While Loyalsock players celebrated together moments after winning a 14-10 HAC-II championship thriller over Montoursville last Friday night, coach Justin Van Fleet was busy recruiting.
His mind already racing, Van Fleet was finding Loyalsock students who are good athletes but not playing football this season. What better moment than after such a big win in front of one of the program's biggest crowds ever to try and talk those kids into playing next season? Anyone on the fence about playing next season, might be convinced that football is a game for him after witnessing Friday's instant Battle of the Bridge classic.
Loyalsock mounted a long go-ahead scoring drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters before making a big defensive stand and handing its archrival its first loss. The win itself was exciting but what made the setting even better from a Loyalsock perspective was the overflowing crowd.
Loyalsock’s Saabir Gibson (8) tries to evade Montoursville’s Alex Erb (8)?Friday night as Loyalsock handed Montoursville its first defeat.
The crowd for Friday's game between two District 4 Class AA title contenders and athletes separated by only a creek was even bigger than the one from the 2007 district semifinals. The stands were filled as was the hill below the Montoursville bleachers while fans filled in every space along the fence around the field. Players had a hard time just walking to and from the locker room prior to kickoff. Add in two premier programs who double as archrivals and a superb back and forth game and this was high school football at its finest.
"It's great," Loyalsock linebacker Mickey Haller said. "There's nothing better than having cars lined up all around Loyalsock's school and going in knowing the whole town and half the county is going to be watching you play."
Montoursville-Loyalsock always is a big deal regardless of records, but the ramifications Friday made this one stand out. That is why this game was so hyped out, why so many Montoursville and Loyalsock homes were empty Friday night. The expectations were high but this game actually exceeded them.
All games at 7 p.m. Friday
DISTRICT 4 CLASS A
No. 4 Bloomsburg at No. 1 Southern
No. 3 So. Williamsport at No. 2 Wellsboro
DISTRICT 4 CLASS AA
No. 8 Mifflinburg at No. 1 Montoursville
No. 5?Mount Carmel at No. 4 Troy
No. 7 Lewisburg at No. 2 Danville
No. 6 Towanda at No. 3 Loyalsock
No. 4 Jersey Shore at No. 1 Shikellamy
No. 3 Milton at No. 2 Selinsgrove
EASTERN CONF. DIV. II
No. 4 Nanticoke at No. 1 NW?Lehigh
No. 3 North Penn at No. 1. No. Schuylkill
EASTERN?CONF. DIV. I
No. 4 Nativity at No. 1 Mahanoy Area
No. 3 Marian ?Catholic at No. 2 Muncy
There were big plays, hard hits, gutty performances and an exciting ending. It was hard to script a game more fun and entertaining.
"This place hasn't had that crowd for very long. I'm excited," Van Fleet said. "Our community has embraced this football program. They know we have high character, highly dedicated kids so we're really proud of what we've been able to do."
Montoursville has to feel the same way.
Athletes so often search for a moment in time they can call their own. Both teams went all out and delivered memorable performances and can move forward knowing they owned theirs last Friday.
So maybe Montoursville will have some first-time football players coming out too. Watching the game was exciting. Playing in it had to be much better.
"It was two good teams going at it," Keefer said. "That's what high school sports are all about."
FABULOUS FAUBION: Loyalsock linebacker Lucas Faubion played the game of his scholastic career Friday, making four tackles for losses and coming up with drive-altering stops. It was the signature performance by a player who has worked his way up the ranks and has now become a huge part of a revitalized defense.
Loyalsock has allowed just 17 points the past two weeks and held Montoursville to a season-low 199 yards. Faubion's emergence has helped spark the stretch.
"Lucas Faubion stepped up and made some big plays," Haller said.
"The defense opened the gaps for me and I blew through every single time," Faubion said. "I'm just speechless. This is one of the best games I've ever played."
Montoursville was driving at the end of the first half when Faubion dropped dynamic running back Cameron Ott for a two-yard loss. That helped thwart the drive and preserved a 7-7 halftime tie. His biggest play, though, came in the fourth quarter.
Montoursville was marching toward the go-ahead touchdown and had a 2nd-and-3 at the 5-yard line. Faubion came charging through the line and dropped Ott, one of the district's toughest backs to stop 1-on-1, for a three-yard loss. That changed the complexion of the drive and Loyalsock stopped Montoursville on a 4th-and-1 from the 4 two plays later before running out the clock and clinching the win.
"We put in a blitz package for him that we thought could free him up and he's done a wonderful job," Van Fleet said. "Nobody can understand how far Luke has come. He's an amazing story and an amazing kid and he's worked hard every single moment to get here. He's a real testament to the program."
TRUE WARRIOR: Ott played his first game since Week 6 and showed no ill effects of the high ankle sprain that had sidelined him. The first time he touched the ball, Ott returned a kickoff 86 yards and scored a touchdown two plays later. He finished with 155 yards on 28 carries while adding 142 yards on two kick returns.
Ott was hurt again late in the game and could be lost for the season. If Friday was his last scholastic performance he made it a good one, showing a huge audience everything he is about, consistently carrying defenders for extra yards.
"Cameron Ott is just an incredible athlete," Van Fleet said. "We try to kick away from him, but it went to him and when he has the ball in his hands in space he's as dangerous as anyone. To be honest we'd probably be better off onside kicking every time instead of kicking it to him. He's just an unbelievable athlete. To see a kid with that talent stand on the sidelines is a shame."
GOING OUT STRONG: Hughesville hung together through a tough season and it paid off in a big way Friday as it defeated archrival Muncy, 21-14 for its first win. The Spartans not only won their first game, but also ended Muncy's District 4 Class A playoff hopes and beat a team that had been playing its best football. Give Hughesville credit for not quitting and for keeping at it when others might have packed it in. This is a team that brings back most starters next year and this is just the kind of win that could be a huge springboard going into 2014.
Clint Snyder had a terrific season and was the catalyst against Muncy. The junior running back totaled 200 yards, scored two touchdowns and made a huge end zone interception that prevented Muncy (6-4) from tying the game. Ethan Duff had a sack and an interception while Alex Welch added 11 tackles. All those players are back next year and Hughesville could be a team to watch.
EXTRA POINTS: Muncy wide receiver Maurice Brown won the area reception crown after catching a career-high nine passes for 110 yards against Hughesville. Brown has 41 catches for 653 yards and seven touchdowns ... Montgomery running back Tyler Betz capped a solid season with a 178-yard, three-touchdown performance against South Williamsport. He also threw a touchdown pass and had the highest rushing total by a Montgomery running back in the last five years. Betz finished with 712 yards, the highest total by a Montgomery player since 2005 ... Milton fullback Josh Brown went over 1,000 yards after running for 161 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-28 loss to Shikellamy. Brown has topped 100 yards in three straight games and has 1,083 yards and 21 touchdowns ... Bucktail finished its season with just 17 players, but also on a two-game winning streak after routing Carson Long, 74-37. Quarterback Trent Risley topped 100 yards passing and rushing and scored three times while Willie Hopkins added a career-high 144 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him for more high school football information at @docmasse