Technically, Connor Poole is a full-time soccer player. A Williamsport captain, the senior moonlights each Friday as the Millionaires’ kicker and punter.
So, it reveals a lot about who Poole is that his football teammates also voted him a team captain. They know that while he might not always be at practice that Poole constantly is working. And they understand how valuable he is each Friday night.
Poole proved it yet again last Friday, excelling in all special teams areas while helping Williamsport thump Central Mountain, 47-13. Poole drilled a game-changing 49-yard field goal, averaged 54 yards per punt, placed both inside the 15-yard line and added six kickoff touchbacks. Whether producing points or giving Central Mountain long fields, Poole was a force and he enhanced his reputation as one of the state’s premier kickers and punters.
“The kids are smart. The kids know a lot about football because they spend a lot of time working on it and they know,” Williamsport coach Mike Pearson said. “They say quietly, and they’re not joking, that he may be the best football player on the team because of what he does with his positions. There’s a lot of truth to that.”
That goes to the heart of Poole being a team captain as well. A running joke goes that, ‘Kickers are people, too.’ That is because kickers and punters often go overlooked.
Those that understand the game, however, realize how prominent those positions are. The Millionaires sure do. Aside from providing field goals and extra points, kickers and punters can dictate field position. Poole checks all the boxes and a soccer player who did not start playing football until his sophomore year has gone beyond being labeled by just his position.
“This year we had him come in as a captain. That was an even a bigger role for him because sometimes kickers can be neglected as a football player,” linebacker and fellow captain Alonzo Rice said following his 11-tackle performance. “We wanted to give him that captain role because he’s an outstanding player.”
Don’t just take the Millionaires’ word for it. Despite never having kicked a football prior to his sophomore year, Poole has quickly become a Division I recruit. He has an offer from Lehigh and Poole also has visited Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Rutgers.
Poole also is having a strong soccer season, but football suddenly has become his future. What an interesting ride it has been.
“Two years ago, if you told me I was looking at schools for football I would have said, ‘I don’t think so,’” Poole said. “I’m just seeing how it goes and trying to figure out what is best for me and my family.”
While Poole ponders his future, he continues excelling as both a kicker and punter. He provided Williamsport a jolt in the first quarter when he smashed his 49-yarder, a kick that would have been good from 55 yards. That ignited a run of 33 straight points as Williamsport turned a seven-point deficit into a rout.
Just the fact that Pearson called upon Poole to try that field goal speaks volumes. No area kicker had made a kick that long since Loyalsock’s Dan Hutchins also made a 49-yarder in 2003. This reporter has covered high school for 24 years and has seen coaches opt to either go for it in a situation like Williamsport faced there (4th-and-8) or punt the ball to pin the opponent inside the 10-yard line. But Pearson never wavered.
The team never doubted Poole would make it either. During a timeout, Poole followed a lesson learned from former All-Pro kicker David Akers, turned around and launched his beauty deep into the night sky. That was Poole’s fifth field goal this season and his 12th over the past three seasons, the third highest total any area kicker has produced during the 2000s.
“I just turned around during the timeout. I learned from David Akers to look at the far end. You don’t look at the kick you’re about to take,” Poole said. “You want to make it look farther so when you turn around it looks closer.”
“We were confident because at practice he is booming that thing. It’s like a sky rocket,” Rice said. “You see it and would think it would never land. You think it’s going to keep going. It’s a missile.”
The same applies when Poole is punting. Before his field goal, Poole had started changing the game’s complexion with his 52-yard punt which pinned Central Mountain at its 10-yard line. The Wildcats soon punted from their end zone and set up a short field which Williamsport parlayed into the field goal. Poole not only booted the ball high, but also took advantage of good blocking, taking his time and letting the coverage get downfield, so there could be no return.
Poole’s second punt went 56 yards and had Central Mountain starting at its own 6-yard line. That also led to a punt from the end zone, a short field and a Williamsport score.
