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Chris Masse on football: Muncy’s Johnson making a huge impact

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Muncy’s Austin Johnson runs against Montgomery during Friday night’s Old Shoe Game.

Coach Sean Tetreault opens Muncy’s weight room. Austin Johnson often closes it.

Johnson is putting together one of the best freshman seasons in area history. The running back/linebacker broke the freshman record for touchdowns Friday, running for 191 yards and four touchdowns while helping Muncy defeat Montgomery, 40-18 in the Old Shoe game. Just eight games into his high school career, Johnson already has 982 yards and 16 touchdowns, shattering the previous record by four. He also can play linebacker or along the defensive line.

Despite his age, the 6-foot-2, 210 pounder already looks like a grown man. He works like one, too.

“When you have a kid who is literally in the weight room longer than I am, that’s a good problem to have,” Tetreault said. “He’s so driven to play football this year and wrestle this winter. He loves every minute he’s in the weight room, on the field, or doing conditioning. He’s reaping the benefits of all the hard work he’s putting in.”

Johnson is strong as an ox and features good speed which came shining through on 53 and 32-yard scoring runs against Montgomery. The fullback has all the tools, but history is filled with so many tremendous athletes who failed to fulfill their potential. Johnson is not letting that happen. At his core, he is both a worker and a fighter.

Legendary running back Walter Payton once said his goal was to never die easy. Johnson embodies that phrase. Even his one or two-yard runs often are exciting as he bounces off defenders or drags them along. He is that unique player, who whenever he touches the ball, everyone knows something exciting may happen.

Again, he is just a freshman. As well as Johnson is playing, he might just be getting started.

“He’s done some great things this season. He’s really impressed a lot of us,” senior defensive lineman Matt McCauley said. “We had a few rough edges the first couple of games but we’re buffing them out. I just can’t wait to see where that kid goes.”

Johnson, though, is taking nothing for granted. In these uncertain times, Johnson is making the most of each opportunity and complacency is a word which does not exist in his vocabulary.

That was not just evident against Montgomery, but throughout practices last week. Johnson ran for 77 yards in a 31-20 victory against South Williamsport the previous Friday but he did not focus on his good runs. Johnson focused on the yards he missed, the plays he didn’t make. Come Friday, Johnson put all that studying and effort into a spectacular performance. In addition to helping the defense allow just 38 rushing yards, Johnson scored all four touchdowns from 10 yards or longer and averaged 11.2 yards per carry.

“Austin took it to heart this week. He knew he missed some cuts against South Williamsport. He was really hard on his film stuff,” Tetreault said. “He practiced so hard this week, and it was great to see him come out and hit the holes so hard and made some huge plays for us.”

Johnson forms a potent backfield along with Ty Nixon and quarterback Branson Eyer. All three have gone over 500 yards this season and they combined for 403 yards against Montgomery. Johnson is averaging 8 yards per carry and also has two sacks.

It is mighty impressive stuff and has surprised many. Just not Johnson.

“I set high expectations for myself,” Johnson said. “My goal was 1,200 yards and I haven’t gotten that yet, so I’m still not satisfied.”

That reveals a lot. So does the fact that Johnson is as content throwing blocks as he is carrying the ball. Johnson is an excellent lead blocker and some of his blocks played a key role in Nixon running for 168 yards against Montgomery.

He is gifted, but Johnson also is unselfish and hungry. Talk about an impressive blend.

“Having Austin in the backfield definitely helps us. He’s a good, hard runner and he has deceptive speed. If someone gets him the corner, watch for him breaking away,” Tetreault said. “He’s definitely a game-changer.”

SUDDEN IMPACT: Johnson is one of several players turning 2021 into the year of the freshman running back. Cowanesque Valley’s Tim Freeman, Milton’s Chris Doyle and Jersey Shore’s Elijah Jordan all have provided their teams a jolt and are playing critical roles in their success.

