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Montoursville comfortably wins uncomfortable district semifinal over Loyalsock

JUDI PINKERTON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montoursville's Isaiah Fenner catches a pass from quarterback Maddix Dalena for an 89-yard touchdown pass Saturday at Memorial Field as Loyalsock's Will Burdett defends.

Montoursville’s lead was 22 points in the fourth quarter, but it still felt tenuous at best. That lead previously was 36 points in the first quarter Saturday against Loyalsock. It had been whittled to as few as 15 in the third quarter.

When sophomore cornerback Marco Pulizzi jumped in front of a Chase Cavanaugh pass in the red zone with 8 minutes, 21 seconds to go at Memorial Stadium, the Warriors’ comfortably uncomfortable lead finally felt solid. Montoursville capitalized on a Murphy’s Law first quarter for Loyalsock in the District 4 Class AA semifinal, building a 29-point lead and continuing to step on the gas for four quarters in a 57-28 win over the rival Lancers.

The roller-coaster game for the Warriors mirrored the emotional ebbs and flows of a week where its season was canceled Tuesday as the school district went to fully remote learning because of positive COVID-19 cases only to have it restored in a board meeting at 1:23 a.m. Wednesday morning. Montoursville will host the district title game Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. against Danville – a 43-0 winner over Athens on Saturday. The Warriors won a matchup between the two teams in Week 4, 42-28.

“I’m not making excuses for anybody, but it was a long week,” Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. “So was there a hangover? Maybe. I don’t know if it caught up with them here. It was so emotional early and then it all got drained. It’s inexcusable and it wasn’t a happy-go-lucky meeting here after the game, that’s for sure.”

Loyalsock was shell-shocked by a first quarter which saw the Lancers fumble on its first play of the game only to have the Warriors turn it into a 1-yard touchdown run by Dylan Bennett. That was followed by a Zack Schmalhofer pressure in the end zone which forced an intentional grounding call and a safety. Heath Jones then fought through nearly a half-dozen tackles to force his way into the end zone from 5 yards out on fourth-and-1.

JUDI PINKERTON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montoursville's Dylan Bennett blocks a punt by Loyalsock's Chase Cavanaugh during Saturday's District 4 Class AAA semifinal at Memorial Stadium in Montoursville.

So it was already 15-0 when Bennett blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. And it was 22-0 when Loyalsock fumbled again and Montoursville turned it into a 16-yard touchdown pass from Maddix Dalena to Isaiah Fenner.

It was a shocking start in the first 12 minutes from two teams which played a 23-12 game just 14 days prior. It left the Warriors riding an emotional high it couldn’t possibly carry for 48 minutes. And it left Loyalsock searching for answers without knowing what the questions were.

It only got worse when two plays after forcing a turnover on downs at its own 11, Dalena found Fenner on a post pattern and the junior fought the ball away from a Lancer defender and finished off an 89-yard touchdown pass. Fenner entered the day with just three catches for 20 yards this season. But he posted five for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns Saturday.

“If you’ve seen me at all, I tend to drop the ball a lot,” Fenner said. “I was like, ‘Isaiah, you can’t drop this.’ I wanted that ball more than anything, so I went up and got it and I took off.”

“The reality is when the wheels come off something, sometimes they really come off. And they did,” Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet said. “Whatever mishap could be in place, it occurred.”

JUDI PINKERTON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montoursville's Zack Schmalhofer pressures Loyalsock quarterback Chase Cavanaugh forcing an intentional grounding call for a safety during the first quarter of Saturday's District 4 Class AAA semifinal at Memorial Stadium.

Fenner turned out to be one of the key pieces Saturday to a Montoursville offense which has had to find a way to replace the productivity of leading rusher Rocco Pulizzi and jack-of-all-trades Dylan Moll, who were both lost for the season in the first game against Loyalsock. The offense didn’t necessarily change for the Warriors on Saturday afternoon, merely the personnel making the plays.

Bennett, who has primarily played tight end this season, found some more traditional work out of the backfield and ran for 91 yards on nine carries. With the Lancers putting much of its defensive focus on Montoursville leading receiver Dillon Young, Fenner found himself in some one-on-one matchups on the other side of the field which he was able to win, like the post pattern which led to the second of his two touchdowns.

Fenner has been a consistent presence defensively for Montoursville all season, but he was always the fourth or fifth option in the offense until Saturday. Dalena completed 10 of 15 passes for 212 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but only two of those 10 completions went to Young.

“Isaiah has been there all year, but it’s getting him more involved now because of who we don’t have,” Keefer said. “He’s one of our options at the top now.”

“I just saw it as an opportunity to show everybody in the district what I can do,” Fenner said. “We can go from the top of the depth chart to the bottom and still have the same outcome.”

JUDI PINKERTON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Loyalsock's JerVal Weeks-Shuler hauls in a pass from Chase Cavanaugh for a 74-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter of Saturday's District 4 Class AAA semifinal at Memorial Stadium.

“It’s just a very sound offense,” Van Fleet said. “They definitely have a lineup full of guys that are very talented at every position. And they executed in a way (Saturday) that we didn’t.”

First quarters haven’t been kind to Loyalsock against Montoursville this season. Of the 80 points its allowed to the Warriors, 43 have come in the first quarter. And things were so bad Saturday people asked Van Fleet on the sideline if the mercy rule kicks in in the first half. But in both games, the Lancers found a way to respond over the final 36 minutes and make the rivalry matchup a game.

