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Palmatier played one of his best games Friday

Nate Palmatier scooped the football off the frozen Canton grass and sprinted the next 15 yards like a running back. His first-quarter fumble return not only set up a field goal, but established a recurring theme.

Seemingly every time Muncy needed a big defensive play, Palmatier delivered it last Friday night at Miller A. Moyer Stadium. The senior linebacker consistently was in the right place at the right time. Muncy delivered a fantastic team performance, but Palmatier picked the best time to play one of his best games as Muncy defeated Canton, 23-19, and captured a second consecutive District 4 Class A championship.

Palmatier set up a second-quarter touchdown after he perfectly read a pass play, jumped the route and intercepted a pass near midfield. He dropped Owen Wesneski for a 4-yard loss on a fourth-and-inches at midfield, collected a sack and broke up two passes. It seemed fitting then that it was Palmatier who knocked down Canton’s fourth-and-6 pass from the Muncy 21-yard line, helping seal Muncy’s third district title in four years.

“Nate does everything he can for this team. He played phenomenal,” two-way starter Christian Good said. “He had that big fumble recovery, a huge interception and he played a great game.”

“I had it in my mind that I was going to do every single thing I could to help us win,” Palmatier said. “I didn’t want it to be my last game and I was going all-out on every play.”

That is no different than every time Palmatier plays. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound linebacker epitomizes Muncy’s fighting attitude. He only operates in turbo mode and Palmatier has set a tone that his younger teammates have embraced all season. A team that starts three freshmen and that lost the majority of starters from last year’s championship team repeated for the first time in program history and has won five of its last six games, avenging losses against Sayre and Canton in districts.

Take away Palmatier and that probably does not happen.

“Nate is one of those kids who will give you everything he has in his heart,” Muncy coach Sean Tetreault said. “He plays with his heart, he plays with emotion and that’s what we want on our team.”

Palmatier has made 80 tackles this season after moving from defensive end to linebacker. The team leader in sacks a year ago, Palmatier has three this season, has topped 10 tackles twice and has become a weapon against both the run and pass. He also is a versatile tight end who averages 16.2 yards per catch and provides quality blocking.

Muncy started this season with a 35-6 loss at Warrior Run. As young as the Indians were, it seemed like their strength was in the future, not the present. Palmatier is one of the senior leaders who kept this team focused on 2019. And a player with a motor which never stops is leaving his fingerprints all over this latest championship run.

“We know he’s a senior and it will hurt losing him but while he’s on the field he’s going to give you everything he has,” Tetreault said. “It was great to see him make those big plays for us.”

MUNCY, MUNCY

Good channeled his inner-Nick Foles and Tetreault did his best Doug Pederson impersonation at a crucial time against Canton. Trailing 19-16, the Indians faced a fourth-and-12 from the Canton 34-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Good did not go to the sideline and say, ‘Philly, Philly,’ like Foles did in Super Bowl LII, but he did suggest Muncy attempt a reverse pass.

Tetreault agreed and his players delivered the game’s signature moment. Branson Eyer handed the ball to Good who was running right and Good flipped it back toward wide receiver Ross Eyer as Branson Eyer sprinted down the sideline. Canton pursued Ross hard and two defenders hovered near Branson. The throw had to be perfect, and it was. The catch had to be super and it was. The Eyer’s connected on a 13-yard gain and six plays later Ethan Gush (125 yards) scored the game-winning touchdown from a yard out.

“That was a big game-changer for us,” Branson Eyer said. “We knew we could push it from there.”

“I’m not taking any credit for it, but I told coach we should try it. We have nothing to lose and coach listened to me. We ran it and everything went smooth,” Good said. “Branson was covered like crazy, but Ross made a perfect pass where only Branson could get to it and Branson made a huge play. If we didn’t get that we weren’t winning the game, it’s as simple as that.”

Both Eyer cousins are freshmen, but they each stayed poised in their biggest high school games yet. Branson repeatedly kept drives alive with big plays, setting up that reverse pass play with a 12-yard run on third-and-24. He also broke several tackles on a 16-yard second-quarter run when Muncy faced a third-and-10, a play that ignited a 71-yard touchdown drive and put Muncy up, 16-6. He and Ross both have had big freshman seasons, producing 22 touchdowns, and their fourth-quarter connection potentially saved the championship.

“Those two are amazing. They have great ball skills. Ross throws the ball as well as anyone in the area but he is a great weapon at receiver and Branson is a great all-around athlete,” Tetreault said. “It was one of those things where they helped get us here and we’re not going to waver from what got us here. We didn’t hesitate putting the ball in their hands.”

BAILIE BALLING

Canton quarterback Uriah Bailie concluded one of the best seasons in program history by throwing two touchdown passes and running for 98 yards and a score. Bailie’s go-ahead 27-yard touchdown pass to Nick May in the third quarter was a thing of beauty as he eluded pressure, threw the ball right before being hit, and split two defenders in the back of the end zone. Bailie became Canton’s first quarterback in the 2000s to go over 1,000 rushing and passing yards. His 1,568 rushing touchdowns are the most by a Warrior in the 2000s, and he finished with 3,050 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 football rankings

1. Montoursville (11-1)

Montoursville said it was approaching its District 4 Class AAA semifinal against Warrior Run like it had lost the first time the two teams played, and it certainly played with controlled rage. Building a 34-point halftime lead, the Warriors cruised to a 54-12 win. The Warriors are earned their fifth district final appearance in six years and host rival Loyalsock on Friday. Montoursville had everything working in all facets against Warrior Run with the offensive line setting a tone and both Rocco Pulizzi and Logan Ott going over 100 yards rushing. Pulizzi, a sophomore, went over 1,000 yards for the season. Hunter Shearer threw two touchdowns, Jaxon Dalena scored twice, Ian Plankenhorn kicked two field goals and Dylan Moll returned an interception for a touchdown. The defense swarmed Warrior Run quarterback Remington Corderman and played a big role in forging that 34-0 halftime lead. The defending district champions have reached 11 wins for a second straight season and have a shot at reaching 12 wins for the first time since 2006. That also was the last year in which Montoursville repeated as a district champion so one can bet the Warriors are history repeats itself as it hosts a Loyalsock team that is much better than the one it played seven weeks ago.

