Hornets sneak past Panthers, 28-26.
The Wellsboro Varsity Football team overcame three turnovers to beat North Penn 28-26 and retain possession of the Morton F. Jones Trophy for the third consecutive year on Friday, October 31 on Senior Night.
The Panthers started off with the football and marched down the field on the Hornet defense in 11 plays. Bryce Zaparzynski scored the game’s first points with 8:35 remaining on a two yard run. Bo Burleigh’s pass to Levi Christman on the two-point conversion gave the Panthers the early 8-0 lead.
The Hornets would answer back on their opening drive. Senior Quarterback Michael Pietropola and Senior Running Back Levi Mack gained 13 yards and 11 yards, respectively on the first two plays before Pietropola hit Junior Anthony Cooper for a 21 yard pass completion. Pietropola then picked up three yards before hitting Cooper in the front of the end zone in front of two Panther defenders for the nine yard score. Senior Jack Chambers‘ kick split the uprights and the Hornets trailed 7-8 with 6:57 left in the opening frame.
North Penn answered back on their next drive as Burleigh hit Christman on a 21 yard pass and then connected with Zaparzynski for a 33 yard touchdown pass to complete the four-play drive and take a 14-7 lead after the two-point conversion failed.
Wellsboro’s second drive is when the turnover bug started. After being faced with third-and-12 Pietropola hit Senior Dylan Widows to pick up the first down but then put the ball on the ground two plays later. North Penn jumped on the loose ball and recovered at the Wellsboro 46-yard line. After a 15 yard run by Zaparzynski the Hornet defense tightened up and got the ball back on downs after a Burleigh pass fell incomplete.
The next two drives for each team stalled as time wound down in the second quarter. After the Wellsboro defense held the Panthers again and forced a punt, Pietropola coughed the ball back over to the visitors on the Wellsboro 19-yard line. North Penn capitalized and took a 20-7 lead Zaparzynski scored from five yards out with 3:01 remaining in the half.
The Hornets got the ball back and immediately went to work. Pietropola connected with Senior Kieron Smethers for a nine-yard gain on first down and Mack put together runs of five and six yards on the next two plays to move the ball to the North Penn 40-yard line. Pietropola then hit Senior Nick Marple for a seven yard gain. Pietropola then scampered for eight yards on first down from the Panthers’ 28-yard line before Mack gained 16 yards on his next two runs before finishing the drive with a two yard touchdown run with 26 seconds remaining. After Chambers’ extra point kick, the Hornets trailed 20-14 at halftime.
The Hornets opened the second half with a score on their opening drive. The Hornets took to the ground for the majority of the drive as Pietropola, Mack, and Senior Jarret Dean to get the Hornets to the Panthers’ 43-yard line. From there Pietropola hit Smethers for a five yard gain followed by a eight yard gain by Dean to give the Hornets a first down on the North Penn 25-yard line. Pietropola hit Senior Nick Levindoski for 10 yards and then called his own number on his way to a 15 yard touchdown to put Wellsboro up 21-20 after Chambers’ extra point.
“We made the adjustment to switch over to the run game at halftime,” Pietropola said. “Their weakness was their run defense so we wanted to exploit it.
“Our offensive line took over and started crushing people and we started running people over.”
North Penn answered right back on their opening drive, aided by two costly Wellsboro penalties. Zaparzynski eventaully scored his third rushing touchdown from 13 yards out to go up 26-21 with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter. The Hornets would answer back and would take the lead for good on their next drive.
Pietropola and dean were the workhorses on the drive and got the Hornets to the Panthers’ 11-yard line before getting hit with a holding call. Smethers caught a four yard pass on first-and-20 and two plays later caught his only touchdown of the game from 16 yards out with 16 seconds left in the quarter. Chambers’ extra point gave the Hornets the 28-26 lead which they would hold on to.
North Penn picked up one first down on their ensuing drive before the Hornets foced them to punt on their own 43-yard line. As time wound down in the fourth quarter the Hornets took to the ground to keep the clock moving. The plan worked as Pietropola, Mack, and Dean were consistently picking up four or five yards every play. Wellsboro would turn the ball over one more time as Mack lost control of the ball on the North Penn 16-yard line.
The Wellsboro defense played their best five plays of the year on the next drive. After a long pass from Burleigh to Dayton Wood, the defense stuffed Burleigh for a one yard gain before forcing three straight incompletions and getting the ball back on downs. The Hornets again took to the ground to run the clock out after North Penn used up their last time out, clinching the NTL Division 1 victory.
“It was a tight game all night,” said head coach Matt Hildebrand. “Our boys fought well all night. We turned the ball over there at the end which is something we can’t do, but we were able to come away with the win.”
Pietropola ended the night going 15-for-23 for 124 yards and two touchdowns and was the leading rusher with 144 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. Mack ended up with 76 yards on 18 carries and Dean had 48 on nine attempts.
Smethers was the leading receiver on the night with six catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Cooper caught two passes for 30 yards and a score, Levindoski caught two balls for 32 yards, Marple caught two passes for 11 yards, Widows caught two passes for 10 yards, and Freshman Quinn Henry caught a pass for -2 yards.
“Anytime you play North Penn you want that trophy to stay and now that we’ve kept it for the last three years its an awesome feeling,” Pietropola concluded.
Next week, the Hornets will travel to Island Park as the #3 seed Hornets take on the #2 seed Panthers in the first round of District IV Class A playoffs.
“We’re peaking at the right time and hopefully there are bigger and better things to come,” concluded Hildebrand. “We’ve set ourselves up for a rematch next week and its never easy to beat a team twice but we’ll study film and look to do the same thing.”
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