BOTD: Success in 2013 was a precursor to South’s 2014 playoff run
Call this a warm-up act.
One of the best seasons in program history was on the horizon, but South tuned up for that year by reaching a second consecutive District 4 Class A championship and consistently decimating the opposition.
South went 10-2, capturing a second NTL-II championship in a row and continuing an upward climb which began a year earlier with a breakthrough 2012 campaign.
Prior to 2012, South had not enjoyed a winning season since 2004. But Mountie alum Chris Eiswerth started turning things around upon his arrival in 2011 as South doubled its win total and finished 4-6. The culture officially changed a year later as a veteran team rattled off 10 wins and reached its first district final in 15 years.
Some thought South would take a step back in 2013 after graduating several outstanding starters. Key among those losses were running backs Brandon Stonge and Matt Bartholomew, a duo which produced more than 2,000 yards as seniors.
Still, there was a junior running back named Dominick Bragalone returning. And by season’s end Bragalone was known throughout the state, putting up video-game numbers all season. He finished with an area and Lycoming County-record 3,268 yards and 48 touchdowns, averaging 12 yards per carry. He bested Williamsport legend Darrell Blackman’s previous area record by 721 yards and was named the state’s Co-Class A Player of the Year.
“He’s ridiculous,” South linebacker Ryan Segrave said following Bragalone’s 341-yard performance in a 47-21 disrict final loss against Southern Columbia. “Some of the things he does are just crazy.”
As great as Bragalone was, this was far from a one-man show. The Mounties featured a powerful offensive line anchored by Ian Niklaus and Cody Nelson. They also possessed a dual-threat quarterback in Matt Boone, an outstanding fullback in John Peters and explosive wide receivers Riley Hengler and Riley Thomas.
The Mounties averaged 40 points per game and scored at least 32 points in each of their last nine wins, going over 60 twice. Starting in Week 5, South topped 20 points in its next 23 games.
Segrave helped anchor a physical defense which surged late in the season, and safety Johnny Pulizzi was a first team Sun-Gazette and NTL all-star, averaging a team-best seven tackles per game.
South opened its season with a thrilling 27-26 win at fellow title contender Bloomsburg and its only losses came against Southern Columbia which had started its current 81-game regular-season winning streak a year earlier. The Mounties romped to another unbeaten league campaign and then made a big statement when they faced undefeated Wellsboro in the district semifinals.
Wellsboro had pummeled opponents all year and featured an offense which was ranked among the best in the state, averaging nearly 50 points per game. The game was played at Mansfield University and it was South power conquering Wellsboro’s explosivess.
Bragalone ran for a 73-yard touchdown on the game’s first play and immediately set the tone. The Mounties never trailed, opened a 21-point fourth-quarter lead and intercepted three passes as they reached a second consecutive district final and handed the NTL-I champions their first loss. In a theme that recurred for years to come, South controlled the line and the clock, running for 384 yards.
A run-heavy offense also showed it could strike quick through the air. Thomas, a former soccer player, made the catch of his life on the first-half’s final play, catching a 28-yard touchdown after the pass had bounced off intended receiver and standout tight end Tyler Schonewolf. The catch gave South a 20-7 halftime lead and altered the game’s complexion moving forward.
Wellsboro gained nearly 400 yards, but South made three huge stops inside the 30-yard line. Segrave’s interception at the Mountie 30 in the third quarter stopped a potential go-ahead Wellsboro drive and Noah Martin’s fourth-quarter interception sealed the victory.
“We definitely buckled down. We knew we had to get up in their faces and stop them,” Peters said following a strong two-way performance. “We studied a lot of film and were prepared.”
“It’s tough, but we knew we could do it. We’ve done it before,” Pulizzi said after intercepting a pass in the end zone and making nine tackles. “The crowd, the college field … everything was great tonight.”
Bragalone ran for nearly 200 first-half yards against Southern a week later, but the Tigers ended South’s district title dreams again. The loss hurt, but South had taken another step forward and the program’s ascension was about to go into overdrive.
“Everyone plays hard. Nobody can take us lightly anymore,” Segrave said after making eight tackles. “It was a ton of fun. We came a long way. We won a lot of games. Hopefully, next year they they win this.”
That goal would be reached in emphatic fashion 364 nights later.