District 4 Class A final: Canton vs. Muncy preview
NOTE: Game is at Towanda
Last meeting: Muncy 21, Canton 16 in last year’s district final
Muncy PPG–33.7, PPA–14.2; YPG–363.5, YPA–222.9
Muncy facts: The Indians (10-1) are seeking their fourth straight district championship win against Canton. This is the fourth consecutive year Canton has been the top seed, but this time the game will be played at Towanda after Canton’s grass field was impacted hard by heavy rains in Week 10. Muncy is the state’s third-ranked Class A team and Canton No. 2. The Indians erased second-half comebacks the past two seasons at Canton and battled back from down 16-7 in the third quarter a year ago. They have won these last three finals by 11 combined points. All-state safety Ross Eyer intercepted two passes in that game, the first providing the go-ahead touchdown and the second clinching the victory. Eyer made a crucial red zone interception in last week’s 14-13 semifinal win against Montgomery and has 14 interceptions over the past two seasons. He also caught a 50-yard touchdown as Muncy rallied from a seven-point third-quarter deficit and survived the upset attempt. Muncy has won 10 straight games and is undefeated on the road. The Indians captured the NTL-II title, going undefeated in league play. They have played without standout two-way lineman Xander Brown the past two weeks, but sophomore Eli Harris has played well up front and helped the offensive line surge on one of the game’s biggest plays last week as Ty Nixon scored a 3-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal to make it, 14-7. Nixon is closing in on 1,000 yards and freshman Austin Johnson 1,100 yards with the two combining for 31 touchdowns. Branson Eyer threw for 119 yards against Montgomery and Chase Crawley caught five passes. An all-state offensive lineman, Isaac Harris also shines on defense and made 14 tackles last week while adding a fourth sack. Linebacker Eli Weikle played an excellent game, making seven tackles and a huge interception to prevent a Montgomery score. Linebacker Bailey Hadzinikolov is averaging 13 tackles per game and Jason Shuda 10.9. Shuda made one of the game’s biggest plays at Canton last year, stoning a ball-carrier for no gain on a fourth-and-one inside the 15-yard line late in the game. He finished that game with 11 tackles and Harris had 13.
Muncy player to watch–Branson Eyer: The junior quarterback has played some of his best games against Canton in the district final the past two seasons. In those contests, Eyer has led second-half comebacks, completed 16 of 26 passes and run for touchdowns in each contest. Eyer’s 78-yard touchdown run ignited last year’s rally and he finished with 211 total yards while also enjoying a big defensive day, making 15 tackles.
Canton PPG–43.2, PPA–5.7; YPG–335.4, YPA–136.8
Canton facts: After completing its first undefeated regular season of the 2000s and capturing its first NTL-I title since 1998, Canton (10-0) received a first-round bye into the championship and was off last week. Canton is pursuing its first district crown since 1990. The Warriors have produced one of the more dominant seasons in program history, shutting out four opponents and holding eight to single digits. Canton stormed into districts after hammering rival and Class AA semifinalist Troy, 36-0 in what doubled as the NTL-I championship. The Warriors surrendered just 12 yards in that game and have played tremendous team defense all season. Eleven players have intercepted a pass and 10 have collected a sack. Defensive end Caiden Williams has six sacks, 12 tackles for loss and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Troy. Linebacker Hayden Ward averages seven tackles per game and is second among area players with 14 tackles for loss. Mason Shultz, Mason Harold and Riley Parker each have three sacks and Canton has scored three defensive touchdowns. Parker has scored touchdowns four different ways and is 13 yards from reaching 1,000 on the ground. Canton’s offensive line has been physical and outstanding throughout the year, helping the Warriors average 286 rushing yards per game. Four players have gone over 400 yards, including dual threat quarterback Cooper Kitchen who has totaled 905 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ward ran for 100 yards in last year’s final and has scored nine touchdowns this season. Canton has not had to throw the ball often, mercy-ruling six teams, but Kitchen has been effective when he has. The senior has completed 28.6 of his passes for touchdowns and threw for a score in last year’s final. Canton has been one of the district’s most consistent winners over the last four years, going 34-6.
Canton player to watch–Weston Bellows: Canton’s Mr. Everything, Bellows is a difference-maker in all three phases and virtually lines up everywhere offensively. In addition to being second on the team in rushing, the senior has caught a team-high 10 passes and averaged 30 yards per catch. A terrific strong safety, Bellows is among the team’s leading tacklers and has intercepted a pass. He also is dangerous on special teams and has returned two punts for touchdowns, including a 78-yarder.
Winner plays: District 3’s champion, Steelton Highspire (7-2) or Delone Catholic (6-4)
Outlook: A game a year in the making, this one could be epic. Never have two District 4 teams met in a district final and both been ranked among the state’s top three teams and these contenders are mirror images. It was that way the past two seasons and a play or two has made the difference each time. It likely will be that way again tonight. The only question now is which team will make that key play which ultimately decides the outcome?