By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | November 8, 2009
MONTGOMERY - The players heard Randy Boone's message so many times it became a mantra.
Starting three weeks ago in Westfield, Boone kept telling his players "tonight is the most important game of your scholastic lives." He echoed it again last week and as Montgomery prepared to host South Williamsport Friday, the players repeated their coach's words before he could finish saying them.
Three straight weeks Montgomery heard the same message and each time it delivered. And it all paid off with a moment all 33 players will remember forever. That is because Friday night those players became the ones who brought the playoffs back to Montgomery.
Cody Kulago threw a career-high three touchdown passes, two to Cameron Kriner, and Logan Wessel sparked a strong defense as Montgomery defeated South Williamsport, 28-14 at Red Raider Stadium and clinched a District 4 Class A playoff berth for the first time since 2001. Montgomery (5-5) capped a remarkable turnaround by winning its last three games and reaching districts just one year after ending a 26-game losing streak.
"Making playoffs... it can't be any better," said Wessel, who had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery. "We just told everyone to keep their heads up, practice well and go in Friday with a good attitude. It was wonderful and we couldn't hope for anything better."
Wessel is part of a senior core that never grew discouraged despite Montgomery winning just two games the last three years. Instead of wilting, that senior class kept fighting and carved out their own niche in program history as the Raiders defeated South for the first time since 2001 and defied the odds by reaching districts after 0-3 and 2-5 starts.
"It's a big turnaround and they're excited. They believe in the system, they believe in what we tell them and they do anything we ask of them. They're great kids," Boone said. "They kept hearing about how this is the biggest game of their lives and they came through. They were really fired up. They had a very good pregame and they came out on fire."
Montgomery will be seeded No. 4 and will travel to top-seeded Line Mountain (7-3) either next Friday or Saturday.
Kulago, who became the first Montgomery quarterback to top 1,000 yards since 2001, threw touchdown passes of 18 and 62 yards to Jesse Scarborough and Kriner on the first two series as the Raiders built a 14-0 first-quarter lead. Scarborough set the game's tone when he made his leaping touchdown catch as two South defenders converged on him.
Kriner played the game of his life and ignited it when he caught a 10 yard pass from Kulago, used a good stiff-arm and ran the final 52 yards untouched down the right sideline for the longest touchdown of his career.
Scarborough was playing a new position and Kriner was filling the void left after leading receiver Sean Farley separated his shoulder in practice earlier in the week and was sidelined for Friday's game. Kriner finished with four catches for 125 yards and also intercepted two passes, punctuating Montgomery's do-whatever it takes to win mentality.
"Our senior class wanted this so bad and we lost Farley so I just came out and played for him and played for the seniors," Kriner said. "I just wanted to play well and do what I could to help the seniors."
Montgomery extended its lead to 21-0 with 3:21 remaining in the half when Bolton Harer, who ran for a career-high 112 yards) scored from two yards out. But just when it looked like the Raiders might have an easy road to districts, South served notice that nothing would come easy on this night.
Matt Marzzacco ran an efficient two-minute offense and hit Bryan Hill with a 17 yard touchdown pass, capping a 69 yard drive, as South pulled within 20-7 at halftime. The Mounties then made a series of timely defensive plays in the second half, including an impressive goal-line stand, and used a Marzzacco run to stay within striking distance.
Montgomery went up 28-7 on Kriner's 12 yard touchdown catch, but South answered two minutes later with a Marzzacco eight yard scoring run and forced a three-and-out to have give itself a shot at pulling within seven late in the game. The Mounties drove to the Montgomery 20-yard line, but Bobby Vanwhy forced a hurried throw on fourth down that fell incomplete, securing Montgomery's win.
"These kids always play hard and they just kept coming after them," South coach Mike Pearson said. "We told them to take it one play at a time and try and fight your way back in it and that's what they did."
South has just seven seniors and was one of the district's youngest teams. All it had to do Friday was look at Montgomery, which was in a similar position last year, to see how quickly things can turnaround.
"There's growth there and there's good players who grew up a lot during the year," Pearson said. "There's a lot of hope there for the future."
Senior Rob Houseknecht was outstanding in his last game for the Mounties, making a game-high 11 tackles while junior Kyle Pfirman added eight.
Trevor Houseknecht was part of Montgomery's surging defense, which has allowed just 34 points the last three weeks, making nine tackles and forcing a fumble that led to a second quarter touchdown.