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Montoursville easily defeats Midd-West in Week 1 opener in football

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montoursville’s Dylan Moll (2) dodges a couple Midd-West defenders during the first quarter in Friday’s season opener at Montoursville.

Dillon Young didn’t hear the fans Friday night at Memorial Stadium. Not that there were many to hear. Maybe 100 or so found their way into Montoursville’s football stadium.

But after the first couple snaps, Young heard nothing which happened outside of the sideline barriers of the football field. Pandemic-era high school football is different, he and teammate Dylan Moll both said after the Warriors’ 56-7 win over Midd-West. But at the heart of everything Friday night was still football.

That’s where Young’s focus was during the course of the opener to a season which isn’t guaranteed to be played to its entirety. For 48 minutes last night, nobody argued about playing sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Nobody argued about whether or not more fans should be allowed to watch from the bleachers. For 48 minutes Montoursville and Midd-West played football, and it’s all that mattered.

The Warriors dominated the game up front, pressuring Mustangs quarterback Christian Regester into four interceptions and paving the way for 379 yards of offense. The atmosphere was muted. The hitting was not.

“Once everything got going, those first couple of plays were over and you got used to it,” said Moll, who scored a pair of touchdowns. “After that it was all fun and games. We did our job and the results showed.”

“It all comes down to we’re playing football,” said Young, who intercepted two passes. “As much as the fans are nice, when you’re out on the field you’re just zoned in on that. All the outsides sounds get blocked out.”

Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer had higher participation numbers for summer workouts than he’s ever had. It allowed him to install more of the Warriors’ playbook before fall camp began instead of focusing on technique and the little points of emphasis. So even though there were no two-a-day practices, Montoursville wasn’t behind where it usually is when it stepped on the field last night.

Instead, although there were some kinks here and there, the Warriors were firing on the same powerful cylinders which led them to a District 4 title last year and had them play toe-to-toe with eventual state champion Wyoming Area in the PIAA playoffs. Montoursville outgained Midd-West last night, 379-104. Maddix Dalena threw for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first varsity start. Rocco Pulizzi ran for 130 yards and two more scores. And Moll was a human joystick, scoring on a 47-yard run and a 44-yard screen pass within the game’s first 7 minutes.

“I’m really proud of my seniors leaders,” Keefer said. “I have a lot of older guys. Even though we lost a lot of guys, these older guys have been waiting their turn for their chance. I think they had the though that this is my senior year, this is my show and it might be taken from me, and that’s where you saw their focus (Friday).”

Montoursville never gave Midd-West an opportunity to be in the game. The Warriors’ defensive line spent so much time in the Mustangs’ backfield, it should have been charged rent. The group harassed Regester every time he dropped back to throw. The four interceptions by the Montoursville defense were as much about making Regester throw under duress as it was about the Warriors’ secondary jumping routes.

Midd-West didn’t seem ready to handle to quickness and physicality of Zack Schmalhofer, Jacob Fellinger, Gavin Livermore and Thad Anderson. Even when a ballcarrier made it past that group, linebackers Dylan Bennett, C.J. Signor and Heath Jones didn’t so much tackle as they punished.

“They were maybe even more so of a challenge (up front) than we expected,” Midd-West coach Brad Hatter said. “I thought we had some good lines up front on both sides of the ball and we might be able to take advantage of our size. But they’re quick and they’re aggressive. They read run and they’re coming downhill. It’s hard for us to simulate that in practice.”

Coincidentally, Keefer was worried about the trouble Midd-West’s defensive front could pose for his offensive line which was replacing four of its five starters. So early in the game, he got the ball out of Dalena’s hands quickly. He got his best athletes in space.

The smoke screen he called to Moll on the Warriors’ third snap was intended to put Montoursville in its most advantageous matchup – its skill players against the Mustangs’. And it worked. Moll picked up a great block downfield from Bennett and he coasted to the end zone.

On the next offensive series, Moll took a simple handoff up the middle and found nothing but open space until he reached the Midd-West safety. And Moll was able to cut and turn to get the defender off-balance enough to get in the end zone.

One series later, Pulizzi broke through the line like a bottle rocket taking flight to score untouched from 28 yards out. He added a 47-yard scoring run early in the second quarter in which the inexperienced offensive line opened a seam like it had done it a million times before.

“I challenged those guys up front because, on film, Midd-West’s front four I was really concerned about,” Keefer said. “I thought this was going to be a really good challenge and our guys rose to it and they were physical up front. You give Rocco or Dylan Moll a crease, and it’s good luck.”

Before the chill of a late summer night could settle on the field, Montoursville was leading 21-0. Young had already intercepted the first of his two passes leading to Pulizzi’s first touchdown run. His second interception, when he jumped a route and wrestled the ball away from the receiver, set up Pulizzi’s second touchdown run.

Schmalhofer picked up a sack and a forced fumble which Livermore recovered and returned to the Midd-West 12-yard line, setting up Signor’s 1-yard scoring run. Of the six turnovers forced by the Montoursville defense, five led to touchdowns, including a pick-six for both Marco Pulizzi and Isaiah Fenner.

“I think some of our picks were the quarterback getting hit as the ball is coming out. I give a lot of our interceptions to the front line,” Young said. “We want to make a statement and be pretty good (in the secondary) this year so guys don’t want to throw the ball on us that much.”

“You get some of those secondary athletes in space, and we have a lot of weapons when we get interceptions like that,” Keefer said. “But that defensive line has been our staple of Montoursville’s defense. So we challenged them a little bit and said are we going to continue that tradition, or are we going to let them run up and down the field a little bit?”

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