Mount Carmel fullback Eric Joraskie is 6-foot-4 and weighs 265 pounds. He will play at Northwestern next fall.
Standing next to Joraskie alone can be enough to intimidate some. But not Montoursville safety Alex Erb. The hard-hitting junior went after Joraskie the way he goes after anyone wearing a different uniform - hard.
Erb is a fearless safety, and also is one of the area's best, something he proved in Friday's 48-20 District 4 Class AA semifinal loss to Mount Carmel. Erb made a game-high 13 tackles, saved some touchdowns with nice open-field hits, and did all he could to extend the Warriors' season.
"I was just trying to play as well as I could and to make plays for the defense," Erb said. "I just wanted to get in there and hit hard and do everything I could to help us win."
Erb did that all season and was instrumental in Montoursville going 8-4 and winning its first playoff game since 2008. The junior played both the pass and run well, led Montoursville in tackles averaging nine per game, including topping 10 tackles five times. He also intercepted three passes.
It was quite a season for a player who sacrificed his body every week while playing through a painful knee injury. Erb injured his knee in a preseason scrimmage against Southern Columbia and wore a brace all season, but he never missed a game and he rarely missed a tackle.
"Alex is our heaviest hitter," Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer said. "We have him at safety there to come up and stick. He's been banged up all year and he's just a tough nut. You're not going to get him out of the game. I look for him to have a great senior year. He's going to come back healthy and he's a good kid."
He is also quite a player.
Erb is one of many promising starters Montoursville has returning next season. The Warriors lose some terrific seniors who helped the team make steady progress the past two seasons, but the cupboard is far from bare.
Montoursville is one of the district's most tradition-laden programs, so do not expect the winning ways to stop just because some outstanding seniors will graduate. The names change at Montoursville, but the results usually do not.
"I'm so proud of our seniors and the way they've led this team and where they have this program now and we're only going to build on that," Keefer said. "We're not looking back. We're looking forward and we're excited about that. We're going to be fine. We're not peaking here. This is getting these kids a taste of playing in games like this so we're only going to get better."
Erb might play a bigger role offensively, and do-it-all two-way starter Cameron Ott could have a big 2013. Four of the five offensive line starters are back and the defensive line has some nice building blocks, J.J. Schriner included.
Montoursville went from 3-7 two years ago to 6-5 in 2011 and 8-4 this season. It rallied from 12 down in the final 5:33 to beat third-seeded Lewisburg, 37-33, and beat defending champion Mount Carmel, 41-37, during the regular season.
"I think this was big for us to get the experience and win a playoff game and know that we can beat the best teams in the district," Erb said. "I think we're going to build off what the seniors did for us and we're going to work hard and be even better next year."
A short time from now, South Williamsport will hang a league championship banner to its collection after it romped to an NTL Small School title this season. But that banner can only reveal so much.
What South accomplished this season was really remarkable considering from where it came. The Mounties had just one winning season this century, had not won a playoff game since 1997 and had not captured an outright league title since 1999. They also won just three combined games in 2009-10.
Despite all that baggage from the past, South persevered and an excellent blend of senior leaders and talented underclassmen combined to help South go 10-2 and reach the District 4 Class A championship. the Mounties pounded Bloomsburg, 32-16, in the district semifinals after the Panthers had beaten the HAC-I and HAC-II champions the two previous weeks. South also handed Bloomsburg two of its three losses, won six games against teams that beat it last year, and rallied its football-loving community around it while transforming its program's image.
Too bad they cannot fit that on the banner because that is the most important aspect of South's championship season.
"You look at how hard these kids have worked and everything they've been through, and to have the fortitude to come out and stick together through what they've been through through their career, I just can't say enough about the kids and the staff," South coach Chris Eiswerth said. "To win 10 games is just a great feeling."
"I think we're pretty proud going from not too many wins back a few years to 10 wins now," added running back Dominick Bragalone after running for a 43-yard touchdown in the district final loss at Southern Columbia.
The bonus for South is that this could just be the start. Eiswerth has been adamant about building a true program and sustaining the winning ways for years to come just as the Mounties did in the past. South loses a tremendous 18-player senior class but is loaded defensively with quality underclassmen starters and has a dynamic running back in Bragalone to build its offense around.
Maybe more importantly, the Mounties now believe anything is possible. South has gone from hoping to win to expecting to do so. The young players have seen how far hard work, year-round, can take a team, and they are eager to build on this stellar year.
"We look to continue the growth, regroup and get the guys back in the weight room that are returning," Eiswerth said. "The seniors have left a great feel and kind of a confidence builder for the whole team that if you work hard, you can do it."
The banner is nice but what Eiswerth said is an even better legacy.
South senior running back Brandon Stonge continued rewriting the program's rushing records Friday. Stonge ran for 69 yards and a touchdown, breaking the program's single-season rushing record. Stonge finished the year with a Lycoming County-high 1,501 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Last week, Stonge broke the program's career rushing record when he ran for a career-high 227 yards and three touchdowns against Bloomsburg. The four-year starter ran for 3,289 yards and 39 touchdowns, helping South improve its win total in each of the last three seasons. Going back to late last year, Stonge and his teammates helped South go 12-3.
Joraskie showed why Northwestern is getting a good one against Montoursville. The powerful and versatile two-way starter scored twice, once running and once on a 28-yard catch, and was a devastating lead blocker for Luke Klingerman who ran for 283 yards. Joraskie was even better defensively.
Montoursville often tried running away from Joraskie but even when they did he still was able to wreck some plays. The senior runs a 4.6 40 and that was evident as he consistently chased down speedy Montoursville running backs despite having to come all the way across the field. He made 10 tackles. Intelligent, physically gifted and hard-working, Joraskie appears to have the whole package and could become an impact collegiate player.
"Joraskie took over the line of scrimmage and he did a heck of a job," Keefer said. "Even when we were running away from him he was getting down the line and making plays."
CALLING ALL STARS
Area coaches and stat keepers: The Sun-Gazette will soon be voting for its area all-star team and the members, along with the Player and Coach of the Year will be unveiled on Christmas morning. If there is anyone you wish to nominate please email Chris Masse at firstname.lastname@example.org. Teams that do not post their stats on maxpreps.com are encouraged to email defensive statistics for defensive players you wish to nominate.