Cougars have fine finish vs. Comets
Hazleton Area grows into explosive offense
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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...