Freeman and Doyle each have shots at 1,000-yard seasons even with CV not playing last weekend. Freeman has run for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games, producing the third most rushing touchdowns by a freshman in area history. Doyle led the area in rushing after four weeks and has helped Milton (5-3) become one of the district’s most improved teams, running for 882 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Jordan is the lightning to Haydn Packer’s thunder in Jersey Shore’s backfield, rushing for 446 yards and four touchdowns. Jordan burst onto the scene in Week 3, when he ran for 97 second-half yards and helped Jersey Shore rally to beat Montoursville, 27-20 in overtime.

“I think it shows that age doesn’t matter,” Johnson said. “If you’re working hard, you’ll do well.”

EXTRA POINTS: Loyalsock quarterback Tyler Gee dazzled after returning for the first time since Week 4, completing 17 of 22 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns in a 60-41 loss against Mount Carmel which featured 101 points, 976 yards and 51 first downs. He also ran for 51 yards and a score. Jer Val Weeks-Shuler and Rian Glunk had big receiving nights, combining for three touchdowns and Naz Smith returned his second kickoff return for a touchdown this season, this one from 76 yards … Logan Almeida threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns against Muncy, breaking the program’s single-season record for passing yards. Almeida, already the program’s career leader in yards broke the record held by Shane Kibbe from 2001 and has an area-high 1,452 yards … Wellsboro (3-3) recorded a gutsy 24-6 win at Wyalusing, playing without several starters but intercepting five passes and scoring the game’s final 24 points. Isaac Keane intercepted two passes, threw for a touchdown and ran for a score. Ryan Sweet also intercepted a pass and caught three passes for 81 yards and a touchdown … North Penn-Mansfield (4-4) won for the third time in four weeks, remaining perfect at home, edging Line Mountain, 20-19. Karson Dominick found Gaven Sexauer for the game-winning 21-yard touchdown pass on a 4th-and-11. Joe Sember recovered a key late fumble, the defense made repeated big stops and Kohen Lehman scored twice, totaling 158 yards. Sexauer made 15 tackles, including 12 solos … Dominick threw for 140 yards and two touchdowns … Ethan Dominick ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns on just five carries while also returning an interception for a touchdown as Lewisburg hammered Shikellamy, 42-7. The Green Dragons scored 42 first-half points in their first game at Christy Mathewson Stadium since 2019 and won their third straight game and Owen Ordonez’s strip sack produced a Shane Farmer fumble return for a touchdown. Dominick has scored nine touchdowns during Lewisburg’s three-game winning streak in which the Green Dragons have outscored the opposition, 130-16 … Milton quarterback Xzavier Minium ran for 138 yards and a touchdown in a 27-14 loss at Shamokin … Bucktail’s Zach Pick returned his second kickoff for a touchdown in two weeks, going 80 yards for a score in a 28-7 loss at Otto-Eldred … Warrior Run freshman Isaiah Betz collected two sacks and made four tackles for loss in a 42-7 loss against Bloomsburg. Logan Smedly added 10 tackles and Ryan Newton threw for 148 yards and a touchdown.

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

DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 FOOTBALL RANKINGS

1. Jersey Shore (8-0): A battle of defending district champions was as exciting as expected with Jersey Shore pulling away in the second half and defeating Danville, 42-21. The Bulldogs trailed for the first time since Week 3 but immediately thundered back from that second-quarter deficit and outscored Danville, 35-7 from there. The offensive line shined, paving the way for 427 yards. Haydn Packer scored three times and the defense dug in from the second quarter on. Defensive lineman Tate Sechrist has come on strong this year and collected a sack, as did Dierk Stetts, while making four tackles for loss. Karter Peacock made nine tackles and Dathan Tyson added an interception. Cayden Hess caught a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter and tied Muncy’s Nate Messner for the most receiving touchdowns in the 2000s at 27.

