×

BOTD: Montoursville found its footing after a 3-4 start in 2014

Seven weeks into the season, Montoursville was just hoping it could make the playoffs. Seven weeks later, it warmed up at Shamokin’s Kemp Memorial Stadium for a state tournament game as District 4 Class AA champions and one of the state’s top eight teams.

It was quite a ride filled with enough plot twists to make Stephen King envious, but when there was no more margin for error, Montoursville kept heading upward until it scaled the District 4 mountain. Yes, Montoursville lost five games, but it finished 9-5, won six in a row following a 3-4 start and beat juggernauts like South Williamsport and Southern Columbia along the way. Look beyond the record and one can clearly see why this was one of the decade’s best teams. During that winning streak, Montoursville beat a series of tough opponents by an average of 36-14.

“When you’re 3-4 you can fold without anyone saying anything or pointing fingers and just say, ‘it’s not our year,’ but these guys refused to do that,” Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said following a 45-28 state quarterfinal loss against Wyomissing. “We’re not going to quit, we’re going to keep getting after it and you’re going to have to tell us the game is over until we stop playing and that’s what I love about this group of guys. That’s why there are going to be a lot of successful young men in life on this team.”

Montoursville went 10-2 a year earlier and seemed destined to win the program’s first district championship since 2006 before being ravaged by late-season injuries and losing in the semifinals. Duplicating that success would not be easy in 2014 with 20 seniors having graduated, including the team’s leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler.

The Warriors, however, made a major statement in their season opener, going on the road and defeating Class A state title contender South Williamsport, 38-36, in an outstanding, back-and-forth game. The Mounties won their next 13 games and Dominick Bragalone ran for 4,767 yards. He was outstanding against Montoursville, but the 162 yards gained were his fewest in a game that season, and Montoursville’s victory showed how dangerous it could be.

The Warriors still featured the terrific power running game its tradition was built upon. Running behind a rugged offensive line, all-stater Keith Batkowski ran for 2,232 yards and 23 touchdowns. But this team also could air it out and future Shippensburg quarterback Brycen Mussina put together a tremendous breakout season. The sophomore threw for a then program-record 2,086 yards and 20 touchdowns and consistently shredding opponents late in the season. Wyatt Entz was Montoursville’s Swiss-Army knife and played fullback, tight end and on the line. He totaled 1,145 yards and 16 touchdowns and caught 47 passes. Curtis Miller and Andy Biber were dangerous receivers as well and combined for seven touchdowns. Although Montoursville lost, 27-21, in overtime at Jersey Shore in Week 4, it was the only team that season which scored more than 14 points against the Bulldogs.

Entz also was an all-state defensive end who had eight sacks. Ben Cerney was a beast in the middle of the defense, Holden Lodge became a weapon inside, and all-state junior Logan McKeag anchored a strong linebacking unit. Miller and Biber played well in the secondary as did safety Jacob Strassner.

What eventually made Montoursville one of the state’s premier teams was on display against South. Instead of being a springboard, however, the win was the first in a series of peaks and valleys over the first seven weeks. Lewisburg defeated Montoursville, 19-10, the following week and the Warriors lost three of their next four games, losing to Jersey Shore and Shikellamy by eight combined points. Things bottomed out when Selinsgrove blanked them, 35-0, in Week 7.

Montoursville closed the regular season with tough games against Shamokin, Hughesville and Loyalsock. Its season at a crossroad, Montoursville picked the path toward greatness and started attaining it. The Warriors routed Shamokin, 55-15, and Hughesville, 38-3, before building a big lead and holding off Loyalsock, 38-27. It then avenged that Week 2 loss and throttled Lewisburg, 31-6, on the road in the district quarterfinals.

Next up was Southern Columbia. This is where good seasons reached dead ends. The Tigers had won six consecutive district titles and 23 in 24 years. They were undefeated and in the midst of an 81-game regular-season winning streak which started in 2011 and continues into 2020.

But this was Montoursville’s year and this was its time. It went to Southern and did what so few have done in the last three decades, beating the Tigers, 26-14. Montoursville took a 19-point fourth-quarter lead, Keith Batkowski ran for 149 yards, Brycen Mussina threw a touchdown pass, Curtis Miller made 12 tackles and Jacob Strassner added an interception.

The Warriors were the No. 5 seed in an eight-team field, but its beating higher-seeded teams helped it host No. 6 Loyalsock in the district final. It was the final game played on the grass at Memorial Stadium and what followed was one of the most exciting games in area history. Montoursville rallied from a six-point second-quarter deficit, made three fourth-quarter stops inside the 25-yard line, and captured the district title, edging the Lancers, 21-19, with Miller’s game-ending interception in the end zone clinching it.

“I’ll never forget this moment right here,” Miller said afterward. “I’m so glad to be a part of it and it’s the last game ever on this grass and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

“This banner means a little more. I think we played the three best teams in the district to get here,” Keefer said. “That really makes that banner that is going to be hanging in the gym so meaningful. It will be something they can always be proud of and something they can always have.”

Montoursville wanted more and did all it could to attain it against Wyomissing. Mussina threw for 266 yards and Montoursville totaled 461 yards, but the Warriors lost three turnovers inside the Spartans’ 30-yard line and Wyomissing broke open a close game late, winning 45-28. Still, Montoursville was a district champion again. Four more titles have followed since then, enhancing this program’s legacy.

This was the team that provided the blueprint for future championship success.

“Every time I come back to the high school I will see that banner,” Entz said following his final game. “We’ll always remember this season.”

COMMENTS