Making what appeared to be a runaway into an uneasy final three quarters started when Chase Cavanaugh found JerVal Weeks-Shuler down the left sideline for a 94-yard touchdown pass just three plays after Fenner’s long catch. That one play resuscitated a Loyalsock team which was destitute for the first 17 minutes.

The Lancers then forced a fumble when freshman Logan Bastian jarred the ball free and Aeden Holler recovered. A Loyalsock offense which didn’t record a single first down in the first quarter then recorded three in a drive which was capped by a Korie Mayer 10-yard touchdown run.

And even though Montoursville still led 36-14, the Lancers had momentum. And not even a touchdown drive in the final 1:50 of the half by Montoursville could stop that momentum.

JUDI PINKERTON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Loyalsock's Rian Glunk intercepts a pass from Montoursville quarterback Maddix Dalena in front of the Warriors' Dillon Young during the third quarter of Saturday's District 4 Class AAA semifinal at Memorial Stadium.

“There have been times I’ve looked in the kids’ eyes in situations like this and said we’re just going to run the clock and keep it close. There have been times we go after it like gangbusters,” Van Fleet said. “But we said you guys are going to have to show us what we need to do. Come out with fire and, as coaches, we’ll back you and we’ll go after it and take some chances. But in the same sense, if we don’t come out with any fire, this game will be moving.”

“I think we had the momentum going after we scored the first time,” said Cavanaugh, who threw for 312 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Our guys played super hard. We got back up after being down 36 and scored a couple touchdowns. I’m just really proud of our guys.”

Loyalsock made things even more interesting in the third quarter when Cavanaugh capped a 50-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring run. The Lancers then capitalized on a Rian Glunk interception when Cavanaugh again found Weeks-Shuler for a 74-yard touchdown which got Loyalsock within 43-28 with 15 minutes of game left.

Weeks-Shuler caught six passes for 209 yards.

“They opened up a lot for JerVal,” Cavanaugh said. “He had a lot of one-on-one coverage and we took advantage of that when we could.”

With the game in full uneasy mode for the Warriors, they responded with a 61-yard scoring drive capped by a C.J. Signor 7-yard touchdown. Then Pulizzi ended the next Lancer threat with his interception.

And all of a sudden, a balloon which was slowly leaking air, was again full. Keefer wasn’t happy in his postgame discussion with his team, but he acknowledged with the yo-yoing of the team’s fate in a 24-hour period, it may have finally caught up to Montoursville.

“It’s been a really emotional week for a 43-year-old, let alone a 16 or 17-year-old,” Keefer said. “So I’m going to them a little bit more of a pass and let’s hope next week is a little more structured.”

Montoursville 57, Loyalsock 28

Loyalsock 0 14 14 0 – 28

Montoursville 29 14 7 7 – 57

First quarter

M – Dylan Bennett 1 run (kick blocked), 9:56

M – Safety, intentional grounding in the end zone, 4:08

M – Heath Jones 5 run (Dillon Young kick), 2:39

M – Dylan Bennett recovered blocked punt in end zone, 1:49

M – Isaiah Fenner 16 pass from Maddix Dalena (Young kick), :24

Second quarter

M – Fenner 89 pass from Dalena (Young kick), 7:03

L – JerVal Weeks-Shuler 94 pass from Chase Cavanaugh (Matt Barone kick), 6:11

L – Korie Mayer 10 run (Barone kick), 1:54

M – C.J. Signor 1 run (Young kick), :14

Third quarter

L – Cavanaugh 1 run (Barone kick), 6:30

L – Weeks-Shuler 74 pass from Cavanaugh (Barone kick), 2:58

M – Signor 7 run (Young kick), :41

Fourth quarter

M – Signor 3 run (Young kick), 5:49

TEAM STATISTICS

Loy Mon

First downs 21 16

Rushes-yds 49-128 38-238

Com-att-int 18-27-1 10-15-1

Pass yards 312 212

Total yards 440 450

Fumbles-lost 3-3 1-1

Penalties-yards 6-47 8-67

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing-Loyalsock, Korie Mayer, 26-83, TD; Chase Cavanaugh, 22-77, TD; Team, 2-(-32). Montoursville, Dylan Bennett, 9-91, TD; Isaiah Fenner, 4-44; Heath Jones, 9-38, TD; Maddix Dalena, 5-35; C.J. Signor, 9-32, 3 TDs; Team, 2-(-2).

Passing-Loyalsock, Chase Cavanaugh, 18-27-1, 312 yds., 2 TDs. Montoursville, Maddix Dalena, 10-15-1, 212 yds., 2 TDs.

Receiving-Loyalsock, JerVal Weeks-Shuler, 6-209, 2 TDs; Jalen Andrews, 5-52; Rian Glunk, 5-41; Logan Bastian, 2-10. Montoursville, Isaiah Fenner, 5-146, 2 TDs; Dillon Young, 2-47; Ethan Lepley, 2-12; C.J. Signor, 1-7.

INTERCEPTIONS – Loyalsock, Rian Glunk. Montoursville, Marco Pulizzi.

RECORDS: Montoursville (8-0); Loyalsock (4-3).

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