“All the years I was at Lycoming, the coaches always said the punter quietly is one of your defensive MVPs. That punt absolutely set the tone for the night because then they had to work uphill,” Pearson said. “It was a beautiful punt and him being able to move a little bit and buy some time was big. That was a veteran play by Connor all the way around.”
A football novice just two years ago, Poole is now a seasoned veteran and a Division I recruit.
And he is quite a football player.
“He’s a great player, so why not recognize him as a great player?” Rice said. “He’s a great guy to have on your team.”
LEADING THE WAY: Rice is one of four senior starting linebackers, joining Nariq Burks, Devon Harris and Deacon Brown. He and Burks are three-year starters and the entire group provides the defense a strong foundation. Their production is important, but so is the leadership that quartet provides.
That is especially vital because Williamsport is so young up front. The secondary also features multiple first-time starters, so having some calming voices, in addition to quality players, sure helps. That was the case again Friday as the entire defense surged and held a potent Central Mountain offense to just 99 yards. In its two wins, that defense has surrendered just one touchdown.
“We not only try to lead with our voice, we also try to lead by example. We try and do that every game we can,” Rice said. “We have to keep them up because sometimes those boys can get down. We help them pick it up because we (the seniors) have all been there and been young and know what it’s like.”
EXTRA POINTS: Montgomery played ferocious defense and blanked Northwest, 6-0, earning its first win and snapping a 12-game losing streak. Peyton Hartman and Connor Jarrett combined for five sacks and Jarrett set up Coy Bryson’s game-winning, fourth quarter touchdown with a fumble recovery. The Raiders allowed just 86 yards and Briar Persing ended a scoring threat with an interception … Montoursville made a statement in defeat, holding Southern Columbia scoreless for the game’s first 22 minutes in a 21-0 loss. The Warriors held the six-time defending Class AA state champions to season-lows in yards and points, trailing just 7-0 at halftime. It was another strong performance by a defense which had allowed 27 points in consecutive wins. Cole Yonkin, Nate Fisher and Owen Kleinman all had two tackles for loss and Christian Banks made eight tackles … Warrior Run (3-3) won its third straight game, routing Bloomsburg, 42-6. A stingy defense has allowed just 27 points during the three wins and Sam Hall returned one of four Defender interceptions for touchdowns with Stone Allison collecting two sacks. Hall also caught a touchdown and Carter Marr (180 yards) added two, while adding his district-high sixth interception. Quarterback Ryan Newton threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns, going over 1,000 yards for a third straight year … Karson Dominick engineered a game-winning 65-yard drive, finding Cale Wagner for the touchdown as North Penn-Mansfield edged Cowanesque Valley, 20-14. CV (3-3) had rallied from down 14-0 in the fourth quarter before Dominick completed five passes to three receivers on the winning drive. Wagner ran for a career-high 121 yards and a touchdown, while Luke Kreger hauled in a touchdown … Braylon Fantaski ran for 71 yards and a touchdown in Buctkail’s 30-28 loss at Cameron County, becoming just the second area player of the 2000s to go over 1,000 career rushing and receiving yards. Fantaski joins Bucktail alum Zack Stewart who did so from 2007-10.
Dr. Masse’s top five rankings:
1. Jersey Shore (5-0-1): Jersey Shore’s passing game is starting to click and Jerrin Loomis picked Executive Education apart in a 55-14 win, throwing for a career-high 221 yards and three touchdowns. Dathan Tyson, Elijah Jordan and Payton Whitman all caught touchdowns and Loomis effectively spread the ball among five receivers who produced multiple catches, while Tate Sechrist ran for 115 yards and two touchdowns. The starting defense allowed its first touchdown in three games, but again wreaked havoc, intercepting three more passes. Whitman, Brodie Herr and Carson Watkins all had picks, giving Jersey Shore 15 in its last three games. Herr, Bo Sechrist and Payton Samar all made eight tackles and Bo Sechrist scored for a third straight game.
