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District 4 Class AA semifinals: South Williamsport at Troy

Background: South coach Chris Eiswerth and Troy coach Jim Smith are good friends who both teach at Troy. They also have built excellent programs in a similar fashion, built upon excellent line play, hard-nosed running and physical defense. Each program has become a perennial playoff contender with South winning a district title in 2014 and Troy in 2013.

South PPG–29.6, YPG–302; PPA–18.6, YPA–246.6

South facts: It has made nine straight district playoff appearances, but considering its youth and what it has encountered this year, South reaching this point again is one of its most impressive achievements. The Mounties start just four seniors and started four freshmen in last week’s 48-22, win against Towanda. On top of that, its preseason scrimmage was canceled, its season delayed by two weeks and it has suffered some costly injuries, but South has kept rolling along. The Mounties started 3-0 and their only loss came against District 4 Class AAA semifinalist Athens after it opened an 18-7 second-quarter lead. Running back Zack Miller is averaging 139 yards per game, second in the area to only Montoursville’s Rocco Pulizzi. South is throwing the ball more, however, and Landon Lorson has thrown at least one touchdown in four straight games. Grant Bachman, tight end Jake Casella and Cam Greenaway all caught three first-half passes against Towanda. Bachman has enjoyed a breakout season, catching a touchdown in four straight games and topping 100 yards twice. Casella caught a 34-yard go-ahead touchdown in a 21-14 win at Northwest when Lorson orchestrated an 86-yard game-winning drive. Linebacker Lane Lusk and two-way lineman Sam Hostrander missed last week’s game with injuries, but both have had strong seasons. Freshmen linebacker Kaiser Kistner and freshman defensive tackle Chris Confer have emerged as playmakers as well and Greenaway is enjoying an outstanding season in the secondary. Miller and Lorson returned fumbles for touchdowns last week and both Jake and freshman Ryan Casella are the team’s leading tacklers. Austin Bowersox added eight tackles against Towanda as South built a 35-0 halftime lead.

South player to watch–Ryan Rischoff: One of the team’s most valuable players, the two-way starting lineman has excelled on both sides of the ball and put together a terrific senior season. Rischoff made consecutive tackles for loss early against Towanda, snuffing out a drive and changing the game’s complexion. He also has two sacks, punts well, rarely leaves the field and has provided a strong foundation for this team to build upon.

Troy PPG–31.8, YPG–358.6; PPA–11.0, YPA–164.4

Troy facts: Since watching a 16-point fourth-quarter lead turn into a 34-28 overtime, season-opening loss against Canton, Troy has taken out its frustration on the opposition, outscoring it, 131-21. A team with a strong core back from last year’s 10-2 semifinalist/NTL-I champion, Troy blanked a good North Penn-Mansfield team, 21-0 last week and mercy-ruled Wellsboro the previous week, 41-0. Troy features a super running game in which Caleb Binford and Damien Landon would be headed for 1,000-yard seasons under normal circumstances. Landon earned all-state honors last year when he topped 2,000 yards, but Binford actually has been the team’s lead ball-carrier, topping 100 yards three times and going for 164 yards last week. Landon, however, reminded people who good he is with a 224-yard, 3-touchdown performance against Wellsboro. Quarterback Dominick Ayres can do damage when called upon and threw for 115 yards and a touchdown against NP-Mansfield. Ridge Spencer is an explosive receiver who averages 21.5 yards per catch.

Troy player to watch–Nick Williams: Another dangerous receiver, Williams caught four passes for 86 yards and a touchdown last week and has a team-high 11 catches. Williams is an outstanding return man, taking kickoffs back for touchdowns in consecutive seasons, including against Towanda when he went 82 yards for a score in the 35-0 win.

Winner plays: No. 4 Line Mountain or No. 1 Southern Columbia

Outlook: Troy is playing its best football at the right time, but South has performed well in the underdog role all season. Still, for the Mounties to have a chance tonight they must play their best game of the season.

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