END OF THE ROAD
Hazleton Area falls again at Delaware Valley in 6A final
MILFORD For the second year in a row, Hazleton Area came here in Week 12 looking to bring home a championship trophy.
For the second straight season, Delaware Valley sent the Cougars home to the off-season without it.
The defending champion and top-seeded Warriors pounded the Cougars with their methodical run game, mixed in several big plays from the arm and legs of junior quarterback Zach Scillia, and pulled away to a 35-14 victory Saturday afternoon.
Delaware Valley (9-3) is now headed back to the PIAA Class 6A Tournament after claiming its second straight District 2-4 Subregional final over the second-seeded Cougars (6-6). The Warriors face State College next weekend.
The win was the Warriors’ seventh in a row this season -- and 11th straight against Hazleton Area dating back to 2010, following the last of the Cougars’ five District 2 championships.
DV head coach Keith Olsommer dismissed the notion that his team has some sort of mastery over the Cougars.
“I don’t know if it’s anything like that. It’s a big game, our kids know it’s a big game, and the kids have risen to the occasion and played well against them,” Olsommer said.
“It’s nice that your kids can step up. Sometimes they don’t, but our kids did today.”
That wasn’t the case for the Cougars, who saw their own four-game win streak and title dreams come to a sudden halt in the bitter cold of Milford for a second straight season.
“We got the ball in the red zone twice and came away with no points,” said Hazleton Area head coach Mike Brennan. “We didn’t play our best game, and clearly we didn’t deserve to win the game.”
The Warriors used a big play to break the ice just 4:33 into the contest. Facing a fourth-and-one at the Cougar 41, they called on No. 41. Senior running back Colin Walters caught a roll-out pass from Scillia in the flat, broke a tackle and went the distance for a 41-yard scoring play and the early lead.
The high-powered Cougar offense answered decisively, driving 71 yards in 10 plays to make it a tie game once again.
A 23-yard pickup by quarterback Spark Wolk, and a pair of completions to David Smith keyed the march, and Damon Horton capped it with a 13-yard touchdown run. Wil Garcia’s PAT knotted the game at 7 late in the first quarter.
Josh Balcarcel, who led all ballcarriers with 161 yards, returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Hazleton Area 40, and the Warriors needed just six plays to regain the lead.
A 29-yard pass from Scillia to Hunter Klein set up Scillia’s first touchdown run, a 5-yard bootleg on the second play of the second quarter.
“When we looked back over the past several years of playing these guys, their D-ends do a great job of running the play down from behind,” Olsommer said, explaining the bootleg play Scillia ran to perfection several times Saturday. “Zach can run the ball a little bit, and made some nice plays withit.”
Hazleton Area appeared poised to answer the score, driving all the way to the DV 8-yard line on its next possession. Horton (16 carries, 148 yards) broke off a 30-yard run and Wolk took an option keep 12 yards on back-toback plays, but the drive bogged down there.
On third-and-seven from the 8, Wolk was sacked from behind by Klein, and Garcia’s 30-yard field goal try was just wide right, keeping the score 14-7.
The Cougar defense came up big on the next series, when Smith stepped in front of a Scillia pass near the end zone for the pick.
Horton broke four tackles on another 30-yard pickup on first down, but three plays later and facing fourth-and-five at the midfield stripe, they lined up to punt, then opted to gamble. The Warriors were read for a direct snap to Horton, who was swarmed under for no gain.
“We tried that fake punt to try to get something going, instead of giving the ball back to our defense,” Brennan said. “You think putting the ball in Damon Horton’s hands is a good thing, and that backfired on us at the end of the half.”
The Warriors took over at the 50 with 2:52 left in the half, and made the Cougars pay for that gamble.
Balcarcel’s 12-yard pickup, and a Scillia 19-yarder to Klein moved the chains twice, and a 15-yard facemask call on the Cougars on a third-down play kept the drive moving.
On second-and-goal from the 3, Balcarcel burst through a huge hole to score with three seconds remaining. It gave his team a two- touchdown lead and plenty of steam heading to the locker room.
With the ball to start the second half, Delaware Valley took complete control with a 10-play, 4 1/2-minute scoring drive featuring the running of Balcarcel and a 21-yard pass from Scillia to Jawon Foushee. Balcarcel’s second touchdown, a 13-yarder, upped the lead to 28-7.
The Cougars wouldn’t fold, as a pair of Wolk-to-Jacob Hunsinger completions covering 36 yards set the table for Wolk’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Smith. In less than two minutes, Hazleton Area was back in the game at 28-14.
The defense got Delaware Valley to punt on its next two possessions, and the Cougars threatened to make it a onetouchdown game when Horton broke loose on a 45-yard dash down the sideline that set up his team at the DV 24-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
However, on the next play, Wolk threw to the end zone for Smith, but Scillia was there to pick it off and keep his team in charge.
Delaware Valley began working the clock from there, marching 80 yards in 15 timeconsuming plays that ended with another Scillia bootleg, a four-yard scoring run that made it 35-14 and under five minutes to play.
Running off 61 plays to the Cougars’ 42, the Warriors were able to control clock and tempo, and keep Hazleton Area’s explosive offense watching for long stretches.
“Our bigger fear was for Horton to get the ball,” Olsommer said, revealing the game play. “The best way to stop him from getting the ball is by keeping him (on the sideline). We wanted long, sustained drives and we were able to do that. We had (two long drives) in the second half, and that’s the best defense against him, because anytime he touches it he’s a threat to go.”
Brennan said the Warriors’ ability to control the clock with their offense was a huge key.
“That’s their deal,” he said. “They drive patiently, they run their power, their misdirection, their waggle stuff off that to keep you off balance. They do what they do well, and so congratulations to them. “
The Cougars went fourand-out on their final possession, and the Warriors ran out the clock for their second consecutive district crown.
“We were 2-3 at one point. To be here at 9-3, it’s a pretty special day,” Olsommer said. “I didn’t thing we’d win another game when we were 2-3. Sure enough we haven’t lost since.
“We’ve come a long way. We’re a significantly better football team at this point then when we saw them earlier in the season ,” he added. “We’ve gotten a little bit healthier, especially up front. Some of our guys are a little more experienced now and made some big plays for us.”
It was an emotional postgame for Brennan and the Cougars, who say goodbye to a number of special seniors, including the program’s alltime passing leader (Wolk), one of its finest running backs (Horton), and two of its top receivers (Smith, Hunsinger). The senior class helped get the team playoff wins each of the past two seasons, and back-to-back championship-game appearances.
“I feel bad for our seniors, that we weren’t able to give them more,” Brennan said. “They gave us a lot, a lot for this program. This was an important game for those guys, and I feel bad for them that we fell short of our goal.”
Hazleton Area’s Dallas Solomon (39) brings down Delaware Valley’s Zach Scillia after the Warriors quarterback scrambles for a short gain during the District 2/4 Class 6A Subregional championship game on Saturday in Milford. The Cougars’ Kevin Meluskey (42) and Bryce Reed (51) and Delaware Valley’s Aaron Loihle (71) and Josh Balcarcel (2) also are pictured. The Warriors won 35-14.
Delaware Valley’s Jawon Foushe wrestles Hazleton Area’s David Smith to the turf after Smith intercepted a pass during the District 2/4 Subregional Class 6A championship game on Saturday in Milford. Delaware Valley kept the title with a 35-14 victory.