As Brandon Stonge raced down the sideline and into history his offensive linemen might have been South Williamsport's most excited players.
That 50-yard third-quarter touchdown run not only helped pave the way for a dominant 32-16 District 4 Class A semifinal win over Bloomsburg last Friday, but also made Stonge South's all-time leading rusher. And while Stonge gets the glory and the record, his unheralded linemen get a huge assist.
This record is as much theirs as it is Stonge's.
"It's not just his record," lineman Marco Estrella said. "That's something we're always going to carry with us, knowing we helped him get there."
Stonge ran for 227 yards against Bloomsburg and now has 3,220 career yards, including 1,430 this season. Fellow running backs Dominick Bragalone and Matt Bartholomew also have had outstanding seasons.
All three backs are tough to stop and all bring something different to the field while providing South one of the district's deepest backfields. As good as they are, the line is the engine that powers everything. As good as those backs are, they would not have anywhere near the numbers they do without the teammates in front of them.
This is not Darrell Blackman at Williamsport in 2001 and 2002, gouging defenses despite so often making so many yards on his own. This is a powerful line playing old-school football and serving as the ultimate complement to a stellar backfield.
"I think we probably have the best offensive line in the area," Stonge said. "They just gave me holes and I ran forever (Friday)."
South (10-1) is hoping for a repeat performance this Friday when it heads to Southern Columbia for the district championship.
Collectively, this line is a huge reason South is playing in a district final for the first time since 1997, when it went all the way to the PIAA?championship game. Collectively, Estrella, Brock Steppe, Dylan Johnson, Justin Knee, Billy Kepner and tight ends Tyler Schonewolf and Heath Newcomer are one of the area's most valuable units. It is a senior-laden line that has played together the last few years. Given one last chance to do something special, this group has cleared the way for the best South season in 15 years.
"Our offensive line is amazing," said Newcomer, an honorary offensive lineman who blocks much more than he catches. "They all do great. They are our biggest leaders on offense."
The line has helped South average 35 points and 344 yards per game. Only Southern and Troy have run for more yards than South which has 2,998 rushing yards. This is a run-heavy offense, but the line also has protected quarterback Tyler House well and the senior has taken advantage, throwing a single-season record 16 touchdowns.
Still, there is no secret about what South is trying to do each week. The Mounties are an old-school team in a growing age of spread offenses. They come right at opponents with that bruising running game and this strong, physical line makes it all go. That line beat up and wore down an outstanding Bloomsburg defense that held HAC-I champion Danville and HAC-II champion Central Columbia to 12 points each of the previous two weeks. That line manhandled a defense that allowed more than 20 points just three times this season.
But two of those were against South which scored 66 points against it while running for 662 yards.
"We don't chuck it around. We're like dinosaurs with how we line up," South coach Chris Eiswerth said. "We line up, try to run the ball and I can't say enough about the job the line does."
Like the backs, the line has played some of its best football when it has mattered most. South rallied for fourth-quarter wins over Bloomsburg and Canton the first two weeks and a huge block late in the Canton game sprang Bragalone for a long game-tying touchdown run. Later in the season, South faced a critical two-game stretch that would determine the NTL Small School championship against previously unbeaten Sayre and Muncy. The line mauled both defenses as South ran for 811 yards in 38-20 and 50-20 wins, respectively.
What makes all this more impressive is that this line is hardly one of the district's biggest. Estrella is a dominant 300-pound blocker but, counting Newcomer and Schonewolf, the rest of the unit averages 195 pounds. Steppe epitomizes the toughness of the line, weighing just 170 pounds but fearlessly attacking bigger linemen while exploding off the ball.
They might not be the biggest, but South's linemen are some of the district's most disciplined, fundamentally sound and best units. South is going somewhere none of its previous 14 teams have gone and this group has helped lead the way.
"They physically wear on you. The first time we played Bloom they (the Panthers) were laying all over the field and (Friday) they were laying all over the field," Eiswerth said. "These guys have just been a great group and will go down as a group that helped win double-digit games in program history. That is huge.
"That is special."