2. Canton (8-0): A dominant offensive line plowed through another defense as Canton thumped Athens, 34-10. This was an especially impressive win, considering Athens was allowing just 6.4 points per game. The line has imposed its will all year and Canton ran for 401 yards with Riley Parker gouging Athens for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Weston Bellows, Hayden Ward and Cooper Kitchen all topped 50 yards as well. Ward sparked a nasty defense and had 10 tackles, including, eight solos, as well as two sacks. Michael Davis became Canton’s 10th player to intercept a pass, Caiden Williams had a tackle for a safety and Mason Nelson added a sack. The Warriors are surrendering just 6.3 points a game and lead the district in both points and yards allowed per game.

3. Muncy (7-1): Muncy did more than win the Old Shoe Friday, it also captured the NTL-II championship. Muncy won the league title for the first time since 2017 and made it five straight years in which it has either won a district or league crown. The Indians head west to face Homer Center this week in a heavyweight showdown between state-ranked programs. Being tested the last two weeks in hard-hitting games against Montgomery and South Williamsport has Muncy not just ready for Friday’s test, but also the postseason.

“We know once we get into the playoffs it’s going to be a physical brand of football and these games are helping us prepare for it,” Tetreault said. “Our kids aren’t backing down from the fight.”

4. Williamsport (4-4): Dynamic wide receiver Jamaire Harden, outstanding two-way lineman Dade Splain and running back Nasir Hennigan all returned from injuries against Wyoming Valley West and Williamsport showed how dangerous it can be, routing the Spartans, 40-7. Williamsport dominated all facets, the offensive line cleared the way for 455 yards and a stifling defense surrendered just 125. In addition to snapping a three-game losing streak, the Millionaires boosted their chances of earning the top seed for the District 2-6 Class AAAA semifinals and earning homefield advantage. Harden turned his first catch since his Week 4 injury into a 50-yard touchdown and Yahzir Slaughter (83 yards) and Sebastian Robinson (67) added long touchdown catches. Hennigan and Lajear Whaley formed a strong backfield duo and Whaley, Charles Crews and Alonzo Rice set the defensive tone with first-quarter sacks.

“We had a good week in practice and that led to the game,” quarterback George Whaley said. “We started the first half strong and finished the game better.”

5. Montoursville (4-4): Maddix Dalena went into Tom Brady-mode in a 42-6 win at Midd-West, completing all nine of his passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half as the Warriors built a 35-0 lead. Dalena went over 1,000 yards for a second straight year, finding Kayden Frame twice for scores and Marco Pulizzi with a 33-yard touchdown. Dylan Blackwell ignited the running game, producing a career-high 103 yards and a touchdown. Despite missing three starters, the defense stifled Midd-West, surrendering just 82 yards. Ethan Wanner made eight tackles, including six solos, Nate Fisher registered a sack and Owen Kleinman intercepted his first varsity pass. It was a good game for Montoursville to break out following a rough stretch and this is a team which remains dangerous in the Class AAA field, especially if it gets healthy.

Players of the Week

Brady Jordan, Jersey Shore and

George Whaley, Williamsport

Jordan was a dual force against Danville, throwing for 137 yards and a touchdown and running for 197 yards with two scores. The first-year starting quarterback totaled 334 yards and also made a huge fumble recovery at the 1-yard line to stop a Danville drive. Jordan leads the area with 13 touchdowns, has thrown for 1,186 yards and has totaled 1,829 yards.

Whaley is another excellent dual threat who is settling in after becoming the team’s starting quarterback in Week 6. The junior continues making strides each week and electrified against Valley West, throwing for 214 yards and three touchdowns. He added 36 yards rushing. By halftime Whaley had thrown for 205 yards and three scores. In his three starts, Whaley has totaled 607 yards and he leads the area in completion percentage at 69.8 %.

Game of the Week

Jersey Shore at Bald Eagle Area

These two have played some outstanding games over the last few years and BEA may be the toughest opponent Jersey Shore has seen yet. The Eagles (7-1) have won six straight and feature an outstanding defense which has recorded four shutouts, including three in the last four weeks. These teams are near mirror images with nasty defenses and explosive balanced offenses. For a second straight week, Jersey Shore will be playing a game surrounded by a playoff-like atmosphere.

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