For The Daily Item
MONTOURSVILLE — On Senior Night when Montoursville honored its 22 seniors before the game, it took a little senior poise for the Warriors to save their undefeated season.
Down 31-28 to upset-minded Mifflinburg (4-5), the Warriors calmly took over on their own 49 with 4:42 left. After picking up a quick first down, they eventually faced a fourth-and-3 on the Mifflinburg 32. Coach J.C. Keefer called timeout just to make sure his team had the right play. But rather than running senior tailback Alec Rothrock or quarterback Griffin Dunne, Keefer may have crossed up the Wildcat defense by running lesser known senior reserve fullback Matt Shea, who went five yards for the critical first down.
“At first, I thought I was going to run Griffin (Dunne) out, but then I thought they were going to bring guys off the edge,” Keefer said. “So then I thought we’d do a little rocket motion with Alec (Rothrock), that would get some guys going one way and just get a quick trap with Matt (Shea) and get north and south to get us three yards — and he got us five.”
“I think our guys were playing their positions and playing it, but you get used to the flow,” said Mifflinburg coach Jason Dressler. “And coming back with counter action like that, obviously you get one step out of position, and that makes a huge difference.”
Four plays later, Rothrock would cap the drive with a three-yard touchdown run — his fourth of the night among his game high 140 rushing yards — and Montoursville (9-0) survived, 35-31, to remain perfect.
Mifflinburg has rallied from a 28-16 second half deficit to take the lead on a pair of big plays. First, Tristan Martin took a jet sweep around the right end 67 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter.
Then fullback Eric Stroup would run through several tacklers on his way to a 46-yard score at 8:44 of the fourth to give Mifflinburg its first lead. When Devin Hendrix took a quarterback draw in for the two-point conversion, the Wildcats found themselves up 31-28 with 8:44 to play.
“I’ve got to be proud of the boys. They played four quarters of solid football and did everything we asked,” Dressler said.
Keith Batkowski would return the ensuing kickoff 48 yards down to the Mifflinburg 39. Montoursville would drive to the Wildcat 12 before Rothrock, who was suffering from an ailing shoulder, fumbled it away.
But the Wildcats went three and out and were forced to punt it back, setting the stage for Montoursville’s game-winning drive.
“We took the ball and basically said we’re going to go mano-a-mano from here and we’re going to run it. So if you beat us, you beat us doing what we do best,” Keefer said. “And we were able to do it tonight and execute. I’ve got to hand it to the guys up front. They wanted to run it and go after them and we did.”
The game started disastrously for Mifflinburg as Jordan Wagner was intercepted by safety Alex Erb on his own 38 on the team’s third offensive play. Four plays later, Rothrock broke free from 21 yards out to give Montoursville the lead just 2:55 into the game.
But the Warriors returned the favor as Dunne was intercepted by Wildcat corner Tyler Stoltzfus, who returned it to the Montoursville 39. Eight plays later, Brett Luhrman hit a 27-yard field goal to get Mifflinburg on the board.
On the ensuing kickoff, Warrior return man Curtis Miller went 43 yards to the Wildcat 45, but suffered a head injury on the play and was forced to leave the game. But the Warriors would capitalize on the field position, with Rothrock going 13 yards to paydirt seven plays later for a 14-3 lead.
Miller wasn’t the only player nicked up for Montoursville on the night.
“We were confident in the guys we had,” Keefer said. “Mifflinburg’s a good football team. We didn’t play well, bottom line, but we were resilient enough and tough enough to do what we had to do. We did it and I’m proud of the kids.”
Mifflinburg would answer the Warrior score with a 10-play, 65-yard drive, capped by Brayden Pierce’s 2-yard scoring run at 7:48 of the second.
But just 1:22 later, Erb would snatch an underthrown ball from Dunne away from defenders and go 66 yards for the score and a 21-10 lead. Erb would go on to catch six balls for 140 yards from Dunne, who went 8 for 13 for a season-high 197 yards.
The visitors would get a gift on the next Montoursville possession when Rothrock fumbled it away on his own 8-yard-line. Three plays later, Wagner would hit tight end John Punako with a six yard scoring pass to make it 21-16 at the half.