Depth key for unbeaten Montoursville

Keith Batkowski did not play varsity football before this season. Alec Rothrock did not play high school football, period, the last two years.

Both started Friday against one of District 4’s premier teams. And there was Batkowski making a leaping interception to end a promising Milton first-half drive while adding five tackles. There was Rothrock running over and around defenders while gaining 233 yards and scoring twice.

The next man up always is ready for the task, ready to shine. That is Montoursville football in 2013.

Montoursville has been hit by costly injuries and other circumstances, but nothing has slowed it down. The Warriors remained District 4’s only undefeated Class AA team last Friday, thumping Class AAA leader Milton, 28-7. The starting lineup has changed but the results have not. Winning has been the constant.

“We have a lot of tough guys that have stepped up and have really helped us out,” two-way starting lineman Lucas Shaheen said. “That’s important to our team and is a big reason we’ve been successful.”

“That’s just because of the way we’ve worked in the offseason and stuck together,” Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. “It’s paying off at this point.”

Montoursville (8-0) has played without HAC-II all-star lineman Cody Chilcot the last five weeks. It has played without 1,100-yard rusher Cameron Ott, one of the district’s best all-around players, the last two weeks against teams that entered with 12 straight combined wins. It also played those games without two-way starter Mike Signor who was having an outstanding season.

Whatever happens, whoever is in there, Montoursville wins. The Warriors have rallied three times to win in the second half and overcame 20 and 10-point deficits against Lewisburg (6-2) and Danville (7-1). Friday, they did not need a comeback, instead taking a 21-0 halftime lead while stifling an offense that had scored 32 or more points in six straight games.

What some people looked at as a short-handed team was anything but. Experienced or young, playing a new position or a current one, all these kids can play.

“These guys are stepping up, whoever we put in there. They love it,” Keefer said. “These kids love playing the game. There are kids that are playing at a high level who I wasn’t even sure would see the football field so I’m extremely proud of this group as a whole just plugging away. It’s fun to be a part of.”

Montoursville is 8-0 for the first time since it won its last district title in 2006. The offensive line has been shuffled but has been dominant while Rothrock has done his best Ott impersonation, running for 316 yards the last two weeks. The defense also has seen plenty of changing but has played as well as any Warrior unit in recent memory. Six times it denied Milton points after it crossed the 40-yard line Friday, three times doing so inside the red zone.

Throw in quarterback Griffin Dunne playing some of the best football of his scholastic career and the Warriors are playing well in all facets. Dunne has completed 16 of 21 passes for five touchdowns over the last 10 quarters while also running for a score. The previous two weeks he sparked big second-half comebacks and is making teams pay for loading up the box.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity and it’s unbelievable, actually,” Rothrock said. “Starters go out because of injury and other guys step right in and fill their position.”

Montoursville is doing all this against a challenging schedule too. Its last four wins are against likely district playoff teams who are a combined 23-9. The injuries had some, this reporter included, picking against them in some of those games. Montoursville does not care. It likes the challenge and every player believes he can flourish.

Every player has.

“Every player on the team is important and they (the coaches) make sure we know that,” Shaheen said. “Everyone plays hard at practice and that’s helpful and carries over to the games.”

“The coaching is great. They tell you everything you need to know,” Rothrock said. “Whatever they tell you, you listen and we buy in. When we do it the results come out.

“That’s how we do it here.”

MOVING FORWARD: Williamsport continued making positive strides Friday, pounding Tunkhannock, 32-13 while winning its first home game in two years. The Millionaires (3-5) played well on both sides of the ball and the defense scored twice, forced four turnovers and added two sacks. A year after going winless and repeatedly being blown out, the Millionaires keep getting better and playing with a determination that seemed lacking at times last season.

That Williamsport has made a three-win improvement is especially impressive since premier playmakers like three-time 1,000-yard rusher Devin Miller and all-around threat Sadiq Burkholder graduated. The defense has come a long way and has outscored the opponents’ offense by itself in Williamsport’s last two wins, 21-20. Cornerback Brice Harris is one of the best around and returned his second interception for a touchdown Friday while Isaac Foust (600 yards rushing this season) returned a fumble for a score and also had a video-game like 95-yard touchdown run.

Also encouraging for Williamsport is that underclassmen are making big impacts. Sophomore quarterback Christian Diggs hit junior Jed Chestnut for a 36-yard touchdown and junior lineman Jesse Walker played another good game. Junior Donte Johnson, like Chestnut, added an interception. The schedule is tough the next two weeks with Crestwood and Wyoming Valley West a combined 14-2, but these Millionaires have shown that they like the challenges.

