Rise as One: Hornets top North Penn 33-12 for District IV crown
By: Ed Weaver | WellsboroFootball.com | November 21, 2015
For the first time in school history the Wellsboro Varsity Football team won the District IV Class A Championship.
Five years ago the Hornets were coming off of back-to-back 1-9 seasons. Now, they are champions after defeating rival North Penn 33-12 for the Class A title on Friday, November 20 at Mansfield University's Karl Van Norman Field. At the time, head coach Matt Hildebrand was the Middle School head coach then moved to the Varsity staff the year after as their offensive coordinator. Hildebrand became head coach in 2013, had the program's first ever true undefeated season, and has now won 28 career games, which ties him for third all time with Chris Morral.
"Tonight's win is the payoff of three years of hard work," said Hildebrand. "If you weren't willing to put in the time you weren't going to be a part of it. If we had 11 guys that's what we were going to play with. We've had multiple kids buy into the program and it trickled down from the seniors to the freshman and success builds success. It definitely starts with the standard you set and hard work."
North Penn opened the game with the ball, and immediately went to the air against the Wellsboro defense. Panther quarterback Brock Burleigh completed five passes to get North Penn inside the Hornets red zone and capped the drive with an 18 yard pass to Brendan Hill for the touchdown. Burleigh's two-point conversion pass failed and North Penn held an early 6-0 lead with 10:03 left in the first quarter.
Much like last week's game with Muncy, the Hornets had trouble offensively starting out. Their first drive went three-and-out and their second drive ended on a fumble, but after forcing North Penn to a three-and-out and a punt, the Hornets had great starting field position on the Panthers' 40-yard line after a 12 yard return by sophomore Alex Kozuhowski. Sophomore Chase Moser ran back-to-back times, then sophomore quarterback Quinn Henry and senior Nick Tremper took over and got the Hornets down to the North Penn 1-yard line. Henry lined up under center and snuck his way over the goal line to tie the game at 6-6 with just 44 seconds remaining in the opening quarter after a bad snap on the extra point.
North Penn continued to move the ball well through the air in the second quarter, but the area's number 1 defense in Class A kept the Panthers out of the end zone on their three drives. The Hornets forced two three-and-outs and Junior Brandon Lamphier ended the Panthers' last drive near the end of the second quarter on an interception inside the red zone to keep the score tied at 6-6.
Wellsboro got the ball to start the second half, but their first drive ended with a Collin Pietropola punt. North Penn started their first possession at their own 45-yard line, but the drive quickly ended after two plays. Burleigh hit Garrett Bickhart on a short pass, then Moser made the play of the year as he stripped the ball out of Bickhart's hands and raced 45 yards to put the Hornets up 14-6 with 10:09 remaining in the third quarter after Tremper ran in the two-point conversion.
The Hornets kept the pressure on defensively and intercepted Burleigh a second time inside the Hornets' 10-yard line. Wellsboro again had trouble getting going on offense as they were flagged and moved back to their own 4-yard line and fumbled the ball the very next play, but the defense came away with another turnover as they forced Burleigh to fumble as he tried reaching the ball across the goal line.
The turnover helped the Hornets, but also hurt them as they were at their own 1-yard line. Another three-and-out forced Wellsboro to punt the ball back to the Panthers. Starting at Wellsboro's 49-yard line, Burleigh scampered 13 yards for a first down and found Bickhart for 11 yards on the second play, but the Hornets came away with another interception to end the Panthers' scoring threat.
Wellsboro again started inside their own 10-yard line, and again couldn't move the football and were forced to punt. This time the Panthers put together an eight play drive. A 17 yard pass to Brad Pequignot got the ball down to Wellsboro's 12-yard line, then Pequignot finished the drive three plays later on a three-yard plunge with 20 seconds remaining in the third. The two-point conversion was no good, and Wellsboro held a 14-12 lead as the fourth quarter started.
The Hornets finally put together some offense as Henry found Lamphier twice for 28 yards mixed in with Henry runs. Henry capped the drive one play after Lamphier's second catch as he went untouched for 10 yard through the heart of the Panther defense to push the score to 21-12 after sophomore Nic Ingerick's extra point with 10:59 remaining.
After a Pequignot on the Panthers' first play from scrimmage on their next drive, both teams traded drives. Both teams picked up one first down on their drives, but were forced to punt immediately after that. On North Penn's punt, Kozuhowski juked his way for a 37 yard return to the Panthers' 20-yard line. After Trempers' run on first down went for 0 yards and Henry was dropped for an 8 yard loss, Henry found Lamphier for 19 yards on third-and-18 to give the Hornets a first down at the 11-yard line. Two plays later, Henry scored his third touchdown of the game from three yards out to make the score 27-12 with 5:04 left in the game.
North Penn's next drive ended two plays in as the Hornets intercepted Burleigh for the fourth time in Panther territory. Tremper and Henry split carries and on third-and-one, Tremper broke loose on a tackle and rumbled 34 yards down to the two-yard line. Three plays later, and with 39 seconds left on the clock, Tremper punched the ball in from three yards out to ice the game at 33-12.
Henry finished the game 7-for-16 passing for 101 yards and rushed 23 times for 123 yards. Henry now has 999 yards on the season, one yard shy of becoming Wellsboro's first 1,000 yard passer and 1,000 yard rusher. Tremper carried 12 times for 51 yards, Moser had 17 yards on 8 carriers, and Kozuhowski had 5 yards on two attempts. Lamphier led the receiving corps. with three catches for 47 yards, Tremper caught two passes for 39 yards, and Henry (5 yards), junior Parker Jones (10 yards), and sophomore Parker Mann (5 yards) also added catches.
Defensively, Tremper recorded 16 tackles and tied Kurt Benjamin's 1989 single-season Wellsboro record for tackles with 146. Pietropola recorded 11 tackles and recovered a fumble and Jones made 9 tackles. Lamphier, Kozuhowski, Moser, and sophomore Johnny Rowland all had interceptions on the night.
"There's no better feeling in the world right now," said Henry after the game. "Our defense is awesome and our offense put up points when we need them. We had our sights set on a district championship from the first day of camp and it made tonight's win even more special because everyone doubted us."
The Hornets will now take on Old Forge in the first round of PIAA State playoffs on Friday, November 27 at Scranton Memorial Stadium at 7:00 p.m.
"We're pumped," Henry finished. "We're excited to show teams that don't know who we are what we're all about."
"I owe everything to the kids," Hildebrand continued. "They are so coachable and our motto from the beginning of the year was 'Rise as One'. We knew we weren't going to do it as a single guy and you saw that out there tonight. It wasn't one guy making plays but instead was multiple guys stepping up and making plays that had to be made. We won together, the guys have gelled as a family and I'm super proud of them and we want to continue this journey."
With the win the Hornets improve to 10-2 on the year, and tied the 2013 team for the most single-season wins in team history.