By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
MONTOURSVILLE — A year from now, this game could be a key contest in the Heartland Athletic Conference Division I. For now, it is a key HAC crossover game with big-time District 4 Class AAA and AA playoff implications.
Montoursville, which will join Milton in Division I for at least the next two seasons, is coming off a huge win over Danville in a battle of unbeatens. Milton rebounded from a 21-0 deficit to beat Selinsgrove last week.
The Warriors (7-0) and Black Panthers (5-2) are currently ranked No. 1 in the district Class AA and AAA point standings. The winner will take a huge step toward getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Just as big of a story for coach J.C. Keefer’s Warriors is the absence, at least last week, of senior tailback/safety Cameron Ott. The latter is not only the team’s rushing leader but the heart and soul of its offense.
An injury sidelined him last week and he is listed as playing, although possibly not starting this week.
Against the Ironmen last week, Ott’s offensive replacement, senior Alec Rothrock, and quarterback Griffin Dunne led the offense.
Milton coach George Goodwin said that, even if Ott doesn’t play, the Warriors are dangerous.
“He’s a great player. I’m not taking anything away from him, and you want to beat their best. Not seeing him in the lineup I’m sure is tough for them. But, from what I saw against Danville, it looks like they have the athletes they can plug in,” he said.
Goodwin was impressed with the play of Dunne. “It is tough to account for a quarterback as far as him running the ball.”
He said Dunne can hurt you in a number of ways, one being when they run the jet sweep and he keeps the ball and scampers downfield.
“Obviously we have to game-plan for that scenario as well.
He said the Warriors fly to the ball on defense out of a 4-3, which is the first of that alignment the Black Panthers will have seen this season.
“It creates a challenge for us with our blocking scheme, getting our kids accustomed to where they are going to be lined up.”
He added that regardless who plays safety for Montoursville, Ott or sophomore Keith Batkowski, “we have to prepare and it looks like they want to man up and if your athletes are better than theirs, you are better able to do that.”
Keefer and his players are not yet celebrating, despite the big win.
He said the team’s experience and the knowledge that it is facing a very good Milton team will help keep the Warriors grounded.
“Last Friday’s win was a big win for our program, but we didn’t have a parade or throw any parties. It was week seven. We’ve got a long way to go, and we need to continue to improve every week,” Keefer said.
He said Milton is big, strong, fast and experienced. “They are two-dimensional on offense and dynamic on defense, and have good players in the system.”
He said the team’s win with Ott and lineman Cody Chilcot out of the lineup “speaks volumes about our team’s character.
“Nobody wavered at the fact that Cameron and Cody weren’t in the lineup last week. It just meant that some other players had to step up, and they did,” Keefer said.
For his part, Goodwin said he doesn’t want to fall into a hole again.
“We don’t want to go down 21 points,” he joked, but added that he was proud of the resilience his veteran players showed last week in leading the team back.
He added, “We are looking forward to the challenge. Coach Keefer has it rolling there at 7-0 and they represent some match-up problems but the resilience they showed...Our kids have dealt with (adversity) in the past and we are senior laden. We feel at any point in the ballgame we can just lean on those guys and they’ve been able to perform.”
Goodwin added that it is good to be playing meaningful games late in the season.
“If you are winning ballgames, every game toward the end of the year gets bigger and bigger. We could be on the other end, losing games, and you’re not playing in a big game.”