Chris Masse on football: Montoursville is program defined by its toughness
The coaches and players change, but all those who have helped Montoursville build one of District 4’s best traditions share a common bond that goes beyond wins and losses.
Simply put, this is a program which can be defined by its toughness. And with the adversity growing the past few weeks, the 2021 Warriors did all their previous teams proud. The tradition continues because Montoursville keeps flourishing when times grow tough.
Following consecutive losses, Montoursville regrouped last Friday and defeated rival Loyalsock, 26-21. It was another classic produced by two excellent teams and it was the latest example of how Montoursville keeps excelling year after year. Montoursville (3-2) had dropped an overtime heartbreaker at Jersey Shore before being pushed around at Mount Carmel the next week. With Loyalsock (3-2) coming off a big win over defending District 4 Class AAA champion Danville, it appeared Montoursville was primed for the taking.
Instead, the Warriors erased a one-point halftime deficit, made some huge late stops and shined offensively while winning the Battle of the Bridge Game for a sixth straight time. When times are tough, Montoursville so often has played its best. It did so again at a crucial time against Loyalsock.
“This is the best we’ve practiced all year. We were ready to go,” linebacker/fullback Brayden Brown said. “We were done with that after those two losses. We didn’t want that embarrassment anymore. We were getting harder and pushing harder at practice every single day.”
“This shows the types of guys we have on this team,” quarterback Maddix Dalena said after going 17 of 26 for 218 yards. “That’s just something about Montoursville football. We’re different. We come back from losing two games in a row to winning this big game right here.”
It was a performance reminiscent of Montoursville rebounding from a 3-4 start in 2014 and winning its next six games while capturing the District 4 Class AA championship, a stretch which included the last district playoff victory against Southern Columbia. Or the 2018 team bouncing back from a 26-point loss at Danville to win another title, capping the surge with a 32-0 victory at Danville. Or the 2020 team moving CJ Signor from fullback to center and plugging in Heath Jones at tailback for the first time and still going 7-0 last year during the regular season.
You get the idea. This is a program which consistently is at its best when things look like they could be headed for the worst. Zach Barnes personified the team’s character and resourcefulness Friday, moving from fullback and playing guard for the first time. All that line did was pave the way for 428 yards, including 211 from running back Rocco Pulizzi.
“That’s the way Montoursville is,” Brown said. “If one person does down the next person steps up. We always have people ready to go.”
“It was a lot of kids stepping up. These kids have been in the program long enough and they aren’t used to losing two games in a row so it was time to step up and what better way to step up than against your cross-town rivals,” first-year coach Mike Boughton said. “They know how much this means and that Bridge means a lot to them and it’s good to get a win.”
The way Montoursville earned that win spoke volumes. Loyalsock also played an outstanding game and gave the Warriors all they could handle. There were a lot of times, Montoursville could have crumbled but when it looked like Loyalsock might be taking over, it always regrouped and came fighting back. Montoursville scored touchdowns late in the third and early in the fourth quarter to go up 26-14 before the defense made two big stops and helped seal the dramatic win.
It was not easy but football is not easy. Life is not easy. But as it has done for so long, Montoursville took the hits and still kept moving forward. More challenges are coming, starting Friday at Danville, but this is a program which thrives on those. Don’t expect it to crumble any time soon.
“I think we proved to ourselves what we can do,” Brown said. “Now we now need to go even harder in practice every single day.”
TRADING PLACES: Hughesville quarterback Joey Swink made all nine starts last season and the first four this year. But coach Howard Rainey and his staff started thinking he might better help the team at wide receiver, especially with some quality depth at quarterback and big-armed Luke Kaiser waiting in the wings.
So the switch was made the payoff has been immediate. Kaiser threw three first-quarter touchdowns Saturday in a 46-7 win against Warrior Run. The most impressive of those scoring strikes was an 85-yard bomb to the speedy Swink who torched his defender, caught the 50-yard pass in stride and coasted into the end zone. That play changed the game’s complexion and Hughesville scored the next 46 points, including 39 in the first half.
Before the first quarter was over Kaiser already had thrown for 143 yards, also throwing a perfect 51-yard scoring pass to Justin Fowler. Swink finished with 98 yards a week after catching four passes against Mifflinburg. Swink, who also intercepted two passes and has five this season, provides Hughesville’s growing receiving core another weapon and Kaiser can stretch the field while opening up the run for players like Brenden Knight who produced 177 yards against Warrior Run.
“Kaiser can throw it a mile. That’s why we decided to make that move. Joey being one of our fastest guys, it made sense to put him out there in the slot. He can catch anything, too,” Rainey said. “It was perfect. Now he will be comfortable being a wide receiver instead of quarterback and Luke will be comfortable being quarterback.”
