By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
ELYSBURG — One of the more surprising teams in the Heartland Athletic Conference invades Tiger Stadium on Friday night.
Graduation was not kind to South Williamsport coach Chris Eiswerth, whose team played in the District 4 Class A title game last season.
The Mounties, whose only two losses last season were to the Tigers, bring a young team, led by a dynamic running back in junior Dominick Bragalone to face Southern Columbia in a key early HAC Division III showdown, and battle of unbeaten teams.
Eiswerth said that coming into the season, the coaches knew they could fill in the vacancies with last year’s ninth and 10th graders, but, “We didn’t know how hard they were going to work.”
Noting that success does not come easily, Eiswerth said the players have stepped up nicely, among them two-way lineman Ian Niklaus, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior; senior safety Jon Pulizzi; senior guard Noah Martin; and 6-3, 190 senior wide receiver Riley Hengler.
In addition, the Mounties got a talented transfer in junior quarterback Matt Boone from Montgomery to help balance the offense with Bragalone.
Southern coach Jim Roth said that, with the graduation of running back Brandon Stonge, the Mounties feature more of a one-headed rushing attack, but fullback John Peters has complemented Bragalone well.
He also said Boone and Hengler are part of a nice passing game that makes the Mounties (3-0 overall, 1-0 HAC-III) more dangerous offensively.
Roth said that his defense will be challenged, going from playing a wide-open Mount Carmel offense to a team that prefers to run the ball.
“It’s the type of team where you want to force them to pass, even though they may throw the ball better this year than they have,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said the first goal of a defense is to try to take a team out of the game it is most comfortable with and, in this case, the Tigers (3-0, 1-0) want to force the Mounties into passing situations.
Roth believes his team should be mentally prepared for South Williamsport after coming off a lopsided win over rival Mount Carmel. “One of the things we need to be concerned about is having a letdown from the players, but hopefully the fact that (the Mounties) are 3-0 will help us as far as our kids not looking past them and taking them lightly.”
Eiswerth is well aware of the challenge the Mounties face in the state’s No. 2-ranked Class A team and a program that has six state championship trophies.
“They are the best team in District 4 and one of the best teams in the state in any class. They are deep and very talented,” he said.
He said getting to that level is one of his program’s goals, but knows it will be a tough place to win this week.
“We will have to believe and work hard, go down Friday night and see what we can do. (We have to) roll our sleeves up, come back and look at the film, and continue to work. It will give us a chance to evaluate where we are,” he said.