EXTRA POINTS: Warrior Run won its first game, downing Montgomery 25-9 while allowing a season-low 115 yards. Hunter Raup threw for 169 yards and two touchdowns while Andrew Gummo sparked an injury-ravaged team by catching five passes for 85 yards and two scores … Canton continues its second-half surge. The Warriors (4-4) built a 35-point halftime lead and routed Cowanesque Valley, 42-24 while winning their fourth straight. Tim Bassett scored four touchdowns as a rusher, receiver and defensive end … Jersey Shore’s Utoah Agae-Naipo topped 100 yards for a fourth time in Friday’s 14-6 loss to Selinsgrove. Despite missing almost two full games, the senior has 815 yards and a shot to become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher of the 21st century … Loyalsock quarterback Kyle Datres surpassed 1,000 yards for a second straight year in Friday’s 22-21 loss at Towanda. Datres has thrown for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns while running for 650 yards and 10 scores … Hughesville quarterback Logan Henry threw for a career-high 179 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-21 loss to Mount Carmel and has an outside shot at becoming the program’s first 1,000-yard passer this century. Clint Snyder played a terrific all-around game, catching 10 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown while also intercepting his fourth pass and recovering a fumble … Central Mountain running back Nigel English topped 100 yards for a third time in a loss to Tyrone. He has scored in four straight games … Bucktail quarterback Trent Risley and running back Willie Hopkins had big games in a loss at Penns Valley. Risley topped 100 yards passing and rushing while accounting for three touchdowns. Hopkins had a career-high eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown while running for 60 yards and a score.

Dr. Masse’s area top five

1. Montoursville (8-0): Sophomore Holden Lodge has had a huge breakout season. The linebacker has a nose for the ball and made a series of big plays against Milton. He dropped Milton fullback Josh Brown for a loss on a 4th-down play from the 16-yard line on the Panthers’ first possession and helped set the tone for another outstanding team defensive performance.

2. Wellsboro (8-0): The Green Hornets clinched their first District 4 playoff berth since 2008 and first 8-win season since 1996 with a 59-29 drubbing of Sayre. Wellsboro trailed for just the second time this season but topped 40 points for a seventh time. Mike Pietropola threw at least five touchdowns for a fourth straight game and surpassed 2,000 yards, Brandon Owlett extended his touchdown-catch streak to eight games and topped 100 yards for a sixth time, Jermaine Brooks ran for 135 yards and the offensive line dominated. Defensive standouts Brian Doty and Wyatt Covert combined for 25 tackles. Wellsboro can win its first NTL Big School championship if it wins its last two games at Towanda and North Penn. The Hornets are seeking their first win over Towanda since 1997.

3. South Williamsport (7-1): Ryan Foran is one of several first-time players making a big impact and he immediately set the tone in Friday’s big 32-13 win over Muncy when he returned the opening kickoff 84 yards for a score. The Mounties beat Muncy for a third straight year and took a huge step toward repeating as NTL Small School champions, something they will do if they beat Cowanesque Valley and Montgomery at the home the next two weeks. The defense continued coming up big as Ryan Seagrave intercepted his third pass and the unit allowed just 210 yards. Riley Hengler made one of the best catches this season and also intercepted a pass. Dominick Bragalone ran for 299 yards and now has 2,225 yards and 30 touchdowns. Darrell Blackman is the only area running back in the 21st century to run for more yards.

4. Lewisburg (6-2): The Green Dragon defense continues playing at a high level. Lewisburg allowed just 198 yards and forced four turnovers in Friday’s 28-6 win over Central Columbia while clinching a sixth straight winning season. Even with the graduation of some standouts, including current Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith, the defense has flourished, forcing a district-high 26 turnovers. Luke Smith returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown Friday and quarterback Nick Costigliola surpassed 1,000 yards for a second straight year.

5. Milton (5-3): The Black Panthers still control their District 4 Class AAA playoff destiny and will have homefield advantage if they defeat Jersey Shore and Shikellamy the next two weeks. Milton already has clinched its third straight playoff berth and has one of the area’s best fullbacks in Josh Brown. The senior ran for 138 yards and a touchdown against Montoursville and has a shot at reaching 1,000 yards. Milton gained more yards (313) than any Montoursville opponent this season is dangerous whether moving on ground or through the air.

Player of the week

Alec Rothrock, Montoursville: The senior is getting better every week and hardly looks like someone who did not play the last two years. Rothrock had 165 yards by halftime against Milton, hits the hole hard and gets a lot of yards after contact. Ott’s injury could have been devastating but Rothrock has embraced the next man up role and flourished.

Game of the week

Loyalsock at Lewisburg: If the playoffs started tonight, this game being held at Susquehanna University would be a quarterfinal matchup. Loyalsock, though, really puts its playoff hopes in jeopardy if it loses this game. Lewisburg has won three straight against Loyalsock and can all but clinch a playoff berth if it makes it four in a row in a game that will feel have a playoff feel.