He did not offer any big motivational speeches. He did not try locating any celebrities ala Joe Montana spotting John Candy vs. the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.
Montoursville quarterback Aaron Cole simply had one message when he huddled the Warriors, who trailed 33-30 with 2:16 remaining in last Saturday's District 4 Class AA quarterfinal at Lewisburg.
"Aaron just said, 'we can do this,'" fullback Matt Krezmer said. "We looked at the clock and we knew we could."
He was right.
Cole and his teammates let their play do the talking. Cole completed two passes for 58 yards on the 60-play drive and hit Krezmer with a 37-yard touchdown that lifted Montoursville to a dramatic 37-33 win and into Friday's semifinals at home against defending champion Mount Carmel. It was a fitting finish for a senior quarterback who played his best game thus far.
On a night when he had to be, Cole was brilliant, completing 22 of 33 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns, all career-highs. The 267 yards was the most thrown by a Montoursville quarterback since Frank Jankowski in 2000. Cole was sharp all night against one of the district's best defenses, but especially late as Montoursville (8-3) overcame a 12-point deficit in the final 5:33.
"I feel more comfortable with the game plan," Cole said. "I'm getting my reads down better and the offense has come together and I feel really comfortable."
Cole had the difficult task of replacing Jacob Jones this season. Jones had one of the best quarterbacking seasons at Montoursville in recent memory last year, but also was one of few players who did not start last year when the Warriors won their last four regular-season games and reached districts. With so many players back, Montoursville had big expectations. There was a big if, though, and that centered on whether Cole could fill the void at quarterback.
Cole started answering those questions in the season opener when he threw two touchdowns against Warrior Run. Four weeks later, though, Cole was injured early against Mount Carmel and missed the next two games while playing only half the time in Week 7 against Danville. By the time Cole returned as the full-time starter, Montoursville was 4-3, had lost two straight games and suddenly was on the playoff bubble.
What happened next then was a bit of foreshadowing to last Saturday. On a foggy night in Milton, Cole helped get the Warriors going in the right direction again. Playing against a District 4 Class AAA finalist that a week earlier had held Selinsgrove to 14 points, Cole threw for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Montoursville throttled Milton, 45-12 and has not looked back since.
Montoursville enters Friday's semifinal against Mount Carmel riding a four-game winning streak. During that time, Cole has played as well as any quarterback in the district, completing 60 percent of his passes for 659 yards and nine touchdowns. Montoursville has scored 155 points during that span and what once was a question mark has become a big strength. Despite missing 2 1/2 games, Cole has thrown for 1,131 yards.
Cole had the physical attributes all along, including arm strength and deceiving mobility. Now that the first-time starter has gained more experience everything has come together at the perfect time.
"He's really comfortable now and he's in sync with his receivers," Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. "He's taken charge and he's being the leader for this football team. That's just Aaron stepping up."
That was most evident against Lewisburg. Cole opened the game in impressive fashion, completing 7 of 8 passes for 96 yards while throwing and running for touchdowns as Montoursville took a commanding 21-0 lead. The Warriors were driving again on their next series when a fumble changed the game's complexion. Lewisburg (8-3) then scored on five straight possessions and held a 33-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Even after Cameron Ott's blocked punt out of the end zone for a safety made it 33-23 with 5:33 left, Montoursville still faced a steep uphill climb.
The Warriors' offense had not scored in more than 27 minutes and was facing a defense that had held eight teams to 16 points or fewer and that featured two-time all-state linebacker Brandon Smith. But Cole's confidence never wavered and that determination and belief spread throughout the huddle. Quickly and efficiently, Cole moved Montoursville downfield, completing 5 of 6 passes and capping the 60-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown to Garrett Evans.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Montoursville again started at the 40 and Cole was about to live a quarterback's dream. It could have been his last game, but the hard-working senior refused to let it be, hitting Cameron Ott with a 21-yard pass before finding Krezmer for the game-winner two plays later. On those last two scoring drives, Cole completed 7 of 9 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. His only incompletions came when he was hit as he threw and when he intentionally spiked the ball to stop the clock.
"I just said if the line does their job, the backs do their job, the receivers do their job and I do my job we're going to go down and score," Cole said. "There was no doubt in my mind."
Cole only played early in the first quarter when Montoursville beat Mount Carmel, 41-37 seven weeks ago. Now he gets another shot to play against the defending champions. Now he has another chance to keep this memorable season going.
"(Saturday) was the biggest game he's played in and that's him stepping up and having fun and doing what he's taught," Keefer said. "He really picked (Lewisburg) apart. He was really sharp. He was making his reads from one to the next and I can't say enough about Aaron Cole and the way he's progressed. He's just another senior who wants to play another game.
"He doesn't want it to end."