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Chris Masse on football: Hustle, selflessness has helped Muncy’s program

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Muncy’s Chase Crawley attempts to catch a pass against South Williamsport during Friday’s game.

Muncy made some big scoring plays and produced an impressive nine-play, 78-yard scoring drive which clinched a hard-fought 31-20 win against South Williamsport.

But if one wants to understand how Muncy has become one of the state’s premier Class A programs, it may be best to focus on a play last Friday which produced no points. This play saved points and, ultimately, changed the game’s complexion.

South’s Lane Lusk had broken loose and appeared headed for a 70-yard touchdown run as he sprinted downfield. All-state safety Ross Eyer had other ideas, made up ground at a rapid rate and caught Lusk at the 14-yard line. Muncy then made a defensive stand, preventing South from potentially tying the game. His cousin Branson Eyer ran for a 53-yard touchdown moments later and a 14-point swing had taken place in a victory which was not secure until the final seconds.

Had Eyer not hustled and caught Lusk, the game could have taken a much different path. Had he let down on the play, South would have scored and seized momentum. Eyer simply wouldn’t let it happen and he perfectly showed what Muncy football is all about with his high-effort play.

“We preach to our kids all the time to never quit. That effort is what breeds success,” Muncy coach Sean Tetreault said. “We’re excited to see our kids never giving up and that’s what we need as we go toward the postseason. As we go to the end of the season we have to keep that fight, keep that hunger and that never quit attitude.”

That has never been a problem over the last five years. Muncy (6-1) has won four of the last five District 4 championships, including three straight. Adding in a 2017 NTL-II title, Muncy has won a championship in each of these last five seasons. After going the distance with eventual state champion Steelton-Highspire in last year’s state tournament, Muncy is ranked No. 3 in Pennsylvania. The rest of the state is taking notice.

Still, just as impressive as those title banners is the way Muncy has won them.

None has come the easy way. Each district championship win has come on the road. The Indians are 6-0 in road playoff games the past four years and have won three straight championship thrillers at Canton. The road often has included several bumps, but Muncy always is up for a challenge and so often experiences smooth traveling when the games matter most.

“It sometimes comes down to the last play or so in the game,” senior tackle Gavin Hillman said. “We like that.”

Hillman and fellow linemen Isaac Harris, Xander Brown, Adam Rosario, Ken Hampe, as well as tight end Bailey Hadzinikolov, certainly liked it after South cut Muncy’s lead to 24-20 with 4 minutes, 6 seconds remaining. That unit opened the holes and Branson Eyer, Ty Nixon and Austin Johnson ran hard as the Indians went the distance. Nixon’s 4-yard touchdown clinched the victory as Muncy won its sixth straight game and clinched its fifth consecutive winning season.

South played Muncy hard and the Indians could have broken several times. Every time it was pushed, Muncy came fighting back and won a contest against an impressive rival in a playoff-type atmosphere. Muncy has won its share of blowouts this season, but these are the games it really cherishes.

“Any time we play a quality competition, any time we have a game going deep into fourth quarter it helps us build for the postseason because we need that,” Tetreault said. “We know Canton is a very tough team, Montgomery is a very tough team. There’s no easy road for us to go where we want to go, so any time we get these tests it’s great for our team.”

So is the heart this team shows.

Wide receiver Chase Crawley was injured on Muncy’s first offensive play after absorbing a hard hit. A series later he was back in. Two possessions later, he slid across the middle of the end zone and made a spectacular 24-yard touchdown catch.

That is Muncy football.

Muncy and South are built in similar fashion. Each team features a power running game and imposing lines. Coach Chris Eiswerth and his staff ushered in a football renaissance at South, starting in 2012. Muncy has followed a similar blue print. Each year this blue-collar program has laid down a new brick and its foundation appears as strong as ever.

“Muncy has a great football team,” Eiswerth said. “Hat’s off to Muncy. Muncy has been building something good for a while now and they have a really nice program.”

1K CLUB: Lusk played an outstanding game in defeat, running for 220 yards and a touchdown. The senior also became South’s 10th consecutive player to reach 1,000 yards in a season, a streak which began with Brandon Stonge in 2012. Lusk went over 200 yards for the second time in three games and leads the area with 1,083 yards.

Also an excellent linebacker, Lusk brings a defensive mentality to the backfield. He burst through holes created by his strong offensive line Friday, but also gained a lot of yards after contact, sometimes dragging defenders and/or bouncing off them. Five times in the first half Lusk ripped off yards of 10 or more yards and reached a career-high in yards while almost never leaving the field, his white uniform covered in dirt serving as a testament to his effort.

“Lusk is Lusk. He’s going to get yards,” Tetreault said. “I don’t care how much you do and what defense you have, he’s going to get yardage on you.”

EXTRA POINTS: What a turnaround Cowanesque Valley is creating. The Indians (5-2) battered Wyalusing, 32-0, and won for the fifth time in six games, continuing their best season of the 2000s. Freshman Tim Freeman ran for 137 yards and three touchdowns, giving him seven scores the past two weeks. Quarterback Jacob Schmitt threw for 149 yards and a touchdown, also intercepting a pass and registering a sack. Tanyan Brown caught a touchdown and linebacker Michael Sipps made 11 tackles as CV moved to No. 3 in the District 4 Class AAA playoff standings … Montoursville’s Rocco Pulizzi was injured in a 29-27 loss against Mifflinburg but he went over 1,000 yards for a third straight year before exiting in the third quarter. Pulizzi is the first Warrior to record three straight 1,000-yard seasons and he also returned a 90-yard kickoff for a touchdown, giving him three return touchdowns of 90 or more yards over the past two seasons … North Penn-Mansfield’s Cam Fabian ran for and caught a touchdown in a 44-14 loss at Athens. Fabian totaled 101 yards and has scored three different ways on offense and defense this season. He also is among the area’s leading receivers with 32 catches and four scores and added a sack Friday … Elijah Frierson intercepted a pass for a second straight week and George Whaley completed 12 of 17 passes for 104 yards in Williamsport’s 26-0 loss at Delaware Valley … Isaac Keane threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns Saturday as Wellsboro defeated Port Allegany, 38-12. Conner Adams caught and threw a touchdown to Dylan Abernathy while also intercepting a pass.

