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Seniors send Defenders to new heights

Most of them first came together as 7- and 8-year-olds when they started playing football.

They stuck together over the years, making steady progression and building toward something good. And now, 19 Warrior Run seniors have achieved quite a breakthrough. Those seniors and their underclassmen teammates have joined forces and turned around a long dormant program. The work remains and the Defenders are hoping they can make postseason noise, but clinching a winning record Saturday after routing CMVT, 55-20, sure is a rightful source of pride.

Warrior Run had not enjoyed a winning a season since 2006. The Defenders reached five wins just once during that time and four wins twice. But things started turning positive throughout last year’s second half as Warrior Run reached districts for the first time in 12 years. A spark was ignited and now Warrior Run has doubled last year’s win total. It will try producing the program’s first playoff victory Friday when it hosts Lewisburg in the District 4 Class AAA quarterfinals.

“I could feel it. We put in a lot of work and we felt like it was going to happen,” senior running back Denver Beachel said after running for 245 yards and five touchdowns at CMVT. “Hopefully we start focusing on the playoffs and get our minds right. It’s really exciting. I don’t think Warrior Run has ever won a playoff game and we’re in a great position to do so and hopefully we can make it happen at home.”

“It’s definitely awesome. It’s really good for these seniors. They are a large class and for them accomplish that and get six wins and a home playoff game is big,” Warrior Run second-year coach Chris Long said. “Those were all goals we had at the beginning of the season. It means a lot to us to get that and position ourselves in that spot in the district to be one of the top four Triple-A teams. Now we have to go out and perform on Friday night and prepare to perform and execute the way we can execute because we know Lewisburg will give us everything they have.”

The Defenders have given Long and the coaching staff everything they have the last two years. Warrior Run started changing its complexion last year and opened this season 2-0. But then a three-game losing streak occurred and culminated with a 42-0 loss at Mifflinburg. It started looking like these might be the same ol’ Defenders.

Warrior Run then held a players only meeting. This team had put in too much time and come too far to let the season spiral downward. Players committed to each other and started soaring again, routing Hughesville and Bloomsburg before going on the road and downing fellow district title contender Central Columbia, 14-10. The Defenders beat Bloomsburg for the first time since 2006 and Central Columbia for the first time since 2015.

Warrior Run had the talent. Those wins against Bloomsburg and Central Columbia gave it something just as powerful — confidence. The Defenders are taking the field not waiting for things to go wrong, but expecting to win. It has been a powerful blend with players throughout the roster making positive contributions in all three facets. That showed again Saturday as the offensive line dominated, the defense shined over the last three quarters and some quality returns set up touchdowns with Warrior Run scoring 55 points in the game’s first 25 minutes.

“We had a meeting and we all just looked at each other and were like, ‘we have to turn this around,'” Beachel said. “We just got our minds right and came out ready to go every game 100 percent.”

“We knew it was coming,” said senior two-way starter Jackson Welliver, who has gone over 100 tackles in consecutive seasons. “We’ve been playing football since we were little kids. I’ve known these guys my whole life and I wouldn’t want to be playing with anyone else.”

As exciting as this season has been, Warrior Run wants more. These players already have left an impressive mark, but winning a playoff game would help them carve out a unique nice in program history. Strides have been made but the journey continues.

“Sometimes I can’t comprehend it,” Welliver said. “The main thing that really turned us around is we’re all friends. We’ve been friends forever and just playing together turned it around. We are a team and that’s just the way it is.”

WILD ONE

Muncy outlasted Hughesville in the weekend’s most exciting area game, 52-35, beating their rivals for the first time at home since 2000. What defined this game is how entertaining, high-scoring and back-and-forth it was. Muncy and Hughesville exchanged the lead four times in the middle quarters and combined for 759 yards.

It was a contrast in styles with Muncy pounding it on the ground for 343 yards and Hughesville airing it out. Spartan quarterback Jacob Corson dazzled in his final high school game, throwing for 258 yards and five touchdowns. Muncy’s Ethan Gush ran for 143 yards and two scores. Corson went over 1,000 yards this season despite missing nearly two full games, and Dylon Pequignot caught five passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Ethan Snyder added five catches for 59 yards and two scores as Hughesville scored 56 points in its final two games with Corson throwing for 519 yards and seven touchdowns.

Muncy (6-4) took over the game late, scoring the final 21 points and going ahead to stay on Branson Eyer’s 1-yard touchdown run. The freshman quarterback totaled 169 yards and four touchdowns as the offensive line imposed its will. Muncy earned the No. 3 seed in District 4 Class A and the defending champions will have a rematch at Sayre after the Redskins won a 21-17 thriller 11 nights ago.

CLOSING STRONG

Montgomery won its second consecutive game and continued progressing well, defeating Bucktail, 43-8. The offensive line dominated up front and paved the way for 310 rushing yards. Kaide Drick ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns, going over 900 yards in his first year starting. Sophomore quarterback Logan Almeida went over 1,000 yards in his first year starting and senior leader Steve Prince caught three passes.

Montgomery was one of the area’s youngest teams this season but won four of its last six games and laid a good foundation for future success. The Raiders (4-6) won at least four games for a third straight season and the defense dominated on its home field, allowing just 31 points in four straight victories there. If Montgomery attacks the offseason hard it could emerge as a District 4 Class A title contender next season.

