Montoursville not taking anything for granted in 2019

Montoursville made an impressive turnaround, captured a district title, reached the state semifinals and returned nearly every starter the following season. That was 2018.

So many automatically thought Montoursville would experience a similar 2019 season and potentially take the final step. And while the Warriors did win a district championship, every playoff step along that path was an arduous one. Then states ended early when Montoursville dropped its opener.

Yes, this was the baseball team last spring, but the parallels between it and the football team entering this fall are striking. Last fall, Montoursville went from 2-8 to 11-3, capturing its first league title since 2000, winning the District 4 Class AAA championship and reaching the state quarterfinals. The majority of the starters on both sides of the football return and will be bolstered by others who emerged late last season and who were having promising campaigns before suffering season-ending injuries.

Many of those starters also played baseball last spring, so that experience could be a blessing as opening night comes Friday. Montoursville understands well that it can take nothing for granted. If Montoursville is to be great again, it will have to work ever harder than it did a year ago because a bull’s eye is now attached to its collective back.

“After what happened in baseball we learned a lot. We won districts, but it didn’t feel right so we’re trying to avoid that in football,” all-state defensive end Cameron Wood said. “At the end of the baseball season I said I don’t want the same thing that happened to our baseball team happen in football. We have to work to avoid that.”

“I think last year for baseball we were too confident so this year we understand this is a new opponent,” versatile two-way starter Logan Ott said. “We have to approach it like we’ve never seen this team before. We have to look at every week as a new challenge.”

The challenges start Friday at Blossburg when Montoursville opens against defending NTL-I champion North Penn-Mansfield. Nobody knows how injuries will impact a team, but if Montoursville stays healthy it likely will be favored in nearly every game it plays. Of course, games are not won on paper and those who played baseball last spring know that well. The Warriors earned the top seed in districts, but trailed against No. 9 Wellsboro in the sixth inning, Loyalsock in the seventh inning and was scoreless against Central Columbia in the ninth inning of the district final before trailing from the first inning on against Wyoming Seminary in states.

These are two completely different sports and Montoursville is hoping for a similar but yet, completely different result. Montoursville wants to win another district championship this fall, but it would like to do it in more convincing fashion and continue making noise at the state level.

“Just because you’re a year older doesn’t mean you’re any better. It’s all mental. It’s all about how hard we work and we’ll see what happens,” Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. “It wasn’t just a grind to win the district title (in baseball), it was a grind just to win the first playoff game. It’s going to be nice having these guys that have been through it.”

Many Montoursville starters went through the football postseason for the first time a year ago and handled it well. The Warriors were one of the area’s youngest teams in 2017 when they went 2-8 and made a quantum leap forward last fall. They won six straight games entering the state quarterfinals against Scranton Prep, blanked top-seeded Danville, 32-0 in the district championship six weeks after allowing 52 points in a loss there and won 11 games in a season for the first time since 2006.

As they entered the offseason, though, many Warriors remembered the way the season ended instead of how far they had come. Scranton Prep thumped Montoursville, 45-7 in the state quarterfinals, denying it its first Final 4 appearance since 2005. Combine what the baseball players learned last spring with the hunger and experience that permeates this team and Montoursville can be mighty dangerous if it stays focused all season.

“That had us motivated. We want to get back there and get over the hump,” Wood said. “Coaches say that a lot. We hear Scranton Prep a lot. That helps.”

“We’re kind of in the same situation Danville was last year, a senior-laden team that everyone expects to be good,” quarterback Hunter Shearer said following a 2,241-yard, 30-touchdown season. “We just have to go out and show everyone again that we’re a good team.”

Montoursville potentially could be a really good team. Shearer is back as is 1,000-yard wide receiver Jaxon Dalena, four running backs who played a lot and the majority of a strong offensive line. There are versatile playmakers throughout the offensive rotation who can play multiple positions with Ott, Dylan Moll, Jacob Reeder and Rocco Pulizzi capable of doing damage running and catching the ball.

“The nice thing about having guys like Logan, me and Dylan Moll and Rocco Pulizzi is we can throw them out there anywhere, whether it’s slot or halfback or split back,” Reeder said. “It doesn’t matter. We can put them out there and they’re going to do what we need them to do.”

Defensively, Montoursville might have even more depth. The bulk of those starters are back and junior linebacker Dylan Bennett returns after putting together a super injury-shortened campaign. The secondary returns in tact and Dillon Young is back after coming off the bench, replacing an injured Moll and playing a spectacular game in the district final. That allows Montoursville to move Ott around and sometimes play him at linebacker.

The depth on both sides of the ball allows Montoursville to keep players fresh and attack opponents in different ways. It is hard for defenses to key on or two players and equally difficult for opposing offenses to know where to attack what could be an amoeba-like defense at times.

It all looks good on paper. The goal now is making it all look good on the field each week.