Williamsburg hopes to build on upset of Valley
For those outside the Williamsburg football program, last Friday’s game against Juniata Valley started as many would have expected.
The Blue Pirates, plagued by the weight of a 21-game losing streak entering the game against the 2018 District 6 Class 1A champions, had their punt blocked into the end zone for a safety.
It was just two points for the Green Hornets, but it was the type of play that usually snow-balled into a lopsided defeat over the past two seasons for Williamsburg.
But the Blue Pirates didn’t let it happen. Not this time.
“We feel like we can compete with really anybody this year,” Williamsburg senior Wes McCall said. “It’s just a matter of getting our minds right and deciding to play together.”
For the final three quarters, that’s exactly what Williamsburg did. The Blue Pirates’ effort was rewarded with a 14-9 triumph, their first since a 34-22 win over Moshannon Valley in the 2017 season finale.
“It was insane. I never felt so much adrenaline in my life,” Williamsburg senior Shane Brantner said. “I saw some players crying. Coaches were crying. I even shed a few tears. The first win in 21 games, and it couldn’t have come against a better team. It was amazing.”
Williamsburg defeated Juniata Valley for the first time since 2014. The Blue Pirates had lost to the Green Hornets by a combined score of 81-14 the last two seasons.
“It’s hard to explain the happiness and excitement that goes into it,” Williamsburg second-year coach Ryan Hileman said. “When you go through a two-and-a-half year drought of winning games, spirits get down and kids get in that rut where they kind of lose confidence in themselves. We kept plugging away last year, and we have a lot of those kids back, and they put in the work this offseason. They were anxious to go, especially after COVID put us in a delay, but when we were finally able to go, they came in dead set on turning things around this year.”
That work started in the offseason.
“They bought in to the program and what we were doing,” Hileman said. “They listened to what we were teaching. They were able to see growth from last year, and that what we were doing was working and that we just had to put some things together and shore up some things. Our defensive line and our front seven are playing extremely good football right now.”
The Blue Pirates lost their season opener, 20-6, at Southern Huntingdon, but Hileman said he saw plenty of positives when reviewing that first game.
“That night we were down about losing, but when we looked at the film we saw we were only a couple plays away from winning that game,” Hileman said. “We had some missed assignments on defense that gave them some scores. They didn’t really put together any drives against us. They scored their touchdown at the end of the half and the one later in the game on short fields.”
The ironic thing about Friday’s victory was that the team Williamsburg defeated has helped keep its program afloat. Juniata Valley and Williamsburg participate in a co-op in junior high football because the Blue Pirates don’t have enough players to consistently field a team.
“I have a lot of respect for (Juniata Valley coach) Bill (Musser) and his program,” Hileman said. “They welcomed us in down there and gave our boys a chance to play. There’s a lot of mutual respect among us. I know that our boys enjoy going down there and playing, and I know they enjoy having us as well. There’s that competition there, but him taking our boys and giving them the opportunity to play and develop is something I’m extremely grateful for. If those kids don’t get to play, they might not play again after missing out on a year of football. It means a lot.”
McCall said when Lambert Palmer completed a 42-yard pass to Jahmarea Wansley with less than three minutes to play on Friday, the gravity of the situation started to sink in on the Williamsburg sideline.
“Right after we completed that long pass down the field, we knew it was right there for the taking,” McCall said. “We knew another first down or so, and it was ours for the taking.”
Even though not everyone could witness the game in person, McCall said he’s already heard from several people in the small Williamsburg community.
“The crowd wasn’t the same as in past years (due to COVID-19 restrictions), but everyone was so excited,” McCall said. “I had people tell me how well we played that watched online. We know our community is still watching, and this is generating a lot of talk about how everyone is proud of us, and that’s the first time we have heard that for some time.”
Now, Williamsburg has turned its focus to Tussey Mountain (2-0), the defending District 5 Class 1A champions who will host the Blue Pirates on Friday at 7 p.m. in Saxton.
“To get a win like that at the beginning of the year, it really changes the tone of what the expectations are,” Hileman said. “The kids’ confidence level has just gone through the roof.
“We know it’s going to be a physical game, and they are going to come out and run the football. We know we’re going to have to stop that if we want to win, and we have to be physical like we were on Friday night. We have to get back up and play at the same level again this week.”
Brantner said Williamsburg still has plenty left to achieve this season.
“The last two seasons haven’t gone nearly as good as we thought they could have been,” Brantner said. “We knew going into this year that we could be pretty decent. But beating JV gives us a lot of confidence for the upcoming games. I know we got Tussey and Bellwood coming up, two of the biggest games in the season, but we’re not going into those games 0-2. At 1-1, we have a lot more confidence.”