Cougars have fine fin­ish vs. Comets

Ha­zle­ton Area grows into ex­plo­sive of­fense

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - SPORTS - BY STEVE STAL­LONE As­sis­tant sports ed­i­tor

A week ear­lier with a 19-7 half­time lead, the Ha­zle­ton Area foot­ball Cougars were un­able to put away vis­it­ing Wil­liamsport, and left Har­man-Geist Memorial Field with a 28-26 de­feat and a sour taste in their mouths.

On Fri­day night, the Cougars also were up 19-7 on Abing­ton Heights three min­utes into the third quar­ter.

Any thoughts of deja vu were quickly swept away by a Cougar team that is fast be­com­ing as ex­plo­sive as any of­fense around.

Over the game’s fi­nal 16 min­utes, Ha­zle­ton Area reached the end zone four more times, fin­ish­ing off the Comets to the tune of 47-19 for their sec­ond win of the sea­son and first at home.

Seems this team is learn­ing how to fin­ish what it started.

“We didn’t want to come out like last week. We wanted to come out like we started and keep the pres­sure on,” said ju­nior quar­ter­back Sparky Wolk.

Josh Zukoski’s 85-yard re­turn of the sec­ond-half kick off jump-started the Cougars’ 34-point sec­ond half, putting last week­end’s col­lapse clearly in the rear view win­dow.

“That kick off re­turn, Zuke made some­thing out of noth­ing and we just kept go­ing,” Wolk said.

After throw­ing for one score and run­ning for an­other in the first half, Wolk added two more touch­down passes in the Cougars ’21- point fourth quar­ter as they put up nearly as many points as they had in the sea­son’s first three games com­bined.

“The whole team thing has come to­gether with the O-line and the re­ceivers and the backs, and I think as we go through the year it

will con­tinue to come to­gether. That’s what we’re work­ing for,” said head coach Mike Bren­nan. “They work ev­ery day, put one foot in front of the other. We’re just looking for im­prove­ment ev­ery week, and tonight we got im­prove­ment.”

Wolk threw for 280 yards - his third straight 200-yard pass­ing game - and spread the ball around six dif­fer­ent re­ceivers.

Adrian Otero caught a team-best four passes for 98 yards, in­clud­ing a 41-yard catch-and-run for the game’s first score.

Ja­cob Hun­singer hauled in three balls for 53 yards and his first var­sity touch­down, a 28-yarder set up by David Smith’s bone-jar­ring block on the perime­ter.

Smith him­self caught three passes for 65 yards and three first downs, and Nolan Schneider added three re­cep­tions of his own.

And Da­mon Hor­ton turned a short fourth- quar­ter throw from Wolk into a 55-yard race to the end zone.

“In the pass game we can go to a lot of guys, and a lot of guys made plays tonight,” Bren­nan said.

What im­pressed Bren­nan most on this night was how his team re­sponded when things didn’t go well. They bounced back from Abing­ton Heights’ first two touch­downs with scores of their own to steal any mo­men­tum the Comets gained away.

“We had a good talk on Mon­day, and we talked about men­tal tough­ness and how im­por­tant it was,” he said. “It’s some­thing we have to con­tinue to drill in their heads... Bounc­ing back from bad plays, per­se­ver­ing, and un­der­stand­ing things aren’t go­ing to go our way all the time. When( A bing ton Heights) came back and made it 19-7, we re­sponded right away and that’s what we have to do. We have to an­swer right back and re­spond, and once we did that we were able to take off and get some sep­a­ra­tion.”

Work re­mains

As dom­i­nat­ing as Fri­day’s win would see mon the score­board, Bren­nan said the team can­not get com­pla­cent.

Three long pass com­ple­tion s-two that went for touch­downs - dimmed what was other­wise a dom­i­nant de­fen­sive per­for­mance. And two straight failed PAT at­tempts showed there is still work to do in the kick­ing game.

Even the of­fense, which pi led up 448 yards from scrim­mage and 18 first downs, sput­tered at times.

“We need to be crisper on of­fense. The de­fense played hard again, but we need to shore up some of those long balls,” he said. “We’ve just got to con­tinue to clean things up.

“It’s still a process for us, but it’s nice to see th­ese kids get a lit­tle pos­i­tive feel­ing,” added Bren­nan. “It was a to­tal team ef­fort in all three phases of the game.”

The Cougars, now 2-2, will look to get over the .500 mark for the first time since open­ing day of the 2015 sea­son when they pay a visit to Wal­len­pau­pack this Fri­day night.

Note­wor thy

Zuko ski had a pos­i­tive im­pact on de­fense and spe­cial teams. He had one of the team’s three quar­ter back sacks, par­tially blocked a punt, and showed his speed with the 85- yard kick off re­turn ... O te rot urned 16 of­fen­sive touches into 138 yards from scrim­mage and two scores, and also re­turned a sec­ond-half kick­off 60-plus yards deep inside Comet ter­ri­tory, set­ting up his own 1-yard TD run ... In ad­di­tion to his long TD catch, Hor­ton reeled off a 63- yard touch­down run less than three min­utes later to con­clude the Cougars’ of­fen­sive bar­rage, giv­ing him a team-lead­ing five touch­downs this sea­son ... Will Strass­ner, Richie San­tos and Bryce Reed did yeomen’s work on the de­fen­sive line, lead­ing the pres­sure that caused three sacks and had Abing­ton Heights QB Ge­orge Tins­ley on the run much of the evening ... LB Jake Fet­ter­man had a sack, and San­tos and Strass­ner shared one as well ... Cougar de­fense didn’t al­low a first down un­til the fi­nal two min­utes of the half, and didn’t sur­ren­der a first down on the ground un­til mid­way through the fourth quar­ter ... Joey Hat­ton made a touch­down-sav­ing tackle at the 2-yard line late in the first half, and Zukoski’s sack three plays later com­pleted a goal line stand that re­sulted in a missed field goal try ... Hat­ton also had a solid day on spe­cial teams ... Cougars have not lost a fum­ble since Week 1 against Ber­wick ... Wolkh as thrown for 871 yards (48-of-87) and eight touch downs against just three picks this sea­son. He needs 127 yards to be­come just the third Cougar to throw for 3,000 ca­reer yards. In ad­di­tion, he moved into a tie with Scott Bisco for third place on the Cougars’ all­time list with his 23 rd ca­reer TD pass.

Bob GAetANo / coN­tribut­iNG pHo­toG­rA­pHer

Ha­zle­ton Area quar ter­back Sparky Wolk looks for an open re­ceiver dur­ing Fri­day night’s game against Abing­ton Heights in Ha­zle­ton. Wolk threw for 280 yards and three scores, and added a rush­ing touch­down in the 47-19 vic­tor y.

BOB GAETANO / CON­TRIBUT­ING PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Ha­zle­ton Area run­ning back Da­mon Hor ton (23) is met by a host of Abing­ton Heights de­fend­ers dur­ing Fri­day night’s game at Har­man-Geist Memorial Field. Other Cougars pic­tured are Ja­cob Hun­singer (81), Jared Cun­ning­ham (85) and Ja­son Biever (72). Hor ton scored a pair of touch­downs, and the Cougars rolled to a 47-19 win to even their record at 2-2.

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