Some in the press box were talking about Lewisburg playing Mount Carmel at Mifflinburg this Friday. This reporter sent out a Tweet saying Lewisburg was likely going to win by "two or three touchdowns."
Lewisburg had just scored 33 straight points, held a 12-point fourth-quarter lead on its home field against Montoursville and had the football. Everything was going its way just as it had five weeks earlier when it turned a 16-point second-quarter deficit into a 27-22 win over Montoursville.
All signs pointed to a Lewisburg win. It was nothing against Montoursville. It just seemed that Lewisburg was on a rampage and that there was too much working against Montoursville for a comeback to happen.
But no Montoursville player or coach ever believed that. When so many others did not believe, they did. And they produced one of the most dramatic wins in their rich program's history.
Montoursville scored 16 points over the final 5 minutes, 33 seconds Saturday and stunned Lewisburg, 37-33 while earning a spot in this Friday's District 4 Class AA semifinals against visiting Mount Carmel. The Warriors showcased their talent all night and especially in those final 5:33.
But this win was all about heart. This win was all about a strong-minded team never buckling when so many others would have. This win was all about a group of teenagers playing with a maturity under intense pressure that went beyond their years.
This was and will be a win to remember.
"It does show our character about how much perseverance we do have," said Aaron Cole after a brilliant 267-yard, 3-touchdown performance. "Everybody on the sideline was into it. That win was a complete team effort. It was unbelievable."
Early on it appeared Montoursville would steamroll the third-seeded Green Dragons. The Warriors opened a 21-0 lead and were 23 yards from scoring again more than halfway through the second quarter when two-time all-state linebacker Brandon Smith forced and recovered a fumble. Two plays later he scored on a 64-yard touchdown and just like that, a team that did little right to that point could do no wrong.
Just like the first Montoursville game, Lewisburg completely took over and scored on five straight possessions, running and throwing at will. When Luke Smith caught a 46-yard pass to end the third quarter after it bounced off two Montoursville defenders it appeared there was nothing the Warriors could do. Even when they were in the right position, Lewisburg still made the plays.
But unlike five weeks ago, Montoursville's confidence never wavered. No player, no coach put his head down. They kept waiting for that one play, that one spark that would swing momentum their way.
Cameron Ott provided it.
Ott blocked a punt through the end zone with 5:33 remaining, cutting the deficit to 33-23. It looked like a small thing but it was so much bigger and was just the break Montoursville needed.
"That block was huge," said fullback Matt Krezmer who scored twice and totaled 141 yards. "We had the 21-point first half so I knew we could come back. It was just digging down deep. We knew we could and it was awesome."
Montoursville needed only 11 plays to score two touchdowns in the final 3:17. It took the lead when Cole hit Krezmer with a 37-yard touchdown pass. Those two are seniors as was Garrett Evans who delivered the key block on that play and who caught two touchdowns. So is Cameron Karschner who had seven catches for 104 yards and made the game-clinching interception 19 seconds after Krezmer's go-ahead score. So is offensive lineman Brett Trimble, part of a unit that gave Cole plenty of time to make those clutch throws.
The underclassmen might get other playoff opportunities. This could have been it for those seniors and they would not let their careers end that way. There is not much more pressure for a senior than having your career being a play from ending but in those tense moments, the seniors owned each of them.
"They didn't want it to end," Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. "This was totally different than the first time we played them because that first time was kind of blah. Tonight we were in it. We were emotional. Even though momentum was going their way I never looked at the clock and thought we don't have enough time. We felt if we can get a stop or a turnover we can get something going. The sideline never felt they had the wind knocked out of them and they never thought it was over."
And now it keeps going. Montoursville is back in the district semifinals for the first time since 2008. A team that has made steady progress the past two seasons has a rematch against a team that ended its season last year but that Montorusville beat in a 41-37 thriller seven weeks ago.
Montoursville trailed that game 14-0 in the second quarter and rallied from behind in the fourth quarter to win before Alex Erb made a game-clinching break-up at the goal line on the game's final play. If that game did not prove it, Saturday certainly did.
