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Nelson’s big play helps Canton get to 1st D4 final in 21 years

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Canton’s Garrett Storch stops South Williamsport’s Luke Winner in his tracks early in the second quarter on Friday night in Canton. Canton won South Williamsport, 29-7.

 

CANTON — Keegan Nelson heard a voice and listened. He usually forgets to raise his hands while rushing the passer, but did so this time.

Nelson was part of a powerful line on both sides of the ball, Timmy Ward ran for 100 yards and Canton dominated the second half Friday at Miller A. Moyer Stadium as it defeated South Williamsport, 29-7, in a District 4 Class A semifinal. A team that went 3-7 last year is headed to its first district final in 21 years and celebrated its first playoff victory since that same 1997 season.

Now, the Warriors (10-1) will try winning their first district title since 1990. Canton hosts Muncy in next Friday’s championship.

“Coaches are always on us about getting your hands up on pass plays. I don’t always put my hands up but something told me maybe I should put my hands up this play and I got lucky,” Nelson said. “It’s a great feeling and you’re so stoked.”

Canton outscored South, 17-0, in the second half, scoring two touchdowns four minutes apart in the fourth quarter that clinched the win. Levi Gaiotti had scored on a 2-yard run midway through the fourth quarter and minutes later South faced a fourth-and-2 at the 43-yard line.

That was when Nelson charged in, put his hands up at the perfect time and knocked down the pass. Five plays later Uriah Baillie scored from three yards out. Break out the Macarena CD because Canton is partying like it’s 1997.

“Our coaches come together as a really big part of the team and they coach us through everything, constantly always making us better and showing us what we can do well,” Nelson said. “It’s the mindset. You have to come out and show them whose house you’re in.”

“It feels amazing,” said Ward, who totaled 132 yards, scored twice, intercepted two passes and made 10 tackles. “We all bonded from the start. We’re all friends. We just have fun every day at practice and work hard. Whatever the situation, we just play relentless and non-stop.”

Ward scored 28- and 11-yard touchdowns on Canton’s first two possessions as the Warriors took a quick 12-0 lead. South, though, fought back and made it 12-7 at halftime when freshman Landon Lorson found Hunter Finn for a 39-yard touchdown.

The Mounties nearly took the lead before halftime but Gaiotti saved a touchdown by making a jarring hit at the goal line. Canton was challenged at halftime and responded. Sawyer Wooster kicked a 27-yard field goal, making it 15-7, and then linemen Nelson, Garrett Storch, Trevor Williams, Caiden Williams and Conner Davis took over the fourth quarter.

Gaiotti’s two-yard touchdown capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive. As the offense opened up, the defense constricted and held South to just 36 second-half yards. Gaiotti and Ben Knapp collected sacks, Nick May was all over the field and Ward ended two drives with interceptions, giving him a district-high 11.

“We came in at halftime and I lit right into them. I felt like we let South back in the game,” Canton coach Tyler Sechrist said. “I got into them and they accepted the challenge. I told them we made too many mistakes, too many dumb penalties. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot and you’re a better team than that. They put it together and they keep knocking down a lot of walls this year.”

South put up quite a fight despite being absolutely ravaged by injuries. Already playing without 1,200-yard rusher Gannon Guerrisky and without three-year starter A.J. Flick being able to play quarterback, South was dealt more blows when Luke Winner re-injured his ankle following a 23-yard first-quarter run. His backup Lane Lusk was lost a few minutes later and South was down to its fourth and fifth-string running backs for much of the game moving Finn, a wide receiver, into the backfield during the second half.

The Mounties also were playing without standout linebacker Chris Klem and Rion Withers, a premier lineman, among others. South consistently was playing six freshmen on both sides of the ball, but still was in a one-possession game during the fourth quarter.

South has been one of the district’s most successful programs since 2012. In defeat, the Mounties stood as tall as they ever did in victory, fighting on against long odds.

“We made some good stands, fought hard and just ran out of gas,” South coach Chris Eiswerth said. “There were some good things that happened for the young kids about being thrown in there and learning how to fight through adversity. I was so proud of how hard these kids fought to win five games and beat Bloomsburg and beat Milton. It says a lot about the kids in the program.”

Lorson threw for 104 yards in his first varsity start and his 39-yard touchdown to Finn came on a fourth-and-2. South made some quality stands as well in the second and third quarters. Russell Branton ended a drive with a sack and Flick capped a fantastic scholastic career with an interception near the end zone.

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