Chris Masse covers high school football and may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 RANKINGS

1. Jersey Shore (7-0): Make it two straight weeks, Jersey Shore’s starting defense has not allowed a point after the Bulldogs thumped Milton, 62-7. The defensive line was outstanding with Conner Davis intercepting a pass and Dierk Stetts collecting 1 1/2 sacks. Jersey Shore recorded 12 tackles for loss and Haydn Packer made three. Sophomore Payton Samar added two while setting up a touchdown with an interception. The Bulldogs led 37-0 at halftime and quarterback Brady Jordan went over 1,000 yards for the season, throwing touchdowns to Kooper Peacock and Cayden Hess. Peacock is a versatile weapon who has scored touchdowns three ways this season and did so as a runner and receiver against Milton. His brother ran for 83 yards and a touchdown while Breck Miller continued his super debut season, drilling two field goals, including a District 4-long 43 yarder. Miller has a district-best eight field goals.

2. Canton (7-0): It’s not the 1985 Bears, but Canton’s defense certainly is playing like that stifling unit once did. The Warriors swarmed Montgomery, allowing just 100 yards in Friday’s 48-6 victory, allowing an opponent seven or fewer points for a sixth time. Canton is surrendering just 5.7 points and 131.2 yards per game. It is playing phenomenal team defense with nine players having interceptions and 10 plays a sack. The offensive line is as physical as the defense and continues leading the way for a dominant running game. Riley Parker took the game’s first play 57 yards for a touchdown, finished with 98 and went over 1,000 yards for his career. Cooper Kitchen threw and ran for a touchdown, giving him 16 this season and Gavin Morse caught his first touchdown pass. Friday’s game against Athens will be a challenge and features two of the district’s top defenses with Athens surrendering just seven points per game.

3. Muncy (6-1): It is blue-collar and Muncy also is unselfish. Its backfield reflects that quality. Fullback Austin Johnson, tailback Ty Nixon and quarterback Branson Eyer all have more than 500 yards rushing this season. Eyer (152) and Nixon (105) topped 100 yards against South, with Johnson adding 77. They have combined to run for 26 touchdowns. The thing is, they are as content blocking as they are running. The backs complement each other and their contributions go far beyond what they do when the ball is in their hands.

“Those running backs do a great job blocking for everybody. We have a great team unit this year. Everyone is a team player and buying into the system,” Tetreault said. “If they’re not getting the ball, they’re going to block their heart out for the guys getting the ball, and it’s great to see all three of them running hard and getting great yards for us.”

4. Central Mountain (5-2): Sophomore wide receiver Connor Foltz has filled a major void with Julian Wilt injured and enjoyed a career night in a 33-23 loss against Selinsgrove, catching 12 passes for 165 yards. Foltz has 30 catches this year. Tyler Weaver has emerged as a reliable threat as well and caught a 66-yard touchdown. Central Mountain became the first team to score more than 14 points against Selinsgrove while producing 325 yards against a defense which was allowing 6.3 points per game. Quarterback Brett Gerlach threw for 234 yards, going over 1,000 this season. The senior leads Central Mountain in passing and rushing, totaling 1,544 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Wildcats face another test Friday, heading to Mifflinburg and going against an explosive offense led by District 4’s leading passer Troy Dressler.

5. Milton (5-2): Despite Friday’s loss, Milton remains perched atop the District 4 Class AAA playoff standings and controls its own destiny as it pursues homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Black Panthers play Shamokin Friday and are a victory from clinching their first winning season since 2012. Ashton Canelo totaled 61 yards and scored against Jersey Shore, while Ashton Krall intercepted a pass.

Players of the Week

Tucker St. Peter

Cowanesque Valley and Weston Bellows, Canton

St. Peter put on a defensive clinic against Wyalusing, intercepting three passes. A versatile threat who can line up all over the field, St. Peter also caught five passes for 81 yards, giving him 30 catches this season. Bellows does a bit of everything for Canton in all three phases and totaled 130 yards and three touchdowns on nine touches against Montgomery. He also played excellent defense, intercepting a pass and making five tackles. Bellows is second on the team in rushing, leads Canton in receiving while averaging 30.7 yards per catch, and also has returned two punts for touchdowns.

Game of the Week

Danville at Jersey Shore

The Bulldogs are in the middle of a tough stretch of games which is a good way to enter the postseason because they will be surrounded by playoff atmospheres. Friday is a great one at Thompson Street Stadium as the reigning District 4 Class AAA and AAAA champions collide. Danville reached last year’s state semifinals and Jersey Shore the championship. Both teams are starting a lot of new players this season but remain among the district’s elite. This game also features two of the top three receivers in District 4 career yards with Hess and Danville’s Carson Persing, having produced more than 300 catches and 5,000 yards.

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