DAWG-GONE IT: Berwick’s six turnovers propel Hazleton to victory
BERWICK, Pa. – Hazleton Area head coach Rocco Petrone was coaching his 100th career football game, and was awarded the game ball afterward.
Petrone hoisted the gift high in the air, and then tucked it under his arm, holding it with a near death-grip.
Truth is, Hazleton’s defense had a death grip on Berwick’s offense the entire game.
Hazleton (9-1) forced six Berwick turnovers, and scored 26 points off of the gifts, defeating the home-standing Bulldogs (8-2) 26-14 from Crispin Field on Senior Night.
The first half went very well for Berwick, defensively speaking. The Dawgs held Hazleton to just 106 yards of offense and four first downs, and held a 7-0 lead until late in the opening 24 minutes. Berwick also forced Hazleton to fail on three fourth-down conversion attempts, including a fourth-and-goal from the Bulldog 1 yard line.
Hazleton’s lone score came defensively, via a 64-yard fumble return with less than three minutes left in the half.
In the same respect, the Cougars’ defense was also very stout in the first half, holding Berwick to 110 yards of offense, four first downs, and zero points. Berwick’s lone first half touchdown came on the opening kickoff return, which Brandon Welsh returned 95 yards.
And Berwick appeared poised to take the lead for good when AJ Mihaly (3-of-7, 72 yards, TD, INT) hooked up with senior flanker Zach Powell on a 25-yard fade pattern down the right side of the field.
“Our kids just never panicked,” Petrone said. “They played like champions.”
Hazleton rebounded nicely, thanks in large part to the play of its defense. After Berwick took the 14-7 lead, the Dawgs’ offense reverted back to almost a Week 1 format.
Immediately after forcing a Hazleton punt, Berwick’s next offensive possession resulted in a Welch fumble, and the Cougars’ Anthony Nahay cashed it in five plays later from a yard out to knot things up at 14 apiece with 9:28 left in the game.
Two offensive possessions later, Berwick again coughed up the football, and exactly two plays after that, quarterback Matt Drumheller dialed his own number and scored on a 37-yard keeper to make it 20-14, Cougars.
“They (Drumheller and Nahay) ran the ball well today,” Petrone said. “That’s a great combination. I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids.”
Mihaly was picked off on Berwick’s next offensive play, and Nahay scored his second touchdown of the game, this a seven-yard run to put Hazleton ahead comfortably, 26-14.
Tight end Ryan Sitler (2 rec., 47 yards) caught a 19-yard pass from Mihaly to open Berwick’s next possession, but on the very next play, the Berwick field general was sacked, fumbled, and Hazleton recovered.
The fourth quarter saw Berwick commit four turnovers and Hazleton score 19 points. It was so bad that Berwick head coach Gary Campbell declined comment following the game.
“No, not right now,” was the response when Campbell was asked if he had any comments about the game.
Hazleton ran for 191 of their 216 total offensive yards. The Cougars were paced by the efforts of Drumheller (14 rushes, 104 yards, TD) and Nahay (23 rushes, 87 yards, 2 TD).
Louis Hampton, Berwick’s feature back since Alec Ladonis’ shoulder injury, registered 141 yards on 20 carries. But aside from Hampton, the rest of Berwick’s ground attack totaled 11 carries for minus-21 yards and lost five fumbles.
Despite the loss, Berwick finished as the #2 seed in the upcoming District 2 “AAA” playoffs, and will host Coughlin next week. Hazleton will host a playoff game in the District 2/11 “AAAA” subregional, but does not yet know its seeding.
Game photos can be viewed in our gallery. Click here
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