Warrior Run is in uncharted territory.
After winning the program’s first district playoff game last week, the Defenders (7-4) are making their first district semifinal appearance tonight at Montoursville (10-1), already having locked up the most successful season in school history.
“We’ve had to get refocused this week,” said Warrior Run coach Chris Long. “All weekend, people were still offering congratulations. We’ve done a good job of having good practices this week and working through that. Our community is behind us and that’s great, but we’ve got to get over that high of accomplishing something that hadn’t previously been done.”
Now that the Defenders are over that hump, they have Montoursville staring at them — who they played much closer than the 28-7 final score in Week 4 would indicate. It was only a one-possession game in the fourth quarter, and despite the loss, Warrior Run came out of the game feeling confident.
“I told our team after that game that we could end up seeing them again,” said Long. “Of the other three teams left (in the Class 3A playoffs), we played Montoursville and Loyalsock both tough and we beat Central Columbia, so we have confidence that we can execute on any given night. If we do that and take care of the football and have good fundamentals, anything can happen. We’re back in the underdog role now, so we’ll take that and go with it.”
Long feels his team’s key offensively will be sustaining blocks better and converting on third downs to sustain drives, which they didn’t do as well in the first game despite having some success running the ball early. Defensively, Montoursville’s Jaxon Dalena missed the first game and is one of many skilled athletes that Warrior Run will need to contain.
“He (Dalena) makes them a different team,” Long said. “We need to contain their speed and make sure we get multiple guys to the football to make tackles and keep our linebackers free.”
Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer feels whenever teams play twice in a season, the team that won the first meeting is at a disadvantage.
However, with the first meeting so long ago, it isn’t as big of a factor this time around. Plus, the Warriors were so dissatisfied with their performance in Week 4 that they ended up treating it as a loss.
“We didn’t play well, didn’t block well, didn’t run or throw well or do that great on special teams,” said Keefer. “So, we really went back to the grind after that game. That’s how we’ve been treating this week, like we owe them one.
“What really stands out is they have 10 seniors starting on defense and offense. Their kids have been playing together their whole lives and it all comes down to right now, so they will be highly motivated and we’re excited for the challenge.”
Keefer also cited the need to sustain blocks longer, tackle better, and the importance of good kickoff coverage against Warrior Run’s Riley Daubert, an explosive kick returner, since Montoursville gave up a touchdown on a kick return in the first game. Weather could also be a factor.
“We’re doing our best to prepare because it’s supposed to be as cold as it’s been all year,” Keefer said. “We’ll be practicing in rain, snow, cold — whatever it’s like this week, and we’ll need to be ready to play in anything.”