EXTRA POINTS: Muncy has won four straight and stifled a high-powered Sayre offense in Friday’s 42-8 win. The starters did not allow a point and held a team a week removed from a 36-point performance at Montgomery to 205 yards while limiting District 4’s leader in passing yards Brayden Horton to 30. The offensive line shined, Branson Eyer totaled 190 yards and three touchdowns and five different players scored. Freshman Austin Johnson ran for 82 yards and a touchdown and he and Ty Nixon each have more than 400 yards this year … Williamsport wide receiver DJ Greene caught three passes for 127 yards and a touchdown in the Millionaires’ 28-21 overtime loss at Berwick. Keith Freeman, Frankie Morrone and George Whaley all threw touchdown passes … Lewisburg won its first game in impressive fashion, routing Midd-West, 62-6. The Green Dragons built a 41-0 halftime lead, Ethan Dominick scored three times and Cam Michaels and Owen Ordonez produced special teams touchdowns. Wade Young threw for 192 yards and three touchdowns, finding three different receivers for scores … Cowanesque Valley (3-2) continued its success, defeating CMVT, 50-12 and winning for the third time in four games. CV is above .500 at the halfway point for the first time in the 2000s and quarterback Jacob Schmitt threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns. Tucker St. Peter, Elliott Good and Tanyan Brown all caught long touchdowns, St. Peter returned a kickoff 74 yards for a score and freshman Tim Freeman ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Sipps and Ean Bump each made 11 tackles … Kohen Lehman scored on runs of 50 (twice) and 37 yards while gaining 191 as North Penn-Mansfield thumped Towanda, 34-7. Cam Fabian returned an interception for a touchdown and also caught a 43-yard score from Karson Dominick, Gaven Sexauer continued his big year with 16 tackles and an interception and a young team took a big step forward.
Chris Masse covers high school football and may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.
DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 RANKINGS
1. Jersey Shore (5-0): Kooper Peacock dropped what would have been a pick 6 against Lewisburg, but did not let history repeat itself and returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown in a 56-20 victory over Shikellamy. Peacock has interceptions in consecutive games and also caught a touchdown. Senior defensive end Conner Davis is having a strong season and made a career-high 10 tackles as Jersey Shore won its 14th straight regular-season game while adding a sack and two tackles for loss. Jersey Shore has scored 103 points in its last two victories and Brady Jordan totaled 249 yards and four touchdowns. Cayden Hess caught five passes for 113 yards and two scores while moving into second on the area’s all-time receiving yardage list. Jersey Shore heads to Shamokin this Friday for a District 4 Class AAAA championship rematch.
2. Central Mountain (4-1): Ryan Pentz broke out in a big way, running for a season-high 175 yards and three touchdowns while helping Central Mountain down previously undefeated Milton, 29-20. Pentz’s performance signals even better days for an already dangerous offense coming with he and quarterback Brett Gerlach each now near 400 yards rushing. The Wildcats have balance and a lot of weapons and are just two victories from clinching the program’s first winning season since 2009. They also received a boost with two-way starter Tyler Weaver returning and catching five passes while adding a tie-breaking first-half field goal. Central Mountain is 4-1 for a second consecutive season and is a play from being undefeated, all while overcoming some costly injuries along the way.
3. Canton (5-0): The Warriors are overwhelming opponents up front and the defense recorded its second shutout while holding an opponent to seven points or fewer for a fourth time in a 42-0 victory against Northwest. Canton surrendered just 72 yards and a surging offensive line paved the way for 348 rushing yards. Caiden Williams collected two sacks and Bailey Ferguson added an interception. Riley Parker ran for 123 yards and a touchdown while quarterback Cooper Kitchen also went over 100 yards and totaled three scores. Those two and Hayden Ward (85 yards, 2 touchdowns) all are averaging more than 8.5 yards per carry. Special teams have been strong as well and Weston Bellows returned his second punt for a touchdown this season, this one covering 78 yards. Canton embarks on a four-game road trip Friday in Wellsboro and that game should be one of the area’s best this weekend.
4. Montoursville (3-2): Isaiah Fenner has come up huge for Montoursville in the last two victories against Loyalsock. Fenner ignited the go-ahead third-quarter drive with a diving catch, set up that score with a 45-yard catch and run to the 1 and finished with a career-high seven catches for 116 yards. In these last two Loyalsock games, Fenner has produced 12 catches 260 yards and two touchdowns.
5. Loyalsock (3-2): A former quarterback, Rian Glunk has developed into one of the district’s best wide receivers the past two seasons and caught three passes for 185 yards and a touchdown against Montoursville. Glunk has topped 80 yards in all five games, scored a touchdown in the past four and leads all area receivers with 27 catches, 586 yards and six touchdowns. He caught 70 and 84-yard passes Friday and has produced 321 yards against last year’s district finalists Danville and Montoursville. Linebacker Gavin Rice also is having a strong season and made a season-high 12 tackles Friday while Cy Cavanaugh added 11 and Tyler Suddah made a career-high 11. Loyalsock has another test coming Friday against surging Troy.
Players of the Week
Haydn Packer, Jersey Shore and
Rocco Pulizzi, Montoursville
An all-state linebacker a year ago, Packer continues shining and made 12 tackles, including four for loss against Shikellamy. He also is becoming quite an offensive weapon and ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Packer has run for 228 yards and five touchdowns the past two weeks, adding another dimension to the offense. Pulizzi took a pounding and kept getting stronger against a physical Loyalsock defense, running for a season-high 218 yards and three touchdowns. The senior all-stater was outstanding in the second half, gaining 148 yards and scoring on an electrifying 42-yard score which made it 26-14.
Game of the Week
Montoursville at Danville
It is a District 4 Class AAA championship rematch Friday between perennial contenders who split two games last year. Montoursville and Danville have played in three of the last five district finals with the Warriors taking the first two before Danville exacted revenge last year. Both again are among the title favorites this year and are evenly matched. Each game was close and fiercely contested a year ago. Don’t expect much to change Friday.