Panthers Claim First Playoff Victory!
The Wellsboro Varsity Football team’s season came to an end as they fell 36-26 to North Penn in the first round of District IV Class A playoffs on Friday, November 7.
Unlike last week, Wellsboro didn’t have the magic to rebound after North Penn’s scores and were in catch up mode all night. Turnovers did the Hornets in on the night as Senior Quarterback Michael Pietropola had four passes intercepted, his highest in a game during his career.
“When you turn the ball over as much as we did tonight it doesn’t sit well,” said head coach Matt Hildebrand. “Last week we turned the ball over too but were fortunate enough to get a few bounces our way but that didn’t happen this week.
“It’s not all on the guys,” Hildebrand went on to say. “There were some situations that I maybe put us in that we shouldn’t have been in. Maybe I should have punted a couple of times early on in the first half. You second guess yourself now but they (North Penn) are a good football team and I think we are pretty evenly matched and were to come out and do it again there is a shot that we come out on top again so it’s a tough one right now.”
The Hornet defense held the Panthers to a three-and-out on their opening drive and got the ball on the 35-yard line to start. The Hornets marched right down the field as Pietropola, Senior Jarret Dean, and Junior Nick Tremper got the team down to the North Penn 23-yard line before Pietropola’s first pass was intercepted in the end zone for a touchback.
North Penn couldn’t get anything going and both teams traded drives until the Panthers finally flipped the field position in the punting game after downing the Hornets at their own one-yard line. North Penn stopped the Hornets and regained possession at the Wellsboro 37-yard line. Two plays later, Bo Burleigh connected with Luke Kelly for a 25 yard pass to put the Panthers up 6-0 with 2:13 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Hornets’ next drive stalled and they were forced to punt the ball back to North Penn, but the Panthers were unable to gain the required yardage after crossing into Hornet territory. The Hornets got the ball back on their own 15-yard line and on the next play Pietropola threw a dart to Senior Kieron Smethers who accelerated past the Panther defense for an 85 yard touchdown. Senior Jack Chambers connected on the extra point to give Wellsboro a 7-6 lead, their only one of the game with 8:57 remaining in the first half.
Both teams traded drives before the Panthers put an 11 play drive together to retake the lead. North Penn’s Levi Christman put North Penn back in front 12-7 on a nine yard run up the middle with 2:03 left. They would pad that lead as Burleigh called his own number from eight yards out to make it an 18-7 lead at halftime.
The Hornets would receive the second half kick but were unable to get any offense going and punted the ball back to North Penn. The Hornet defense would get the ball back just a few plays later as Senior Nick Marple stepped in front of a Burleigh pass. All was for naught as the Hornets would turn the ball right back over two plays later. Bryce Zaparzynski intercepted a Pietropola pass that grazed off a Hornet receiver’s hands and took it 45 yards to the house to give North Penn a 24-7 lead with 9:22 showing on the clock in the third quarter.
Both teams traded drives again following the North Penn touchdown. After stopping the Panthers, Wellsboro got the ball back at their own 30-yard line. After a seven yard run by Pietropola, the signal caller hit Marple on a nice over-the-shoulder catch for a gain of 57 yards to get the Hornets into the red zone at the Panthers’ 16-yard line. After a three yard pass to Marple, Pietropola’s next pass was intercepted in the end zone to give North Penn back the ball.
The Panthers would then travel the 80 yards and would score with 16 seconds remaning in the third quarter as Burleigh hit Christman on a 17 yard pass to put the Panthers up 30-7.
Wellsboro would answer back after the Panther score. Pietropola hit Smethers on back-to-back passes before a six yard run. On the next play Pietropola hit Marple for 45 yards to make the score 30-13 after Chambers’ extra point was blocked with 11:17 remaining in the game.
North Penn would score their last touchdown on the next drive as Zaparzynski found the end zone from seven yards out with 9:25 remaining to go up 36-13.
Wellsboro’s following drive was stopped again on an interception, but the Wellsboro defense stepped up and forced the Panthers to punt. The Hornets went to work through the air as Pietropola hit Senior Nick Levindoski twice, Junior Anthony Cooper twice, and Smethers once to get the Hornets to the Panthers’ 14-yard line. Pietropola and Dean carried the ball to get to the eight-yard line and Pietropola hit Marple for five yards before calling his own number from three yards out with 3:27 left in the game. Chambers hit the extra point this time to bring the score to 36-20.
After stopping North Penn on their ensuing drive the Hornets would get the ball back for the final time. Pietropola again took to the air and hit Senior Dylan Widows for 13 yards and back-to-back passes to Levindoski and Marple to get to the North Penn four-yard line. Pietropola threw his third touchdown pass on the next play as he found Marple in the end zone with nine seconds remaining. Chambers’ kick split the uprights bringing the final score to 36-26 in favor of the Panthers.
Pietropola finished the game with 388 yards passing as he went 26-for-42 on the night. Pietropola’s three touchdown passes gave him 23 for the season and 68 for his career, a new Wellsboro Varsity Football Record* and District IV record. He also ends the season with 2,162 yards becomming the only quarterback in Wellsboro history to throw for over 2,000 yards in multiple seasons. His final career yardage stands at 6,150.
“Michael is a great kid and great athlete but a better person,” Hildebrand said of his quarterback. “He has a great work ethic and that’s what has gotten him to the point where he is today. He deserves all the recognition and everything that he gets. It didn’t happen overnight, there was a lot of hours and hard work put in during the off-season and the weight room and has set a new precedent for quarterbacks at Wellsboro and in District IV and I hope his has bigger things to come.”
Pietropola also was the leading rusher on the night as he gained 50 yards on 14 carries. Mack carried the ball six times for two yards, giving him 861 on the year. Marple was the leading receiver as he caught nine passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Smethers caught six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, Levindoski caught six passes for 77 yards, and Cooper hauled in two passes for 38 yards.
Marple ends the season with 931 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the team, while Smethers finished with 712 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Tremper led the team with 10 tackles, giving him 105 for the season. Pietropola and Senior Trystan Wheatley each added nine on the night, and Seniors Michael Brostrom and Ben Davis each had seven.
The Hornets end the 2014 season with a record of 8-3 (3-2 NTL Division 1), while North Penn will face South Williamsport for the District IV Class A championship next week.
Wellsboro has enjoyed their first back-to-back winning seasons since the team finished 9-2 and 6-3 in 1995 and 1996 under former head coach Russ Manney. Hildebrand credits his seniors for this accomplishment and for turning the program around from a one or two win team every year.
“This group are a great bunch of kids. I was able to coach them back in Middle School and I knew we had something special then,” Hildebrand said. “I hope I was able to get the full potential out of each kid, but they really set the standard for this program and got us the respect level that it is now and put us on the map. These guys had a great journey. They’re the reason we went to Indianapolis this summer, the reason why we went 10-0 in the regular season last year, and the reason why we won eight games this year.
“It’s a new standard for the program because we were satisfied with a 5-5 season and now we’re upset that we finished 8-3 but that’s a good thing because it sets the standard for younger guys to come and this group has done a great job of setting the bar high for the program. This group will be very successful in anything they do in life because they have high standards and expect so much from themselves and everybody around them,” Hildebrand concluded.
– A HUGE thank you to Remote Intelligence for providing the aerial shots from tonight’s game (and for all aerial footage provided this season.)
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