montoursville has produced all-state linemen in each of the last two years and Boughton did a wonderful job last season, helping a line which featured four new starters surge again and pave the way for an explosive offense.

Montoursville is in the same situation up front this season, again replacing four starters. Senior Hunter Hanna will anchor that line and provides Montoursville a super building block after earning all-state honors last year. Hanna’s versatility helped the line continue performing well despite that unit facing multiple injuries. Those injuries also gave younger players time to compete, something which could be especially crucial this year.

Helping the line is knowing it has so many good skill players behind it. Those linemen know that even if they are not overpowering the opposition good things likely will still happen if they are playing consistent football. That is especially true with all-state running back Rocco Pulizzi back after producing consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Pulizzi is one of the district’s top big-play threats and often turned what looked like five-yard runs into long touchdowns last year while leading the state in rushing before suffering a season-ending collar bone injury on the first play of a Week 6 game at Loyalsock. Despite playing just five full games he still topped 1,000 yards and ran for 12 touchdowns. Give him a little crease and he can turn it into a lot.

Montoursville also receives a big boost as JJ Batkowski returns after missing last season with an injury. Batkowski can be a difference-maker in the backfield, combining speed good tackle-breaking ability and quality hands. Dylan Blackwell also is back after running for 221 yards and three TDs.

Senior quarterback Maddix Dalena commands the offense and shined as a first-year starter, throwing for 1,160 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Connecticut baseball recruit also possesses a big arm and prevents teams from loading up the box to try and focus on stopping Pulizzi. Dalena also has good receivers he can rely on like Isaiah Fenner, Nick Reeder and Marco Pulizzi. Throughout the last eight seasons, it often has been a case of pick your poison when facing Montoursville’s balanced offense and that could remain true this fall.

“Maddix is chomping at the bit. He said he had a lot of fun last year,” Boughton said. “He’s excited to do it in his last year and let loose in football.”

The defense is hoping to let loose as well and build on the success it has enjoyed over the last decade. That unit also took a big hit, including losing all three starting linebackers.

Still, the secondary looks strong with Fenner and Marco Pulizzi anchoring that unit and coming off strong seasons. Senior linebacker Kayden Frame could be poised for a big breakout year and Matthew Conkln played well when called upon last year. Watch out for Cole Yonkin up front. The sophomore could be the next in a series of strong linemen who can wreak havoc off the edge.

“It’s kind of like the o-line where we have some pieces to fill, but we have kids that chomping at the bit to get in the action,” Boughton said. “We have great competitors and we had guys step up last year when we had injuries and the experience they gained is going to help them this year.”

Many of the names have changed this season. Montoursville is eager to show that the results may not.

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