Cougars host Donegal in regular-season home finale tonight.
It all began one year ago almost to the day
railing 14-7 midway through the fourth quarter, Hazleton Area appeared headed toward an eighth straight loss in what had been a frustrating season.
In a matter of minutes that all changed. David Smith returned a fumble for a touchdown that pulled the Cougars even with Done g al. Four minutes later, he hauled in a pass from fellow sophomore Sparky Wolk and sprinted 80 yards for the go-ahead score.
And, after the Indians drove deep into Cougar territory, Wolk intercepted a pass at the 10-yard line that sealed Hazleton Area’s first win (20-14) in a full calendar year and sent the Cougars on their way.
Since that Oct. 14 night in Mount Joy, the Cougars have been a joy to watch once again. They have reeled off six more wins in their last nine regular-season games, and head into tonight’s rematch with Donegal riding high.
Getting contributions from all three phase soft he game, the Cougars (4-3) knocked off Scranton 34-8 last week and inched closer to the Knights for the third seed in the upcoming District 2-4 Class 6A playoffs. A win tonight, and a Scranton loss to top-seeded Delaware Valley, could push the Cougars into the third spot with two weeks to play.
Bolstered by the emergence of their running game, the Cougar offense has been at
its best since Brennan took over the program in 2014. Damon Horton (65-299,3 TDs), Adrian Otero (61-281, 2 TDs) and Wolk (51-210, 5 TDs) have combined to make the run game a factor again. The Cougars haven’t lost a fumble since opening night.
Last week, Otero emerged with his best rushing game of the season, going for 113 yards on 14 carries. That was part of a run game that netted 210 yards, and gave the Cougars the best balance they’ve had all season.
The play of the offensive line has been much improved, with the likes of Michael Fuchick, Tony Ryba, Will Strassner, Dallas Solomon, Jason Bi ever, Matt Brunza and tight end Jared Cunningham getting things done up front. Fuchick, the team’s center, was injured in last week’s win, and his status is in question.
The passing g ame has been solid if not spectacular for most of the season thanks to the performance of Wolk and his talented stable of receivers. T he junior has completed nearly 58 percent of his passes (94-of-163) for a career-best 1,463 yards, with 14 touchdowns.
Wolkh as spread the wealth, finding receivers Smith (28 catches, 492 yards, 4 TDs), Otero (25-346, 6 TDs), Horton (16-315, 2 TDs), Jacob Hunsinger (18-194, 2 TDs), J os hZuko ski (6-48) and Nolan Schneider (5-99) on a regular basis.
The Cougar defense has been equally impressive, allowing 19 points per game this season and holding explosive Scranton to just one touchdown last week. Otero (72 tackles) has been the defensive leader.
They’ll be looking to shut down a Donegal team that comes in with a 2-4 record, having gone 2-2 since losing to Elizabethtown (28-0) and Manheim Central (46-0) in the season’s first two weeks.
Senior running back Nick Ketner (64-584, 8 TDs) and senior full back Cameron Ellis (51-421, 4 TDs) are their leading rushers. Ellis scored two touchdowns in last year’s game with the Cougars.
Hazleton Area head coach Mike Brennan talks with his team during the opening quar ter of last week’s game against Scranton at Harman-Geist Memorial Field. The Cougars will play host to Donegal this evening in their final regular-season home game.