South Williamsport players stood under the Friday night lights as enthusiastic fans walked onto the field and repeatedly congratulated or hugged them. The players were slow to leave. Everyone wanted to savor the moment. All the hard work the players put in the last few years paid off with a spectacular performance that they likely will never forget.
A team that has fought back from the depths of the basement just three years ago is now one of District 4's best teams. South Williamsport is headed to the District 4 Class A championship. South football is once again a district force.
Brandon Stonge ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns, a physical offensive line overwhelmed defenders and the defense delivered one of the most dominant performances in South history as the Mounties pounded Bloomsburg 32-16 at Rodney K. Morgans Stadium while earning a spot at Southern Columbia in next week's District 4 Class A championship.
South Williamsport’s Tyler Schonewolf, Billy Rummings, Riley Hengler, and Matt Bartholomew celebrate a touchdown Friday night at home vs. Bloomsburg.
"They have proven that they belong and they beat a team that beat a lot of great teams so these guys deserve a lot of credit. They showed they are one of the best teams in the district," South coach Chris Eiswerth said. "They did it the hard way. Nobody gave it to them. That's a really cool thing to leave and say we did it and we showed you can do anything if you put your mind to it."
South had only one winning season this century before this group captured the NTL Small School championship and beat five teams who had downed it last year. And last night, in front of a boisterous, loyal crowd that made their bleachers look like a sea of Blue, everything came together.
The Mounties built a 24-0 third-quarter lead, held Bloomsburg without a first down until midway through the third quarter and physically destroyed a team that had topped 20 points nine times.
"It's unbelievable," said South linebacker Heath Newcomer, after playing one of his best games. "We've worked so hard for this and we deserve this."
Entering last night many in District 4 and in the media talked about Bloomsburg, a team that had beaten District 4 Class AA's top two seeds the past two weeks and that featured a 2,300-yard passer. Few talked about how good South was even though it had defeated Bloomsburg, 34-27 in its season opener.
The Mounties showed that talk is cheap. South did its talking on the field and beat Bloomsburg in all facets. It was an impressive statement by a team that has brought football back at South and that won its first playoff game since 1997. The Mounties (10-1) won their 10th game for the first time since that same year, Stonge became the program's all-time leading rusher and South made a huge statement.
Underestimate this powerful, hard-working, well-rounded team at one's own expense.
"We had a chip on our shoulder," Stonge said. "We have great people at South Side and they love South football and I think that's why South football is back to where it is."
Running behind a dominant offensive line, Stonge and Dominick Bragalone (78 yards) combined for four touchdowns, Bragalone opening the scoring with a 40-yard score less than four minutes into the game. Quarterback Tyler House, the program's single-season touchdown pass record holder, threw a perfect 43-yard touchdown pass to Riley Hengler making it 18-0 at halftime. Stonge scored the second of his three touchdowns early in the third quarter, running over a defender on his way to a 50-yard score that made it 24-0.
Still, as terrific as the offense was, the defense stole the show.
Bloomsburg quarterback Ricky Klingerman had thrown for 2,388 yards and 24 touchdowns, headlining an offense that put up points in bunches, including in last week's 34-12 trouncing of HAC-II champion Central Columbia. Those numbers meant little to a hard-hitting, disciplined defense that made all the plays, never gave up the big one and that played outstanding in all three facets.
Newcomer set the tone on the game's first play, drilling Colby Klingerman and dropping him immediately after he had caught a 6-yard pass. The play sparked South's entire team. Bloomsburg might have put up big numbers before but the Mounties never let them feel comfortable.
The defensive line consistently harassed Klingerman and at halftime, Bloomsburg had run 15 plays, producing four yards and no first downs. That 6-yard gain on the first play was the biggest first-half play South produced. Tyler Schonewolf, Tyler Jenkins, Ian Niklaus and Sam Buck hounded Klingerman, the linebackers swarmed and defensive backs Sean McCormick, Billy Rummings, Andrew Gipe and Jon Pulizzi were brilliant.
"I think it was their best performance to be able to shut them down like that," South lineman Marco Estrella said. "They had two great games against Danville and Central Columbia and to be able to bring someone down like that it feels great. It's an awesome feeling."
Bloomsburg scored twice in the second half, but did so after South started playing softer coverages, trading short to medium-range gains for taking time off the clock. The Panthers (8-3) pulled within 24-8 late in the the third quarter and had a chance to make it a one-possession game early in the fourth after driving into South territory. Schonewolf, though, snuffed out those hopes, sacking Klingerman for an 8-yard loss on 4th-and-1.
"It felt really good to play like that," Newcomer said. "They overlooked our defense, but we held them down and did a good job."
Bloom was finished five runs later when Stonge produced another run that has been the staple of his brilliant scholastic career. The 5-8, 230-pounder ran right over a defender then outran the secondary and scored on a 28-yard touchdown before adding a 2-point run that made it 32-8. Stonge became the program's all-time leading rusher on his 50-yard third-quarter score, breaking Mike Jenks old record of 3,114 yards.
"I just didn't want to go down," Stonge said. "We needed a score and I just wanted to spark that up and get out there and run well."
Estrella, Dylan Johnson, Justin Knee, Billy Kepner, Newcomer and Schonewolf all were outstanding up front and often provided a convoy, including on a 38-yard screen pass to Matt Bartholomew in the second quarter. The combination of that line and South's hard-nosed running backs had Bloomsburg defenders strewn all over the field as the game progressed.
Bloomsburg might have provided the eye-popping stats entering the game, but last night South provided the muscle. The Panthers had the numbers, the Mounties have a two-game sweep and a spot in a district final.
South has a performance its players, coaches and community will not soon forget.
"Everyone has worked so hard, starting in January and the season never really stops," Estrella said. "This is what all that hard work is for."