The scores reveal a lot. So does the film.
Canton has made history throughout the 2021 season, going 12-0, capturing its first District 4 Class A title since 1990 and winning its first-ever state tournament game. The Warriors dethroned defending state champion Steelton-Highspire last Saturday, winning 32-27. Along the way to Saturday’s state quarterfinals against District 2 champion Old Forge, Canton has shutout four opponents and mercy-ruled eight teams.
Still, if one wants to understand how Canton has become so good this season, a good place to start might be the big hill which rests behind the visitor’s bleachers at Miller A. Moyer Stadium.
That is where the championship seeds were planted. Canton has relentlessly attacked that hill since last summer, running up and down it countless times. There is a price to pay for such smashing success and Canton has paid it on that hill. The benefits came shining through during the second half against Steel-High as Canton took control up front while rallying from a halftime deficit.
“We’re going to get every advantage on every team we can get,” Canton coach Tyler Sechrist said. “At this level everyone is good, so you have to work hard for it.”
Canton has done just that all season. The past three seasons were highly successful with Canton going 23-6 and reaching the district final each time. All those seasons ended in heartbreak, however, as Canton lost three district championships against Muncy by 11 combined points.
Instead of wallowing or wondering what could have been, Canton focused on what could be. The players put forth a dedicated offseason, kept grinding throughout the season and never shied away from extra running or conditioning. In doing so, they best honored the excellent alumni who turned the program around and put it on the cusp of a major breakthrough.
That district championship wall came tumbling down with a 45-7 victory against Muncy and all those extra sprints paid mammoth dividends as Canton controlled the clock throughout the second half and rallied past Steel-High.
“I thought we were extremely well-conditioned going into the game,” two-way lineman Mason Shultz after recovering a critical fumble which set up a third-quarter touchdown. “We conditioned a lot during the season and we did (last) week as well. Coach ran us into we couldn’t run anymore.”
He did so to make sure Canton would still be running strong against the reigning state champions. Canton trailed 14-13 at halftime before the line and running game dominated the second half. The Warriors scored on three straight second-half possessions and answered both Steel-High touchdowns with time-consuming drives.
That first march covered 68 yards and Riley Parker’s 11-yard touchdown run made it 32-20. The next drive did not produce points but did the next best thing as Canton ran 13 plays which took off 7 minutes, 37 seconds. By the time Steel-High took over at its own 15-yard line, only 82 seconds and one timeout remained. Canton forced four straight incompletions from there before celebrating, arguably, the biggest win in program history.
“I think we were in many more times better shape than they were,” Parker said after running for 138 yards and four touchdowns. “We knew that if we kept grinding them out we could keep wearing them down.”
Steel-High did everything it could to slow Canton’s running game, often going with nine and 10-man fronts. But Canton took the fight to the Rollers and ran at will throughout the second half. Behind a line which grew stronger as the game progressed, Parker, Weston Bellows, Hayden Ward and quarterback Cooper Kitchen all ran like their hair was on fire and generated yards after contact.
It was a scene repeated 12 times this season, but this time it carried extra significance. Everything Canton had worked for, all that endless running, produced a second-half performance these players likely will never forget.
“We talked at halftime and pretty much said we’re going to have to take over on the line. We told them, ‘Keep after them. We’re going to be able to run the ball.’ We kind of challenged them and they stepped up to it,” Sechrist said. “Our linemen stepped up, but I thought our backs really stepped up in that second half, too, getting extra yards.. I was proud of everybody. They came out and did the job in the second half.”
That hill outside the stadium does not have a name, but maybe they will designate it, “Champions Hill.” It is there where Canton has set the stage for everything which has followed.
Winning district and state championships requires quite an uphill climb. Canton opened the season all the way at the hill’s bottom, facing a steep ascent. That climb continues against a fellow undefeated team, but Canton certainly has reached some lofty heights.
“It feels exciting, especially as a senior. From my freshman year it had been nothing but losses in districts,” Shultz said. “It feels very awesome to keep going and keep chugging along with these guys.”
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox