NTL FOOTBALL: CANTON ROLLS PAST MUNCY, TAKES FIRST DISTRICT TITLE SINCE 1990
(2021-11-13)BY CHRIS MANNINGNorthern Tier Sports Report
TOWANDA — Nothing was stopping Canton. No muddy fields, no trick plays, no oppressive cold, no injuries, and no quarantines were going to keep the Warriors from winning the District IV, Class A football title on Friday. After three years of close calls Canton rolled to a 45-7 win over the defending district champions, and the Pennsylvania Football News top ranked team in the state, Muncy, to claim their first district title in 31 years.
“There was a lot of stuff that’s gone into that,” said Canton coach Tyler Sechrist. “Being close so many times, a lot of effort and a lot of work - it feels good to get it done.”
The players were just as emotional - being anywhere from on Cloud 9 to in near disbelief.
“I don’t have enough words to explain how excited I am about it,” said Caiden Williams. “It’s a long time coming.”
“We were looking forward to this game at the beginning of the season,” added Wes Bellows. “We were ready for it.”
Quarterback Cooper Kitchen may have summed it up best.
“After being in the silver medal line three years in a row I had to get one,” he remarked.
All three years they had lost to Muncy, and all three games were nail biters. In 2018 they fell 9-7 when their field was a muddy mess, in 2019 they lost 23-19 in brutal cold as their final drive came up short, and in 2020 it was a 21-16 loss with them missing key players who were on quarantine due to Covid-19 protocols.
Riley Parker was one of those players who had to watch the livestream from home.
“It just made me want this game even more,” he said. “It made sure I’d just do my job.”
Everybody did their jobs as everything Canton did came up roses. They ran the ball 56 times for 320-yards, were efficient passing the ball, going 2-for-3 for 93-yards, didn’t turn it over, and held Muncy scoreless until late in the fourth quarter.
“The past couple of years we’ve made it to the district finals, and gotten beat,” said Hayden Ward. “And it was just our time. We were ready to put a bunch of points up on the board, and we executed.”
His coach put it much more succinctly.
“We kind of took those three years, and we took it all out on them in one,” Sechrist said.
It’s not that Muncy didn’t have their moments - freshman running back Austin Johnson, in particular, was strong, running over tacklers for 85-yards on 13 carries - but they were just overwhelmed by Canton in pretty much every facet of the game.
From the moment Ward recovered the Muncy fumble on the game’s first play from scrimmage, right up Parker’s second touchdown run of the day late in the third quarter there was no doubt who the better team was.
“That set the momentum for the rest of the game, and we never gave it back,” said Kitchen. “Once we got that fumble we knew we would go down and score, and that’s how it ended.”
Canton’s three headed running attack was out in full force, led by Parker’s 98 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Bellows had 10 touches for 91 yards and a touchdown, while Ward finished with nine carries for 75 yards and a score. Bellows also had two catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, while Kitchen finished with 10 carries for 13 yards and a score - with three of those carries kneels.
“That’s just been our game plan all year, just run the ball on teams at will,” said Kitchen. “We knew it would be a little harder today, but our line came out and did an amazing job, and our backs ran just as hard.”
Nobody ran harder than Parker, as he converted on three fourth downs in their first two drives of the game, one of which became a touchdown run.
“I always hope that when we get in a scenario like that, that coach looks to me to get through there,” he said. “I take pride in being able to convert those third downs, those fourth downs.”
The backs also do a good job lead blocking for each other, especially on kick-outs and sweeps.
“In practice we just find out who were supposed to block, and who to hit, and execute,” Ward said.
Bellows acts as their versatility guy, as he can do it all - run for power, run for speed, block, and act as a deep threat.
“I just try to do the best I can,” he said. “Wherever they need me, or want me me to do, I just do it for them. Whether it’s blocking, receiving, running the ball - I try to do it to the best of my ability.”