2. Canton (6-0): Despite playing with three-way standout, Canton did not miss a beat and built a 47-point lead through three quarters in a 47-14 win against Wyalusing. The starting defense did not allow a point and Hudson Ward continued making big plays, returning his blocked punt for a touchdown. Ward also ran for 92 yards and three scores. The starting defense has not allowed a point in consecutive home games. Ben Fitch totaled 152 yards, ripping off a 40-yard touchdown, while Aydin Holcomb and Holden Ward also scored and produced big plays. Sophomore Alexis McRoberts is providing the special teams a boost and has been reliable on extra points. Her 23 points place her among the area’s top five kickers.
3. South Williamsport (5-1): Coaches often talk about the next man up when someone is injured. Well, South had a whole bunch of men step up in a 34-8 win Sayre as its entire starting backfield, two leading tacklers and multiple linemen were sidelined. Despite all that, South allowed just 151 yards and scored the game’s first 31 points. Quarterback Tadd Lusk shined in his first start, throwing for 136 yards and three touchdowns. Landyn Gephart came up big and caught all three touchdowns, while totaling 82 yards. Lusk has completed 12 of 18 passes for 217 yards and thrown four touchdowns since starter Radley Knapp was injured against Canton. Kaiser Kistner and Evan Barry admirably filled in at running back and both topped 100 yards, Kistner going for a career-high 136 and Barry a career-best 105.
4. Milton (5-1): Milton continues making teams one-dimensional and then crushing that dimension. The Black Panthers forced Hughesville to go aerial in a 28-6 win and produced five more sacks, giving them 13 the last two weeks. Milton has allowed just 80 rushing yards in those contests and leads the district in points allowed per game at 6.7. It also has held five consecutive opponents to fewer than 200 yards. Connor Snyder ignited the defense and produced two sacks. Hughesville forced three turnovers and allowed just seven points after the first quarter, but the defense never let it get closer than 15, snuffing out two first-half threats and taking over at the line in the second half. Quarterback Cale Bastian totaled three touchdowns as Milton won its fifth straight game.
5. Loyalsock (4-2): Jaylen Andrews scored a fourth different way this season in a 50-10 win at Central Columbia, returning one of his two interceptions for a touchdown. Andrews, who also caught six passes for 94 yards and a touchdown, has four interceptions this season and also has scored as a kick and punt returner. Will Burdett showed how dangerous he can be as well, hauling in both his catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Jamaire Harden continues settling in and also caught two scores, giving him five over the last four games. The defense dominated, allowing just 110 yards and intercepting four passes. Linemen Isaiah West, Jeremiah Johnson and Hakeem McClain all produced sacks with Johnson living a lineman’s dream and adding an interception. West has been outstanding the last three weeks and made three tackles for loss for a second consecutive game. Logan Bastian added nine tackles, including seven solos.
Players of the Week
Tyler Gee, Loyalsock and Brody Pentz, Bucktail: Gee went over 1,000 yards for a third straight year, carving up Central and throwing for 234 yards with a career-high five touchdowns. Gee also ran for 42 yards and helped Loyalsock land the knockout blow in the second half with three scoring strikes after it was 17-10 at halftime. Pentz ran for a career-high 255 yards and two touchdowns in Bucktail’s two-point loss and also returned a punt for a touchdown. The junior quarterback is having a big season and leads all area rushers with 962 yards. He also has scored touchdowns four different ways, taking a kick and punt return back for scores.
Game of the Week
South Williamsport at Muncy: Two weeks after hosting a huge District 4 Class A game, South hits the road for another one. These rivals are second and third in the playoff standings, and that means they could meet up again in the semifinals, although both also still has a shot at the top seed if Canton hits a road bump. Friday’s game also is for first place in the NTL-II with the winner becoming the overwhelming favorite to capture league supremacy. Muncy has won the last two league titles and edged South, 21-14 a year ago, scoring the winning touchdown with 1:38 remaining.
Chris Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse