Danville beats Montoursville to claim the District 4 Class AAA championship
Senior two-way starters Dylan Bennett and CJ Signor sat and kneeled, respectively, staring at a near empty field. Neither Montoursville standout wanted to leave a field on which they and many fellow seniors/teammates created so many happy memories.
They won multiple championships and 31 games the past three seasons, but the tremendous run ended Saturday at Memorial Stadium as Danville erased a 14-point halftime deficit and captured the District 4 Class AAA championship, winning, 31-21. It will not be tomorrow or the next day or even in the next month, but at some point, Bennett, Signor and all the Warriors may view their final Memorial Stadium memory as a positive one.
No, Montoursville did not win a third straight district championship. But in defeat, the Warriors made one last valiant stand. Despite playing without one of the state’s best running backs, one of the district’s most versatile players the last three weeks and two more valuable starters in the second half yesterday, Montoursville finished 8-1 and gave a state title contender everything it could offer.
The Warriors did not lose this district championship. Danville won it.
“The kids are disappointed and I’m sure the parents and everybody is disappointed, but I couldn’t be more proud of a group of young men,” Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. “To overcome what they’ve overcome the last few weeks and come out here and compete with a great team speaks volumes.”
Danville quarterback/kicker KJ Riley was brilliant, producing all 31 points with two touchdown passes, two scoring runs, four extra points and a 27-yard field goal. His 31-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to Carson Persing put Danville ahead for the first time with 6 minutes, 44 seconds remaining. His 14-yard touchdown run sealed the win with 2:06 remaining and Montoursville down to one timeout.
Danville (8-1) captured its first district title since 2012 and will play Archbishop Carroll in next week’s state quarterfinals at a District 4 site. Ironically, Riley was held to his lowest passing total (168) this season, but may have played his best game. Montoursville made Danville earn this championship the hard way, but the Ironmen found a way to break through, scoring 17 straight fourth-quarter points.
“These guys just emptied the tank and when the tank’s empty it’s just really tough to perform at the level that they need to perform at to hang with a team like this,” Keefer said. “I’m so proud of these guys. It’s so hard to explain. I just can’t say enough about them.”
“It is really special. COVID is a strange thing, but I’m glad to be out here playing with my brothers and my friends,” Riley said after totaling 225 yards. “We got into halftime and had a good second-half plan, had a prep talk and it took off from there. Even with what was going on, we were still ready to come out and play our best and we knew we could come back.”
Dylan Bennett returned a Riley screen pass 28 yards for the opening touchdown midway through the first quarter before Dillon Young (4 catches, 111 yards) turned a 12-yard Maddix Dalena pass into a 62-yard touchdown a quarter later. On the next series, Bennett ran for a 5-yard touchdown and Montoursville led 21-7. The Warrior defense took over in the second quarter as well, holding Danville without a first down on three consecutive series as Montoursville maintained that 14-point advantage at halftime.
It all looked so good, but trouble was brewing. Pulizzi was out after running for 205 yards in a 42-28 regular-season win against Danville. So was Moll who caught a 54-yard touchdown in that game. And when two-way starter Ethan Lepley and standout defensive tackle Gavin Livemore were lost in the second half the combination of injuries and Danville’s talent started becoming too much.
The Ironmen scored on the third-quarter’s opening possession with Riley’s third-and-10, 41-yard pass to Jagger Dressler setting up his 1-yard score. Montoursville had two promising drives following that but the first stalled at midfield and the next at the Ironmen 39-yard line. The Danville defense dominated from there, surrendering just 14 yards on 19 fourth-quarter plays. During a three-possession stretch, Danville did not allow a first down and held Montoursville to minus-14 yards on those nine plays.
“It was a matter of getting our heads out of our you know whats. We made a couple mistakes early, but came back in the second half,” linebacker Mason Raup, District 4’s leader in tackles for loss (20) said. “Having KJ and our receiving core with Jagger, Carson, Ian (Persing) and Hayden (Winn) we’re really confident in our offense, so getting stops fuels the fire.”