With how they’d run the ball all year, no matter the opponent, their coach felt they wouldn’t have too much trouble on Friday.
“I figured we’d be able to run the ball on them, and we needed to stop their run,” he said. “Stop the deep threats, not let them get over the top on us, and just play physical and quick.”
They only allowed one over the top completion out of about four tries, while on the ground, the Canton starters held running back Ty Nixon to negative-5 yards. Even Branson Eyer - who ran for a 72-yard touchdown run last year - was held to just 28-yards on the ground. And he was just 3-for-9 for 49 yards throwing the ball.
“We watched a lot of tape on them,” Williams remarked. “We knew what they would be running. We knew the certain formations they had, and were able to adapt.”
On the opening drive Muncy bungled the hand-off, with the ball bouncing right into the hands of Ward.
That gave Canton prime field position on the Indian 29-yard line. They would need just six plays to hit pay dirt, but Muncy made them work for it.
Their first two runs got them down to the 8-yard line, but the Indians kept them at bay, forcing a 4th-and-5.
That’s when Canton went big, gave the Parker the ball, and went power over the right side to punch it into the end zone.
“We came out in one of our more heavier sets, and I knew we could get a hat on hat on the linebackers, and had the lead blocker for me,” explained Parker. “I had no doubt in my mind we were getting in there.”
Ward ran in the 2-point conversion and Canton led 8-0 2:43 into the contest.
Muncy responded on their next drive, as on their second play from scrimmage Branson Eyer hit Ross Eyer for a 41-yard gain, with Bailey Ferguson making a touchdown saving tackle.
Three plays later, on third-and-3, Branson Eyer hit Chase Crawley for 11-yards, and a new set of downs down to the Warrior 18-yard line.
However, a false start, followed by three straight plays that went nowhere to force a 4th-and-16. Branson Eyer would take off on the play, but was stopped a couple yards short of the first down marker on another big tackle from Ferguson, forcing them to turn it over on downs.
That’s when Canton went on a patented Warrior drive, starting on their own 12-yard line, they went 88 yards on 17 plays.
Everybody got in on the act, as Parker had five carries for 34yards, including converting on 4th-and-three, and on 4th-and-2.
Bellows had four carries for 10 yards, Ward ran the ball five times for 34 yards, and Kitchen had two carries for six yards, including the 1-yard punch on first and goal.
Parker ran in the 2-point conversion, and the Warriors led 16-0 with 31 seconds to play in the quarter.
Muncy’s ensuing drive ended near midfield as they were forced to punt. Canton took over at their own 36-yard line, and needed just six plays to score this time.
A 41-yard run by Ward over the left side got them inside the Muncy 20-yard line. Four plays he punched it in from a 1-yard out with 7:11 on the clock. Parker scored the 2-point conversion and it was 24-0 Canton.
A pass interference call against Canton saw Muncy get into Warrior territory on the ensuing drive, but they were once again forced to punt.
The Warriors took over at their own 24-yard line, and would go 76-yards on five plays to score their fourth touchdown. A 51-yard pass play from Kitchen to Bellows on the second play of the drive got them to the 22-yard line of Muncy.
Three plays later Bellows ran it in on a sweep left from 18-yards out. Parker ran in the 2-point conversion, and Canton led 32-0 with 2:29 left in the half.
The final Muncy drive of the half started out promising as Johnson rumbled up the middle for 26-yards, breaking tackles as he went. It was Ferguson again with the touchdown saving tackle, getting Johnson by the shoestrings as the Indians got to the Canton 47-yard line.
Three more runs by Johnson saw them get to the 25-yard line of the Warriors, but things sputtered from there. Canton forced a 4th-and-1, and as Branson Eyer rolled out Ward ended the drive with a sack.
The Warriors took the second half kick-off, and began the drive at their own 40-yard line. On the second play from scrimmage Bellows ran for 21-yards to get into Muncy territory. Then, on second-and-16 from the 42-yard line, Canton went deep in their play book as Ferguson tossed a halfback pass to Bellows.
