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South Williamsport overcomes all kinds of adversity to reach postseason

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette South Williamsport players run on to the field prior to Friday’s game against Towanda.

Ten minutes before they were to start stretching, South Williamsport players learned their preseason scrimmage against Troy was canceled. Two days before they were to open their season against Muncy, that game also was canceled.

There was a time this season when South wondered if it would ever play a game. The Mounties started two weeks late, fielded one of their youngest teams in recent memory and have suffered some costly injuries along the way.

Through it all, they are still standing. Through it all, South has enjoyed quite a season. And they are playoff-bound again.

South has conquered some mighty imposing obstacles and clinched a District 4 Class AA playoff berth Friday night, thumping Towanda, 48-22. The Mounties (4-1) are district playoff-bound for a ninth consecutive year and will play at second-seeded Troy (4-1) in Friday’s semifinals.

“All I can say is we’ve been blessed with great kids and great families. The staff has done a remarkable job and all the extra things they do are amazing,” South coach Chris Eiswerth said. “When I sit down and think about everything we’ve went through and where we’re at I’ll be really happy. It’s been great.”

“With COVID and everything and not knowing we were going to have a season, to play the way we’re playing is great,” two-way starter Clayton Swarthout said after running for a career-high 87 yards and recovering a fumble. “I love it and love being on this team.”

Nothing has come easy throughout chaotic offseason and regular seasons. Maybe it was fitting then South was dealing with adversity before kicking off against Towanda. Multiple-year, two-way starters Lane Lusk and Sam Hostrander were out with injuries, leading rusher Zack Miller did not play the first quarter and three freshmen were making their first varsity starts.

And yet South looked mighty strong. One who had not seen South play this season would have no idea this team was playing short-handed. The Mounties built a 35-0 first-half lead, the starters outscored Towanda, 48-8, and all facets of the game clicked in harmony. It was a complete performance and an emphatic way to earn a postseason berth.

“Coach Eiswerth preaches it. It’s next man up. That’s our mentality. You just keep fighting every day,” quarterback/safety Landon Lorson said after completing 9 of 13 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns. “We come to practice, show up ready and the work is done before the game from the hard work we put in.”

“You can rely on everyone on this team,” Swarthout said. “In the huddle we have our differences sometimes but we’ve been there and we’re all a team. Putting up 48 points says a lot.”

It says a lot, too, how South put up those points. Despite Miller not playing the first quarter, South moved the ball at will with Lorson hitting Grant Bachman for a 35-yard touchdown and Swarthout and freshman Amir Kemrer earning hard-fought yards. Lorson also found Jake Casella for a 19-yard second quarter touchdown as the Mounties scored on four of five first-half series.

The defense was equally impressive, forcing five turnovers. Lorson and Miller (139 yards, four touchdowns) returned turnovers for scores and South allowed just 60 first-half yards. Freshman Ryan Casella and sophomore Austin Bowersox each made eight tackles, Ryan Rischoff made two game-changing tackles for losses in the first quarter and Chris Confer made a nice contribution in his first scholastic start, slowing the running game.

Freshman Kaiser Kistner replaced Lusk at outside linebacker which was quite a challenge. Kistner, however, helped set the tone when he made a hustling fumble recovery on Towanda’s first possession. Two plays later Lorson found Bachman for a touchdown and South was off and running. Lusk might not have played, but he helped Kistner thrive and shined a light on why South has been so good for so long. Whether playing or not, all the Mounties find a way to contribute something positive.

“Lane Lusk is like three players and I told him that all week. What he did with Kistner was great trying to help him pregame,” Eiswerth said. “Kistner was so resilient and Lane did a tremendous job helping him get ready and keeping him grounded and prepared through the first quarter.”

South is staying grounded entering a tough semifinal against surging Troy. The Mounties have embraced challenges all season and it is impressive they have reached this point. They might have surprised many, but not themselves.

The work continues and so does the tradition.

“You just have to keep running,” Swarthout said. “You just have to keep going hard every week, week to week, and that’s what we do.”

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