Montoursville’s defense played outstanding for much of the game and held the Ironmen to a season-low 284 yards. But that defense spent a lot of time on the field and eventually, Danville turned the fire into an inferno. Riley’s 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter made it 21-17. The Warriors held on the next two possessions, but Riley made the pass of his life a play after Danville took over on the Montoursville 31-yard line with a little less than seven minutes remaining.
Riley, who suffered a second-quarter foot injury, rolled right and looked toward Carson Persing who was well covered. There was no coverage for a perfect throw, however, as Riley put the ball where only Persing could catch it. Persing, the district’s leader in yards and touchdowns, made an excellent catch in the back corner of the end zone and Danville had its first lead, 24-21.
“I saw the DB running straight back on the inside so I tried to put it to his back shoulder and Carson made a great catch and I wouldn’t be able to do all that without my line blocking on the inside and giving me time to throw that pass,” said Riley who has thrown for 1,868 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. “That’s always a great feeling when you can score and take the lead and go down and celebrate with your teammates.”
Danville’s defense kept the good vibes flowing when it snuffed out Montoursville on the following series. Dalena was under fire throughout the second half and was hit on the first play before nearly being sacked on third down as Danville forced a quick punt from the 13-yard line. The Ironmen took over at Montoursville’s 42 and a ground game which had been stymied all afternoon came alive with Zach Gordon and Riley ripping off big runs.
Riley capped the drive when he took a quarterback draw up the middle, bounced off defenders inside the 5, dove toward the goal line and stretched the ball across. After coming so close three straight times from 2016-18, Danville had its elusive district championship.
“In the beginning we didn’t even know if we were going to have this season or not, but we were working the whole time,” Raup said. “Having that extra edge from the summer and being able to play and win a district championship is pretty special.”
So is the Montoursville senior class. That group closed its scholastic careers with a 31-6 record, two district championships and three district titles. So many left their mark in their final games as well. Bennett enhanced his all-state resume at linebacker, Signor dazzled with nine tackles and a sack, Zach Schmalhofer consistently was in the Danville backfield and Heath Jones ran hard at tailback, starting just this third game there after playing fullback most of his football life.
Those seniors and all the Warriors desperately wanted another championship, but their legacies already were secure. Their performances said everything.
“They played their tails off. I feel like we were one score short of being able to hold them off and somehow steal this,” Keefer said. “I really think being in the game the whole time was pretty impressive for our kids.”
Danville 31, Montoursville 21
Danville 0 7 7 17ä31
Montoursville 7 14 0 0ä21
MäDylan Bennett 28-yard interception return (Dillon Young kick), 6:36
DäJagger Dressler 12 pass from KJ Riley (Riley kick), 11:51
MäYoung 62 pass from Maddix Dalena (Young kick), 11:04
MäBennett 5 run (Young kick), 7:26
DäRiley 1 run (Riley kick), 8:15
DäRiley 27-yard field goal, 11:04
DäCarson Persing 31 pass from Riley (Riley kick), 6:44
DäRiley 14 run (Riley kick), 2:06
First Downs 13 11
Rushes-yards 28-116 24-92
Passing yards 168 148
Total yards 284 240
Comp-Att-Int 16-27-1 10-25-1
Fumbles-lost 2-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 7-40 4-40
RUSHING: Danville, Riley 14-57, 2 TDs; Zach Gordon 7-52; Ty Stauffer 7-7. Montoursville, Heath Jones 9-40; Dylan Bennett 5-34; Maddix Dalena 7-19; CJ Signor 2-0; Isaiah Fenner 1-(-1).
PASSING: Danville, Riley 16-27-1, 168 yards, 2 TDs. Montoursville, Dalena 10-25-1, 148 yards, TD.
RECEIVING: Danville, Carson Persing 7-72, TD; Jagger Dressler 5-71, TD; Hayden Winn 2-11; Ian Persing 1-13; Gordon 1-1. Montoursville, Dillon Young 4-111, TD; Bennett 3-6; Signor 2-28; Ethan Lepley 1-3.
INTERCEPTIONS: Danville, Gordon. Montoursville, Bennett.
RECORDS: Danville 8-1. Montoursville 8-1.