Decade’s best No. 3: Chris Eiswerth turned South into a state force in football
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest in a series looking back at the top 10 football, girls and boys basketball, softball and baseball teams, coaches, games and players from last decade
Most people forget that Chris Eiswerth opened the last decade coaching Warrior Run. He did a good job there, too, helping the Defenders make a three-win improvement and finish 4-6.
Then Eiswerth came home. And South Williamsport sure is glad he did.
Eiswerth played on some tremendous teams when he attended South and he brought back the good old days soon after returning to his alma mater. South had fallen on hard times in the 2000s, producing just one winning season in the first decade, that coming in 2004. The Mounties were coming off a 2-8 campaign when Eiswerth came back and within three years had become a state force.
Eiswerth and his staff believed in their players, knew how to get the best from them and developed a winning culture once again. In nine seasons, Eiswerth has helped South capture six league championships, a district title and reach the state’s Final 4. He has led the Mounties to eight straight district playoff appearances and a 74-32 record, compiling an outstanding .698 winning percentage.
Eiswerth laid the foundation for a decade of success at his first team meeting in 2011. He had prepared remarks, but looked into the players’ eyes and called an audible.
“This isn’t for everyone guys,” Eiswerth said. “You guys are special, so let’s turn this thing around.”
Eiswerth, his staff and his players quickly went to work and made it happen. Eiswerth installed an outstanding weight-training and speed-training program and players attended those sessions in droves. The turnaround was produced through dedicated offseason work, done when nobody was watching. When the lights went on fans and opponents witnessed the finished product and it sure was impressive.
“Coach Eiswerth means everything to the program,” senior offensive lineman Brock Steppe said after Eiswerth was named the 2012 Sun-Gazette Coach of the Year. “He got everything together, all the lifting programs, the speed training programs, and took us to different camps that have really helped us as players.”
South doubled its win total in that debut season, going 4-6. The Mounties then broke out in 2012, losing only to perennial state power Southern Columbia, capturing the NTL-II championship and finishing 10-2. It was a year of ending streaks. South won its first playoff game and reached its first district final since 1997. It beat Bloomsburg (twice) for the first time sine 1996 and Hughesville for the first time since 2004. Highlighting how far the team had come in a short time, South beat six opponents which had defeated it the previous year.
“This year’s seniors have really enjoyed the last two years with coach Eiswerth,” Steppe said. “He brought us back from the depths of Class A District 4 to being a powerhouse again in the district.”
South maintained that status the next three seasons and duplicated its success in 2013. The Mounties again went 10-2, only lost to Southern and won the second of six straight league titles. Eiswerth had helped set the stage for this dominant season, which included a 42-28 district semifinal win against undefeated Wellsboro, a year earlier. He did this not through coaching but by convincing then sophomore Dominick Bragalone to give football another shot after he did not play during his freshman year.
Eiswerth’s sales pitch was one of the best moves in program history. Bragalone shattered program and area records that year, going over 3,200 yards rushing as South routinely decimated opponents. A year later, Bragalone was the engine powering one of the more dominant teams in area history. He ran for a state-record 4,739 yards and 63 touchdowns as South went 13-2, captured both the NTL-II and HAC-III championships and romped to its first district championship since 1997.The Mounties routed two state tournament opponents by 68 combined points before dropping a 28-21 semifinal heartbreaker to eventual state champion Bishop Guilfoyle.
As impressive as that season was, what Eiswerth helped South achieve in 2015 was nearly as impressive considering everything it lost. The Mounties returned just four starters from that juggernaut, but continued thriving. South won its last four regular-season games, finished 7-4 and earned a fourth straight league championship. This team provided the bridge between dominant teams and South moved up in classification in 2016, finishing 11-2 and reaching the District 4 Class AA final. The Mounties won the first of back-to-back HAC-III championships that season, held Loyalsock to seven points, hammered Mount Carmel, 40-0 in the district quarterfinals and handed Wellsboro its first loss a week later.
The beat went on a year later with the Mounties going 9-2 and thumping District 4 Class AAA champion Loyalsock, 56-28 at midseason. South’s last two teams have been ravaged by late-season injuries but still have reached districts both years and won 10 games.
South has built its winning tradition around smash-mouth football. The Mounties have produced 1,000-yard rushers in eight consecutive seasons with Bragalone and Gideon Green going over 2,000 yards three times. The offensive lines have been among the district’s best, possessing strength, power and intelligence.
Still, it would be a mistake to label Eiswerth a run-oriented coach. Many forget that he did a fantastic job coaching offense and quarterbacks while at Loyalsock and Williamsport before becoming a head coach.
Eiswerth did not build South’s identity around a power running game because that is his system. He simply played to the team’s strengths. South has run the ball so much during his tenure because that is what works best considering its personnel. If that changes expect Eiswerth to change. Whatever he has to do to help his players excel Eiswerth will do. And that is why what Steppe said eight years ago remains true today.
“He was always on our backs trying to get the very best out of each and every player,” Steppe said. “He never gave up on any of us.”