Hornets hang on for 28-21 win against Towanda
By: Ed Weaver | WellsboroFootball.com | October 25, 2014
Despite 14 fourth quarter points by the Towanda Black Knights, the Wellsboro Varsity Football team held on for a 28-21 win on Friday, October 24.
Towanda scored on their opening drive as they put together a six play drive that was capped by a 32 yard pass from Noah Huff to Dylan Bates to put the Black Knights up 7-0 with 8:16 remaining in the opening quarter. Wellsboro was unable to pick up a first down on their opening drive and were forced to punt the ball back to Towanda. The Wellsboro defense buckled down on Towanda's next possession and forced them to punt on fourth down for their own 30-yard line.
Wellsboro scored on their second possession to even the score. After a one yard pass from Senior Quarterback Michael Pietropola to Senior Wide Receiver Kieron Smethers, Pietropola found a seam in the Towanda defense and raced 86 yards to the end zone. Senior Jack Chambers' made the extra point to tie the game at 7-7.
"The line got a nice push and Jarret Dean hit the hole hard and made a great block and I took off and never looked back," Pietropola said. "We brought a lot of heart and effort into tonight. Last week we lost to a good Wyalusing team and that's definitely a game we wish we had back but we have to let it go and keep moving forward."
Again, the Hornet defense stepped up and forced a three-and-out after sacking Huff for a seven yard loss. A 23 yard punt return by Junior Anthony Cooper gave the Hornets excellent field position inside the Towanda 25-yard line. Dean got the Hornets down to the six-yard line on a 16 yard run before Pietropola connected with Smethers for a six yard touchdown as time expired in the first quarter to take a 14-7 lead.
The Hornet defense forced their first of five turnovers on the night as they dropped Steven Yates for a four yard loss and caused a fumble after Towanda moved inside the Wellsboro 25-yard line after a 33 yard kick return by Huff set them up at the 50-yard line. The Hornets went right back to work as Pietropola scrambled for 24 yards and then connected on a 25 yard pass to Senior Nick Levindoski to move into Towanda territory.
Following an incomplete pass, Pietropola picked up a first down on a 10 yard run and Dean broke free on runs of 17 and four yards to put the Hornets at the Towanda 2-yard line. The following play, Pietropola ran over a Black Knight defender for his second touchdown of the night. Chambers made the extra point and the Hornets led 21-7 with 7:13 left in the first half.
The Hornets and Black Knight traded possessions for the rest of the second quarter and Wellsboro took a 21-7 lead into the half.
"We played great offensive football in the first half and drove the ball down the field," continued Pietropola. "The defense did a great job containing Huff too."
For the last two weeks the Hornets have been a first-half team. Against Bloomsburg and Wyalusing the Hornets found their leads slip away in the third quarter. This week however, the Hornets extended their lead in the quarter. After receiving the second half kick, Pietropola took to the air and connected with Smethers on a 42 yard pass to set up shop in the Towanda red zone. However, the Hornets shot themselves in the foot on the drive as two negative running plays and two penalties put the Hornets back at the Towanda 44-yard line facing a 2nd-and-40. Pietropola hit Cooper for 14 yards and Smethers for 12 yards to get the Hornets back to the 18-yard line. Chambers came on to attempt a 35 yard field goal, but the kick just missed to the right giving the ball back to Towanda.
Wellsboro's defense caused their second caused their second turnover and scored six points of their own as they dropped Huff for a four yard loss and caused him to fumble. Smethers was in the right place at the at the right time as he picked up the loose football and ran the remaining 29 yards to give Wellsboro a 28-7 lead with 6:08 left in the third quarter.
The Wellsboro defense would cause another Huff fumble after Towanda moved the ball to the Wellsboro 35-yard line. Wellsboro could not get anything going on offense as Pietropola was sacked on the first play from scrimmage and the Black Knight line kept Dean and Senior Running Back Levi Mack in check. The Hornets did get to the Towanda 37-yard line with the help of a pass interference call, but came up short on fourth down to give the ball to Towanda.
Towanda would score on the following drive as Huff and Yates were able to find running lanes in the Wellsboro defense. Huff's one yard run and kick by Tyler Basse brought the score to 28-14 Wellsboro with 7:34 remaining in the game.
Wellsboro recovered Towanda's onside kick attempt and took over at their own 44-yard line. Dean broke free for 11 yards on the drive's opening play, but a bad snap dropped Pietropola for an 18 yard loss that would kill the drive and force the Hornets to punt the ball back to Towanda.
Towanda's following drive was all Huff as he ran three times and threw one pass, but Cooper would intercept Huff's pass to end the scoring threat. The Hornets took over on their own five-yard line after an unsportsmanlike penalty backed them up half the distance to the goal and would punt the ball back to Towanda after the drive stalled out.
On the first play on Towanda's next drive, Huff was intercepted again by Cooper to stop the threat. On the Hornets' first play on the new drive a Dean fumble gave the ball back to the Black Knights on the Hornets 24-yard line.
Towanda would score on a three yard run by Yates to bring the score to 28-21 Wellsboro with just 47 seconds remaining, but the Hornets got the ball back after Towanda's onside kick attempt failed to go the necessary 10 yards to give the Hornets the NTL Division 1 victory.
"We did well in the first quarter and first half and put a lot of points on the board but we let them right back in it at the end due to our own mistakes," second year head coach Matt Hildebrand said after the game. "We have to cut that stuff out. They're things that we can avoid and we really hurt ourselves in the second half. Towanda's a very good team and they played really well. They fought right down to the very end and we kind of snuck away with one because we let them back in it."
Hildebrand was pleased that the squad was able to bounce back after last week's loss to Wyalusing.
"We tell the kids that what happens between Monday and Thursday will happen on Friday night. If you don't want to feel like you did last week coming off a loss than you have to put more effort and focus into the week. We had our best week of practice this season and we have to repeat that this coming week."
Pietropola was 11-for-21 for 154 yards with a touchdown and an interception passing on the night and was also the leading rusher with 71 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Dean rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries and Mack had 26 yards on eight attempts. Smethers had his second 100-yard receiving game of the year as he caught six passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Senior Nick Marple led the team with 10 tackles. Cooper pitched in with nine tackles and two interceptions, Junior Linebacker Nick Tremper had seven tackles and a forced fumble, and Senior Trystan Wheatley had eight tackles. Smethers, Senior Ben Davis, Sophomore Kaleb Smith, and Junior Owen Covert each recorded sacks and Cooper, Smethers, and Mack all recovered fumbles.
Huff rushed for 122 yards on 26 carries and was 7-for-14 for 114 yards and a touchdown but also turned the ball over four total times for the Black Knights.
"I was very impressed with our defense and we had a lot of young guys in their tonight," concluded Hildebrand. "We started rotating more of our guys around to give some of our two-way players some breaks and we were able to do that with some younger guys and they stepped up and did a great job."
Next up for Wellsboro is arch rival North Penn. The Hornets host the 8-1 Panthers, who beat Wyalusing 36-15, on Senior Night next Friday, October 31 for the Morton F. Jones Trophy.