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Zack Miller runs for a career-high 256 yards and 4 TDs in South’s 33-13 win against Montgomery

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery’s Colby Springman (1) picks up yardage before being brought down by South Williamsport’s Sam Hostrander (77) during the first half of a high school football game on Friday at Montgomery.

MONTGOMERY–They arrived eager and worked and sweat every day, but eventually playing a game seemed often felt like a fantasy. Any time a contest approached, South Williamsport felt like Charlie Brown having Lucy pull the football away just as he nearly kicked it.

Friday night at Red Raider Stadium, South kicked back. Fantasy became reality and South fully embraced its long-coveted opportunity.

Zack Miller ran for a career-high 256 yards and four touchdowns, the offensive line shined and the defense stymied a potent offense as South won its two-week delayed season opener, 33-13 against rival Montgomery. Lane Lusk added 93 yards, the Mounties built a 20-0 first-quarter lead and South delivered a performance as gutsy as it was impressive after having its only scrimmage and first two scheduled games canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We lifted, we grinded and we waited so it feels great to be out here,” Miller said after scoring on runs of 24, 80, 5 and 57 yards. “We’re all playing with a chip on our shoulder because we hadn’t had a chance to be out there. We’re happy to be out here playing again because you just never know if you’re going to get another play so we’re trying to make the most of it.”

South certainly did against Montgomery which was playing its third game. The Mounties scored on their first three possessions with Lusk and Miller ending each drive with long touchdown runs. Montgomery fought back and South dealt with injuries throughout, but it never buckled, denying Montgomery a chance to make it a one-score game five times.

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent South Williamsport’s Lane Lusk (28) moves past the Montgomery defensive line during the first half of a high school football game against Montgomery on Friday at Montgomery.

Coach Chris Eiswerth has watched his teams win a lot of big games over the last 10 years. This one, though, will stand out as much as any because of all that his Mounties overcame before and during this game.

“I can’t begin to tell you how hard it is to play a game with no scrimmage, no Week 1, no Week 2 and nothing but practice. There’s no way those kids could be fully prepared even though we have a staff that has been around a long time. Those kids get so much credit. It is unbelievable,” Eiswerth said. “These guys have a ton of character. It was an incredible night for these young men to win a game like this.”

South won its fifth straight season opener and Lusk wasted no time showing how ready his team was. The junior fullback, who made eight tackles and added a key interception, returned the game’s opening kickoff 80 yards for an apparent touchdown. A holding penalty negated the score, but what became a 55-yard return set South up with outstanding field position and Lusk scored four plays later on a 19-yard run.

Miller and the line dominated the next two series. Miller took a toss sweep 24 yards untouched for his first touchdown before outrunning containment on the same play ran on the opposite side two plays into the next possession and going 80 yards untouched as the Mounties built a 20-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game. The line cleared big holes and Miller showed off his speed on both plays, recurring themes throughout the contest and also on his game-clinching 57-yard score with 2 minutes, 53 seconds remaining. South ran for 383 yards and averaged 9.2 yards per carry with Clayton Swarthout also providing some strong inside running.

These are unprecedented times and South is starting several new players. Still, this was a typical, hard-nosed Mountie win. Tough running backs, as well as powerful linemen like Ryan Rischoff, Jake Casella, Sam Hostrander, Austin Bowersox, Ryan Casella, Kyle Benson and Lucas Long imposed their will.

“All that work we put in, it’s definitely worth it once you’re able to get out here and put what you worked for all week into the game,” Miller said. “You want to see it work out and it did.”

“It was tough. It took everything we had,” Eiswerth said. “We had guys coming into the game that were fourth team. We had cramping and some guys banged up and all the guys who came in kept their fingers on the leak and we were able to pull away. That was big.”

What looked like might be a rout turned into a fiercely-fought game over the final three quarters. In years past, a start like last night’s would have likely had Montgomery looking at a mercy-rule by halftime. But Montgomery has made great strides the last four years and these Raiders keep fighting. Montgomery put together an 11-play, 85-yard drive which Kaide Drick capped with a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter and was four yards from making it a one-score game late in the half before a fourth-down pass from the 4-yard line was broken up.

Montgomery had two chances to pull within a touchdown in the third quarter, but Greenaway and Lusk intercepted consecutive passes. Montgomery’s defense held those two times and again when South was stopped on a fourth-and-2, but South produced a 38-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter with Miller getting hit at the line before bouncing off a defender and beating the defense to the left pylon for his 5-yard touchdown.

Again what looked like might be the end was not. Quarterback Logan Almeida ended Montgomery’s next series with a 5-yard touchdown and Noah Gearhart recovered the ensuing onside kick at the 48 with 5:43 remaining. It looked like Coltin Hans made a brilliant 30-yard catch on a third-and-19 at the Mountie 30, but he was ruled out of bounds and Rischoff ended the drive with a sack on the following play. Miller’s 57-yard touchdown clinched the South victory two plays later.

“They showed a lot of fight,” Montgomery coach Paul Bozella said. “We want something more than moral victories, but we can take a lot of positives out of that. Starting in the second quarter that was a whole different game. We weathered the storm and seemed poised for a comeback, but it just didn’t happen.”

South’s defense would not let it happen. While Drick played an oustanding game and ran for 106 yards, South stymied a powerful passing game which had produced an area-high 508 yards through two weeks. Greenaway, Landon Lorson and Grant Bachman helped limit Montgomery to 88 yards and never allowed a completion cover more than 11 yards.

“That’s what we practiced all week, getting picks because they like to run the short routes,” Miller said. “I felt like that kind of changed some of the guys moods because we were getting a little down when they started coming back. Those kind of changed everything and picked us up.”

Montgomery played the run much tougher over the final three quarters and Brent Leon was a major reason why. The senior defensive tackle topped 10 tackles for a third straight game and has developed into one of the area’s premier linemen.

His younger brother Bradley, a sophomore, is a good understudy and also played well, finishing among the team’s leading tacklers as well.

“Every tackle in second half was made by Brent Leon. They were double teaming him and couldn’t stop him,” Bozella said. “He’s had an outstanding year.”

Jake Casella played a similar role for South and set the defensive tone with an early sack. He also played two offensive positions, opening at tight end and then coming up huge after center Austin Bowersox was injured. Casella placed a No. 71 jersey over his No. 19 one, moved to center and helped South keep churning out the yards.

South thought a night like Friday might never come. If playing meant changing positions, so be it. It did not matter where they played, just that they were playing again.

And, oh, did South play well.

“The kids great up a lot tonight and will continue to grow up,” Eiswerth said. “It’s the greatest sport in the world in my estimation. It’s prepping the kids with the toughness and the grind that is life. What we’ve been through is so hard and you’re just extremely proud of all these players.”

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