By: Ed Weaver | NTL Sports | October 27, 2018 | Photo courtesy Dr. Robert Bair
For the first time since 2011 the North Penn-Mansfield Panthers beat Wellsboro to regain control of the Morton F. Jones Trophy.
"Wellsboro played hard," Panther head coach Tom Dickinson said following the win. "They gave us a battle until the end and we were fortunate enough to come out on top. They're a good football team. Two weeks in a row now we've had to play until the end and I'm proud of the kids."
"We didn't deserve to win the game tonight and they did," Wellsboro head coach Matt Hildebrand said. "They were better than us. A lot of penalties again and it hurt us."
As Coach Hildebrand eluded to penalties and turnovers hurt the Hornets. Similar to their loss to Canton two weeks ago, the Hornets turned the ball over three times, all interceptions, and all in North Penn territory. After holding the Panthers to a three-and-out on their opening drive Wellsboro took over at their own 47. Junior Aidan Hauser picked up a gain of 16 down to the Panther 37-yard line but went backwards from there. Back-to-back loss of yards forced the Hornets into a 3rd-and-17. Freshman Isaac Keane completed the pass to junior Silas Wagaman for 11 yards down to the Panther 33, but then threw an interception to end Wellsboro's first drive.
From their own 13 the Panthers took over and moved into Wellsboro territory as Mikah Kolb busted off a 40-yard run down to the Wellsboro 45. North Penn kept the ball on the ground for the rest of the drive. Garrett David moved the ball down to the 26 on an 11-yard run, Brent Burleigh picked up a gain of 14 down to the Wellsboro 9 then David finished the drive from 5 yards out for a 7-0 lead with 3:46 left in the opening frame.
Wellsboro's next two drives both ended in punts after moving into Panther territory. After the second Hornet punt the Panthers' offense started moving down the field. Aided by big pass plays from Burleigh to Justin Shedd and Dylan Meyer, and a 34-yard run by Kolb down to the 11, the Panthers smelled blood. Wellsboro, however, took advantage of a mistake as sophomore Alex Moore intercepted Burleigh and returned the ball 92 yards the opposite direction for a Hornet touchdown with 3:28 to tie the game at 7-7.
The score didn't remain tied for long as the Panthers took advantage of a defensive miscue by Wellsboro. After a 32-yard pass from Burleigh to Meyer put North Penn at their own 48, Burleigh executed a perfect zone-read to Kolb to fake out the Hornet defense. As he scampered his way into Wellsboro territory he eluded a handful of Hornet defenders on his way to a 52-yard score. After Kevin Alexander's extra point the Panthers led 14-7 with 3:08 remaining in the half.
Neither team scored the rest of the way due to another Hornet turnover. After taking over at their own 31, Keane connected with senior Tanner Button for a gain of 21. After two runs by Hauser for 20 yards Wellsboro was down to the North Penn 19, but were hit with two false starts to push them back to 4th-and-10 at the Panther 27. On 4th down Keane threw his 2nd interception of the night and North Penn ran out the first half clock.
All season long the Hornets have been known as a second half team, and that looked to be true again Friday. After both teams traded two sets of drives to start the second half, Wellsboro's offense finally took advantage of good field position late in the third quarter. From the North Penn 31, the Hornets turned back to Hauser to move to the Panther 17. An 11-yard pass from Keane to Button moved the ball down to the Panther 6, then Hauser finished the drive from there to tie the game back up at 14-all with 20 seconds left.
Wellsboro's defense stopped the Panthers on their next possession, but again the offense stumbled. After a 46-yard run by Hauser moved the ball down to the North Penn 32, Wellsboro had three straight plays with negative yardage that pushed them back to the 34 and forced them to punt. North Penn took over but were forced to punt back to Wellsboro after three plays. The Hornets took over at the Panther 48, but again the Panther defense came up with another interception of Keane.
This time the Panthers made the Hornets pay for their turnover. As they turned to Kolb, the senior broke off a run of 21 into Wellsboro territory then scored the game's final touchdown on a 26-yard run with 3:59 remaining in the game. After both team's ensuing drives ended in punts Wellsboro had one final shot to try and come up with a spark on a punt but fumbled the ball back to North Penn, allowing them to run out the clock at midfield.
Burleigh finished the night 12-of-19 through the air for 114 yards. Meyer caught 5 of those passes for 70 yards and Shedd had 4 catches for 36 yards. Kolb led the Panthers' ground game with 159 yards on 21 carries. Burleigh finished with 65 yards rushing on 7 attempts and David had 20 yards on 9 carries.
Keane finished 7-for-17 for 51 yards through the air with Button catching 2 passes for 32 yards and Hauser catching 3 passes for 2 yards. Hauser led all runners with 166 yards on 28 carries. Hauser is now the Hornets' 2nd single-season rusher with 1,578 yards, moving him past Jason Kennedy (1,446).
The win secured the outright NTL Large School Division championship for North Penn-Mansfield as they finished the regular season 8-2 (7-0 Large School Division). Wellsboro concluded the regular season with an 8-2 record and 6-2 league record. The win also catapulted North Penn past Wellsboro in the District IV Class AA standings. North Penn-Mansfield is now the third seed and Wellsboro the 4 seed.
Both teams will be back in action next week at home in the first round of District IV playoffs. North Penn-Mansfield will host Bloomsburg and Wellsboro will host Troy in rematches of earlier season games. Official playoff brackets will be available on Sunday afternoon.