2. Jersey Shore (9-3)

Earlier this season, Jersey Shore repeated as league champions for the first time in program history. Now it has made history again and remains District 4 Class AAAA’s best team. Jersey Shore played outstanding defense and scored the game’s final 19 points last Friday, defeating Selinsgrove, 33-14, and capturing its second straight district championship, a program first. The Bulldogs opened this decade by going 2-28, but have transformed themselves into a district dynasty that has won three district titles in four years and four in seven years. The defense allowed just 150 yards and one touchdown, delivering another dominant performance against a strong Selinsgrove team. In two wins this year against the Seals, that defense surrendered 195 yards, seven points and six first downs. Dawson Sechrist, Cam Allison and Ryan Kerschner had sacks and Owen Anderon returned an interception for the game-clinching touchdown. Stanton Westlin helped ignite the offense, catching seven passes for 164 yards, scoring a touchdown and setting up another with a big play. Jersey Shore opened the season with a lot of question marks, but has put together a super season and has won five straight games. The Bulldogs now are trying to make history again. They play District 1 champion Bishop Shanahan on Friday and are seeking the program’s first state tournament victory.

3. Loyalsock (9-3)

The players who toil in anonymity are helping fuel Loyalsock’s run to the district final. An offensive line that struggled at times over the season’s first six weeks continued surging in Friday’s 21-13 semifinal win against Central Columbia, helping Davion Hill and Chase Cavanaugh both top 100 rushing yards. The line has consistently imposed its will against tough defenses the last six weeks and Loyalsock produced 301 yards against a defense that was allowing 8.9 points against teams other than Southern Columbia. Cavanaugh is running the read option about as well as a quarterback can and Hill has produced four straight 100-yard games. Wide receiver Rees Watkins, though, makes it hard to stack the box and caught six passes for 96 yards and a touchdown while going over 1,000 yards in his first season playing high school football. The defense continued its recent dominance and held an opponent to 14 points or fewer for the fifth time in six games. The Lancers have allowed just 20 points the last three weeks and Malaki Parlante again was a difference-maker up front. Eli Gair intercepted his third pass in five weeks and Aiden Gair and Simone Mileto each had nine tackles. Loyalsock lost four Division I players from last year’s team but has made a three-win improvement and is seeking its second district title in three seasons.

4. Muncy (8-4)

Like Loyalsock, Muncy has rode its offensive line during the season’s second half and it again made a big impact against Canton. Dakota Haueisen, Issac Harris, Cael Hembury, Mason Hillman and Gavin Hillman helped Muncy put together three touchdown drives that covered 60 or more yards, including the game-winning 17-play, 80-yard march. Ethan Gush is running hard behind that line and went over 1,000 yards. The junior running back has gone over 100 yards in four of his last six games and his 18 touchdowns are the most by a Muncy running back since Troy Hembury in 2012.

5. Warrior Run (7-5)

Although the season did not end the way Warrior Run hoped, it put together quite a season. The Defenders made a four-win improvement from last year, won the program’s first district playoff game, hosted a playoff game for the first time and compiled the program’s first winning season since 2006. They did all that after starting 2-3 and their only losses over the last seven weeks were to the two Class AAA finalists. A team featuring 19 seniors left its mark and might have paved the way for future success. Wide receiver Riley Daubert delivered one last big performance, catching five passes for 101 yards. Daubert became just the fourth area receiver to ever reach 2,000 yards, finishing his scholastic career with 130 catches (third highest in area history), 2,020 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Players of the Week

Cameron Wood, Montoursville and Tanner Lorson, Jersey Shore

Montoursville moved Wood, an all-state defensive end, inside and he wreaked is much havoc there as he does on the outside. Wood collected three sacks, helped stuff the run and seemed intent on buying real estate in Warrior Run’s backfield. Lorson threw for 267 yards, ran for 153 and produced four touchdowns against Selinsgrove. The senior quarterback surpassed Elijah Shemory’s single-season program record with 2,695 yards and topped both 100 passing and rushing yards in a game for the sixth time this season. In two games against Selinsgrove, he threw for 534 yards, ran for 260 yards and totaled seven touchdowns.

Game of the Week

Loyalsock at Montoursville

It does not get much better than these two cross-creek rivals playing for a district championship. This is the third time since 2007 Loyalsock and Montoursville have collided in the postseason and the previous meetings have been classics. Loyalsock rallied from a late deficit and beat two-time defending champion Montoursville, 21-14 in overtime in the 2007 semifinals on its way to winning the championship. Seven years later, Wyatt Entz broke up a potential game-tying 2-point conversion and Curtis Miller intercepted a pass near the end zone as time expired as Montoursville edged Loyalsock, 21-19 for the title. The way both teams are playing, this rematch from seven weeks ago has a shot at being another thriller.

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

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