By Mike Ferlazzo
For The Daily Item
TURBOTVILLE — Warrior Run Coach Mark Burrows was worried about Montoursville’s deep and veteran offensive line, and for good reason.
The Warriors dominated the undermanned Defenders up front as they showed why they’re the prohibitive favorite in the Heartland Athletic Conference Division II, piling up a 42-0 halftime lead on their way to a 42-6 opening night rout at Defender Stadium.
Montoursville scored on six of its eight first-half offensive possessions, only being stopped by a turnover and the end of the half. Senior tailback Cameron Ott led the 365-yard opening half onslaught, rushing for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
“Montoursville, we knew, was a very good football team,” said Burrows. “And it is what it is and we’re not near at that competitive level yet. You know, two things that beat us that are going to give us problems all year are summed up in two words — linemen and weight room.”
“Our offensive line was able to stay fresh,” said Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer. “Defensively, we were able to have a whole different group in there than we had offensively. I think we wore them down because even as hot as it was in that first half, I think they (the Defenders) were gassed.”
The Warriors flexed their muscles the first time they touched the ball, going 57 yards in eight plays, all on the ground, with fullback Ethan Jones taking it the final five for the touchdown just 2:51 in.
Warrior Run answered with its best drive of the first half, moving from its own 35 to the Montoursville 34 in four plays before halfback Derek Keiser was stopped for a 3-yard loss on a fourth and one.
Four plays later, Ott broke free on a third-and-one and went 44 yards for his first score, and the rout was on with 5:16 left in the first.
Ott would also set up the next score with a 50-yard run down to the Defender 4. Fullback Matt Shea would take it in on the next play.
Warrior Run would fumble it away on its own 22 on its next offensive play and Montoursville capitalized fast. Freshman quarterback Brycen Mussina — the son of former Major League All-Star pitcher and Montoursville boys’ basketball coach Mike Mussina — would make his first varsity pass a touchdown as he connected with senior wideout Alex Erb in the right side of the end zone for the 28-0 first quarter lead.
Ott would add a 45-yard score to cap a 67-yard drive at 8:26 of the second. And sophomore reserve back Keith Batkowski, whose earlier fumble may have been the only blemish in Montoursville’s perfect half, would complete the first half onslaught with a 16-yard scoring run to make it 42-0 at the break.
The Warriors would play reserves the rest of the way during a running clock, allowing Warrior Run to get some offensive continuity. The Defenders finally got on the scoreboard on a bizarre play as Keiser took a screen pass from quarterback Hunter Raup and raced 38 yards down the right side to the Warrior 5 before fumbling. Center Evan Meyer pulled the ball out of midair and moved the pile the final five yards into the end zone with 1:22 to go in the third. But Elisa George had his extra point blocked, and no further points would be scored.
Not only did Warrior Run get manhandled up front, its already thin line got even more depleted when junior Will Huber sustained a season-ending injury to his left leg early in the game.
“We’re thin there to begin with and unfortunately I’m pretty confident to say that young man’s season’s over, from what I saw,” Burrows said. “Unfortunately for him, he was the kind of kid who put a lot of hard work into the summer and we all know when we play and coach, it’s part of the game.”
Raup provided a bright spot for the Defender offense as he completed 9 of 18 passes for 106 yards. Keiser caught five of those balls for 74 yards and also rushed for 33.