Bellows hauled it in, then juked out the Muncy safety before running it into the end zone for their fifth touchdown of the day.
“I was thinking I can’t drop it,” said Bellows.
The 2-point conversion was no good, but Canton put the game into mercy rule, 38-0, with 9:28 left in the third quarter.
The ensuing Indian drive went 3-and-out, setting up Canton’s final scoring drive of the night.
Taking over at their own 42-yard line, Canton would go 58-yards on eight plays - all runs - ending with a Parker 10-yard touchdown run. Bellows did much of the leg work getting there, carrying the ball four times for 42 yards, including back to back 13-yard carries on the first two plays from scrimmage.
Ferguson added the point after, and it was 45-0 with 1:44 left in the third quarter.
Muncy would keep from getting shutout with a Nixon 7-yard scoring run with 1:50 left in the game. The senior back for the Indians ran the ball three times for 46-yards on the drive to end his storied career with one more score.
By that point, though, the celebration was on on the Canton sideline.
“I couldn’t even believe it until the end of the game that we beat them that bad,” Bellows said.
Sechrist credits his seniors, who didn’t want to be runners-up all four years of their career.
“These seniors, this is their fourth district final, to finally get the gold, it’s sweet to see them get it,” he said.
However, they all felt this was their year with just how it went - undefeated in the regular season, NTL Division-I champions, and now, their first district title since 1990.
“We had a feeling since the beginning of this season,” said Williams. “We’ve been working hard, putting in all the effort we’ve can just for this moment.”
They now wait to see who they’ll face in the first round of the PIAA Championships. It’ll be the winner of Steelton-Highspire and Delone Catholic. The game will likely be in District IV next Saturday, a place and time soon to be determined.
Steelton-Highspire is ranked fifth in the state, with Canton currently fourth, though, with type of win they had over Muncy, look for them to move up.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we do,” said Sechrist. “We’ve got a lot of talent, we have a great line, we have a plethora of backs, and we’re going to keep being physical, and running at them.”
This group of Canton players have had success from the youth leagues all the way up - so expectations have been high. And now, the princes that were promised have become kings.
PHOTO CAPTION: Canton’s Wes Bellows runs behind teammate Riley Parker…PHOTOS BY DAVID ALLIGER & CHRIS MANNING
-Garrett Carr contributed to this story.
CANTON 45, MUNCY 7
C - Riley Parker 5-yard run (Hayden Ward run), 9:17
C - Cooper Kitchen 1-yard run (Parker run), :31
C - Hayden Ward 1-yard run (Parker run), 7:11
C - Wes Bellows 18-yard run (Parker run), 2:29
C - Bailey Ferguson 42-yard pass to Wes Bellows (run failed), 9:28
C - Riley Parker 10-yard run (Bailey Ferguson kick), 1:44
M - Ty Nixon 7-yard run (Loudon Boring kick), 1:50
Branson Eyer 3-9-49-0-0, Ross Eyer 0-1-0-0-0, Kaleb Meyer 1-1-17-0-0
Austin Johnson 13-85, Ty Nixon 6-41-1, Branson Eyer 5-28, Ross Eyer 1-5, Team 2-(-5)
Ross Eyer 2-38, Chance Crawley 2-28
Cooper Kitchen 1-2-51-0-0, Bailey Ferguson 1-1-42-1-0
Riley Parker 17-98-2, Wes Bellows 10-91-1, Hayden Ward 9-75-1, Cooper Kitchen 10-13-1, Holden Ward 8-33, Michael Davis 2-9, Ryland Sakers 1-1
Wes Bellows 2-93-1
Rushes/Yards 27/154 56/320
Passing Yards 66 93
First Downs 10 19
Penalties/Yards 2/10 3/35
Fumbles/Lost 2/1 1/0
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