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Athens at Montoursville preview

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montoursville’s Rocco Pulizzi runs against Jersey Shore during a game this season.

Athens PPG–24.9, PPA–13.4; YPG–301.2, YPA–239.9

Athens facts: This is the sixth time Athens and Montoursville have met in the postseason since 2004. Athens (6-4) won the first meeting in 2004, but Montoursville has won the last five, including in the 2018 quarterfinals. Athens snapped a two-game losing streak last week, edging rival Sayre, 7-6. The Wildcats regained their strong defensive footing after struggling in Weeks 8 and 9 when they surrendered 83 points. In its other eight games, Athens has surrendered just 50 points and held seven teams to seven points or fewer. Middle linebacker Dylan Harford averages a team-high 8.6 tackles per game and also has two sacks. Jared Peterson intercepted his third pass a week ago and Athens held Sayre to 133 yards while forcing three turnovers. Shayne Reid is one of the district’s more versatile players and makes a big impact in all three phases. A 1,000-yard rusher, Reid also has two interceptions, is strong in the return game and is a reliable kicker who has drilled four field goals, including a 39-yarder. Quarterback Mason Lister has been among the district’s leaders in passer rating throughout the season, throwing just four interceptions in 149 attempts. He also has 1,296 yards. Karter Rude is a big-play threat at wide receiver and has produced 555 yards. JJ Babcock also is a dependable target and Reid has 20 catches, along with four touchdowns, coming out of the backfield. Athens went 5-2 a year ago, losing to Danville in the District 4 semifinals. Long-time coach Jack Young has compiled a strong resume and led Athens to the 2004 District 4 Class AA championship.

Athens player to watch–Ethan Wilcox: The outside linebacker helps fuel Athens’ pass rush and has a team-high four sacks. Wilcox produced two sacks in a 44-14 win against No. 7 North Penn-Mansfield and has made 31 tackles, including 21 solos.

Montoursville PPG–26.4, PPA–18.8; YPG–287.5, YPA–274.5

Montoursville facts: A program which has captured four district championships since 2014 starts the drive for five tonight after enduring a bumpy ride during the regular season. The injuries piled up, especially at midseason, but Montoursville (5-5) won two straight road games before giving Class AAAA title contender Selinsgrove a battle last week in a 21-10 loss. The defense has most of its original starters back and held Selinsgrove to 197 yards. Montoursville has not allowed an opponent to reach 200 yards the last three weeks and the starters did not surrender a point in victories against Midd-West and Central Columbia. Linebackers Brayden Brown and Dylan Blackwell each made 10 tackles against Selinsgrove with Blackwell producing eight solo tackles. Kayden Frame and Ethan Wanner combined for 17 tackles and Frame added his third sack. Despite missing multiple games defensive end Frank Schemery has a team-high four sacks. Montoursville is hoping to get 1,000-yard rusher Rocco Pulizzi back tonight after he missed the last six quarters. Despite essentially being limited to 7 1/2 games, Pulizzi topped 1,000 yards for a third straight year and leads the area with 18 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Maddix Dalena has thrown touchdown passes in five straight games and Isaiah Fenner and James Batkowski each have reached 20 catches. Fenner shined in last year’s playoff opener against Loyalsock, catching five passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Fenner is one of three kickers who has flourished on special teams this season. Mason Winslow made 16 straight extra points before suffering a broken ankle in a playoff soccer game. Soccer teammate Wyatt Fry excelled in his debut last week, making a 30-yard field goal and an extra point.

Montoursville player to watch–Gavin Farquharson: The senior lineman was another valuable player who missed repeated weeks but provides a boost on both sides of the ball. Farquharson played one of his best games a week ago, making eight tackles, including one for loss. His presence up front could play a vital role with Athens likely trying to establish Riley early and often after he ran for 122 yards last week.

Winner plays: No. 2 Milton or No. 7 North Penn-Mansfield

Outlook: Little has come easy for Montoursville this season, but the Warriors have made big strides the last three weeks. If that growth continues, they have an excellent chance to reach the semifinals.

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