EXTRA POINTS

Williamsport tight end Nassir Jones did his best to spark a comeback against Wyoming Valley West, helping the Millionaires cut a 21-point deficit to seven in a 28-14 loss. Jones caught five passes for 132 yards and hauled in a 69-yard touchdown that made it 21-14 in the third quarter. Jones is averaging 20 yards a catch and helped sophomore Frankie Marrone play his best game, throwing for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Lajear Whaley added 77 total yards and a touchdown … Cowanesque Valley capped its comeback campaign with a thrilling 56-54 win against Otto-Eldred. The Indians (3-7) matched the program’s best record of the 2000s, won three of their last seven games, erased a 12-point deficit and built excitement for next year with all but four starters returning. Kole Hurler closed his high school career with three touchdown catches and captured the area’s reception title with 46. Freshman Elliott Good ran for 152 yards and senior Owen Fitzwater caught a touchdown while returning a kickoff 61 yards for a score … Central Mountain quarterback Zane Probst broke his own single-season program yardage record against Jersey Shore, throwing for 113 yards and a touchdown. Probst needed 61 yards to break the record and closed with 1,774 … Lewisburg quarterback Nick Shedleski threw for a career-high 299 yards and a touchdown in a 17-14 loss at Mifflinburg.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 football rankings

1. Montoursville (9-1)

Shaking off the Southern Columbia loss and building playoff momentum, Montoursville recorded its fourth shutout and blanked Selinsgrove, 17-0. The offense was sluggish at times, but the defense allowed just 125 yards as the defensive line consistently wreaked havoc and Dillon Young forced a fumble which led to the game-clinching touchdown. Ian Plankenhorn again was a special teams weapon, drilling a 45-yard field goal and Jaxon Dalena caught a highlight-reel 30-yard touchdown from Hunter Shearer. Montoursville finished a regular season 9-1 for the first time since 2006 and will host Shamokin in Friday’s District 4 Class AAA quarterfinals. Shamokin was 15 yards from defeating Mount Carmel last Friday, so the Warriors will be challenged.

2. Jersey Shore (7-3)

Homefield advantage for the District 4 Class AAAA playoffs belongs to Jersey Shore after it scored 54 straight points in Friday’s 54-13 win against rival Central Mountain. A young offensive line has meshed throughout the season and controlled things up front, helping Josh Malicky (144 yards, three touchdowns) and Tanner Lorson (112 yards, three TDs) both top 100 yards rushing. Lorson went over 100 passing and rushing yards for a fifth time and Stanton Westlin caught his area-best 10th touchdown. The defense continues surging with the starters limiting Central Mountain to one touchdown and 176 yards. Dawson Sechrist made 14 tackles, had a sack and forced a fumble which Ryan Kerschner (seven sacks this year) recovered. The defending district champions are trying to repeat for the first time in program history and host No. 4 Shikellamy in Friday’s semifinals. Jersey Shore has won five of its last six games and is seeking its sixth finals appearance in seven years.

3. Wellsboro (9-1)

The Green Hornets took Round 1 against rival North Penn-Mansfield and will try landing a knockout blow when they host them Saturday in the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals. Wellsboro won its eighth straight game and scored the game’s final 21 points. Quarterback Isaac Keane continues flourishing and the sophomore threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns. His progression makes it harder to focus on stopping running back Aidan Hauser (152 yards), District 4’s rushing champion. The defense is coming on strong and the starters have not allowed more than one touchdown since Week 4. Wellsboro is seeking its first playoff win since 2016 and this will be the third time it has played North Penn-Mansfield in the playoffs since 2013 with the rivals splitting those games.

4. Loyalsock (7-3)

Make it two straight years that Loyalsock has closed the regular season on a four-game winning streak. That is where Loyalsock wants the similarities to end after Shamokin defeated it in last year’s district quarterfinals. The Lancers, who allowed just 132 yards in a 24-7 win at South Williamsport, host Mifflinburg on Friday. Loyalsock blanked the Wildcats, 35-0, in Week 7, but quarterback Gary DeGroat Jr., workhorse running back Mason Breed, and leading receiver/tackler Rylee Stahl all did not play that game and are back now, making this a compelling matchup.

“We have to focus on one week at a time because now you have to win to keep playing,” linebacker Joeb Schurer said after making 12 tackles. “The focus is one game at a time. We had a bump in the season and now we’re out of that and hopefully we can keep going.”

5. Canton (8-2)

Although Troy defeated it, 21-14, and captured its first outright NTL-I championship since 1988, Canton hung tough with a team that has won nine straight games and which had blown out eight straight opponents. Facing a team that plays smashmouth football the way Troy does should help Canton as it prepares to host South Williamsport in the District 4 Class A semifinals. Canton held Troy to its lowest point total this season and linebackers Garrett Storch and Carson Stiner each made 16 tackles. Sophomore Cooper Kitchen added his fifth interception and freshman Hayden Ward broke free for a 28-yard touchdown.

Players of the Week

Zach Schmalhofer, Montoursville and Seth Huyler, Cowanesque Valley

Schmalhofer was living in Selinsgrove’s backfield and collected a career-high three sacks. The junior defensive end has put together an outstanding season starting for first time and has a team-high eight sacks. He also helped Montoursville surrender 46 yards on 27 carries. Huyler capped one of the best scholastic careers in CV history with one of his most dazzling performances. The senior quarterback threw for 168 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 94 yards and two scores. Huyler missed nearly two full games and still threw for a program-record 1,361 yards and 14 touchdowns. The four-year starter also went over 5,000 career total yards, finishing with 5,281.

Game of the Week

South Williamsport at Canton

The Class A field is the most evenly-balanced and Friday’s game proves it. South has played against a brutal second-half schedule and gave AAA title contenders Central Columbia and Loyalsock tough games. A year ago a short-handed South team battled Canton hard in a 29-7 semifinal loss that was close until late in the fourth quarter. One has the feeling this game will remain close the whole way. Expect some big plays and some hard hits.

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

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