No matter what obstacles are in its way, Montoursville can find a way.
"It's such a good team and to put 33 up on us unanswered was unbelievable and I'm just thankful for my teammates that we battled back like that," Cole said. "We never stopped believing."
Dr. Masse's area top five
1. South Williamsport (10-1): They often are overlooked, but South's assistant coaches have played a huge role in helping the Mounties have their best season in 15 years. Almost all our South graduates and both Chris Lusk and Charlie Ackerman have head-coaching experience. That combination of smarts and knowledge of how much South football means to its community has paid big dividends. The Mounties also do a tremendous amount of weight room and speed training work and Doug Bartholomew runs the weight room in the offseason despite being unpaid. That is dedication and the Mounties seem to feed off that. The results speak for themselves.
2. Montoursville (8-3): So much excitement unfolded Saturday that some big plays and performances might have went unnoticed. Coach J.C. Keefer pulled out all the stops and with his team leading 14-0 in the second quarter, he had kicker Jim McMahon attempt an onside kick. It was gutty and it worked as Montoursville recovered at the Lewisburg 48-yard line and scored six plays later on Krezmer's 22-yard, fourth-down touchdown run. Wide receiver Cameron Karschner was brilliant, catching seven passes for 104 yards, displaying great hands and making some outstanding leaping catches. He also made the game-clinching interception. Cameron Ott continued showing why he is one of the area's most well-rounded players, catching six passes for 87 yards while playing a terrific defensive game. He and Krezmer blocked punts and Ott also made a bunch of tackles, had a sack and added a pass break-up.
3. Lewisburg (8-3): The Green Dragons certainly did not lose Saturday's game, Montoursville just won it. Lewisburg made its own brilliant comeback, erasing a 21-0 second-quarter deficit by scoring 33 straight points and scoring touchdowns on five straight possessions. Earlier this season, the Dragons trailed Montoursville 16-0 late in the second quarter before winning, 27-22. It was a team with as much heart as talent. Quarterback Nick Costigliola ran the two-minute offense as well as any quarterback I saw this year and had an outstanding season while starting for the first time, finishing with 1,363 yards and 13 touchdown passes. Running back/linebacker Brandon Smith and two-way starting lineman Kyle Santorine closed out fantastic four-year starting careers and helped Lewisburg win 42 games, a district title and a league championship during that time.
4. Milton (7-4): Already a state wrestling champion, two-way starting lineman Ryan Solomon now has a chance to become a district football champion after making a game-clinching interception in the end zone Friday against Shikellamy. Solomon's clutch interception on the final play sealed a 13-7 semifinal win and has Milton in the district championship for a second straight year, this time at Selinsgrove. Milton is having its best season since 2001 and Solomon has been a huge part of the program's resurgence the last two seasons. After winning four games combined from 2007-2010, the Black Panthers have won 13 of their last 18 games and have done an outstanding job this season after losing the majority of last year's starters to graduation.
5. Loyalsock (5-6): I am still trying to figure out why first-year coach Justin Van Fleet apologized following Friday's district quarterfinal loss to HAC-I champion Danville for not turning the program around quick enough. It speaks to Van Fleet's competitiveness and his expectations, but considering where they were a year ago, the injuries they endured and the schedule they played, the Lancers had quite a turnaround season. Loyalsock made a four-win improvement after losing its last nine games a year ago and averaged more than 25 points and 300 yards per game a season after scoring 57 points all year while being shutout seven times. Loyalsock delivered a gutty performance against Danville too and Ryan Bogaczyk played well in place of injured quarterback Kyle Datres. Keep an eye on this team next year because many players are back and what happened in 2012 might just be the start.
Player of the Week
Aaron Cole, Montoursville: The senior quarterback played his best varsity game, completing 22 of 33 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Cole never buckled and played his best when it mattered most, completing 7 of 9 passes on the two last-minute scoring drives.