BOTD: Montoursville’s 2018 resurgence came one season after going 2-8

Editor’s Note: This is a series looking back at the top 10 football teams, coaches, games and players from last decade.

Montoursville suffered a setback when it went 2-8 in 2017 following three consecutive District 4 championship appearances and two titles.

It made quite a comeback in 2018.

Montoursville has been one of District 4’s biggest winners for more than four decades. Following a 2016 District 4 Class AAA championship, however, the Warriors were ravaged by graduation and returned just four starters. Montoursville started the 2017 season 0-7 and finished 2-8. It was just the program’s second losing season of the 2000s, but hidden under the losses were the bricks which would provide the foundation for a powerhouse team the next two seasons.

So many young players who were thrown into the fire as freshmen and sophomores received on-the-job training while going against one of the district’s toughest schedules. Montoursville might have lost a lot, but it learned a lot, too, and it never stopped working.

All that learning and all that grinding paid huge dividends in 2018 as the Warriors returned to greatness, won 11 games for the first time in 12 years and captured a third district championship in four years. Montoursville also won a share of the HAC-II crown, winning its first league title since 2000.

“We knew that we were going to be special this year,” right tackle Jacob Stoner said following the district championship win at Danville. “The more we grew and matured as players, we knew we were going to make a run.”

“It’s an awesome feeling. I didn’t play much last year and I felt bad because I wasn’t able to do anything about our record,” cornerback/running back Jacob Reeder said the same night. “I couldn’t help and this year, being able to start and being able to be a part of what we are and being able to win like this is amazing.”

Montoursville looked amazing through its first two games, quickly proving that 2018 would be different than 2017 and battering North Penn-Mansfield and Hughesville by a 93-6 margin. The Warriors hit a road bump in a 30-20 loss at Jersey Shore in Week 3 but won their next three games in impressive fashion, setting up a showdown at Danville in Week 7. The winner of this game was a good bet to earn homefield advantage for districts and the Ironmen both rattled and scorched Montoursville, scoring at will throughout the second half of a 52-26 win.

Again, though, it was losing that provided a turning point. The Warriors learned from mistakes made in that game when they lost their composure and received several personal foul penalties. They became a more mature group and would not lose another game until the state quarterfinals.

Along the way, Montoursville developed one of the district’s premier passing games and quarterback Hunter Shearer threw for 2,241 yards and 30 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Wide receiver Jaxon Dalena earned all-state honors, catching 55 passes for 1,035 yards and a program record-tying 14 touchdowns. The offensive line surged at the perfect time, late in the season, and four running backs ran for at least 300 yards. Logan Ott topped the group, running for 727 yards and nine touchdowns, while also catching 24 passes.

The defense was nasty at times with defensive end Cameron Wood playing football for the first time and earning all-state honors after collecting eight sacks. Connor Morse, CJ Signor and Logan Balouris anchored a good linebacking unit while Ott, Dalena, Reeder, Dylan Moll and Dillon Young were part of an outstanding secondary.

Montoursville made quick work of Athens in the district quarterfinals, mercy-ruling it by halftime and winning, 50-8. The Warriors then survived a physical and close game against Lewisburg with Wood’s last-minute strip sack securing an exciting 21-17 semifinal victory.

Montoursville coveted a rematch with Danville and earned it by reaching the final. The Ironmen had won nine of their last 10 games, the only loss, coming against Southern Columbia, had a 2,500-yard passer, offensive weapons all over the field and a stingy defense.

But Danville was playing a different Montoursville team than the one it blew out six weeks earlier. It was playing a hungrier team, a more poised team and a much better team.

What some thought might be a classic district final became a rout. The Warriors overwhelemed Danville in all facets and put a bow on their comeback season with an emphatic 32-0 victory.

“We knew what we needed to do. We knew the first time we played them it wasn’t our football,” Stoner said after the line wore down Danville with a ground-and-pound offense. “That’s not Montoursville, that’s not the way we play. We had to come out and show everyone who Montoursville is. That (performance) is Montoursville football.”

Montoursville built a 17-0 halftime lead against a team which had not allowed a playoff point and outgained Danville, 240-(-1). Ott ran for 150 yards and the offensive line set the tone early, paving the way for a game-opening, nine-play drive before imposing its will on a 20-play, 92-yard touchdown drive which bridged the first and second quarters. By halftime, Montoursville had run 45 plays to Danville’s 8.

“I don’t think people realize how good Danville really is,” Keefer said while freezing following a post-game water dousing. “The first time out our game plan was to try and get outside and outflank them and this week it was let’s get physical and run it down their throat and see how they handle that. It seemed to work out pretty good for us.”

The defense was equally fearsome and Danville did not gain its initial first down until midway through the third quarter. The Warriors forced four turnovers, intercepted three passes and surrendered just 89 yards on 46 plays. It was a victory as complete as it was dominant.

Scranton Prep ended Montoursville’s season a week later in the state quarterfinals, but Montoursville was back among the district’s elite. And there it remains entering the new decade.