CANTON - Brandon Carlson read the play perfectly and hit Noah Barnett behind the line of scrimmage after the freshman caught a screen pass. Barnett, though, slipped away and surged forward.
Seconds later the ball came loose and Carlson immediately scooped it up. He then sprinted 74 yards for a touchdown that gave North Penn a 26-point second-quarter lead. The touchdown was nice, but what Carlson displayed on that play means even more. The Panthers are one of the area's youngest teams, but they are learning fast. They are doing the little things that make big differences and suddenly their season looks like it could be headed in a new promising direction.
Quarterback Taylor Hillson ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns, while throwing for another. Bryce Zaparzynski and Carlson returned turnovers for touchdowns and North Penn romped to a 39-14 win Saturday at Miller A. Moyer Stadium. The Panthers (1-2) played quality teams tough in their first two games and now have what could be a breakthrough win.
"That's just effort on the Brandon Carlson play. A lot of kids would have stayed down on the ground and put their head down after missing the tackle, but he got up and made a heck of a play," North Penn coach Tom Dickinson said. "He's one of the ones who is truly starting to believe in our system and trust in everybody. We have so many things that our kids need to be disciplined at. The more they become that way the better we're going to be."
If North Penn builds off what it did yesterday it could be mighty good.
The Panthers, who lost most of their starters from last year's Class AA Eastern Conference champion, played well in all facets, scoring on three of their first four possessions and forcing four turnovers, all which ended Canton scoring threats. Zaparzynski caught a touchdown pass and also returned an interception 69 yards late in the first half, putting North Pen up, 32-7.
Hillson played one of the best games of his scholastic career and accounted for four touchdowns and 230 of North Penn's 280 yards. He had nearly 100 yards midway through the first quarter, scoring on 4 and 5-yard runs. He then hit Zaparzynski with a perfectly placed pass that resulted in a 23-yard touchdown and made it 20-0 late in the first quarter.
Taking snaps from the Wildcat formation, Hillson ran wild behind a dominant offensive line. Andrew Craig, Nathan Kriner, Zack Andrews, Isaiah Compton and Chris Makley blew defenders off the ball throughout the first half and Hillson often was 10 yards upfield before any contact was made.
"Our offensive line is one of the best in the league," Hillson said. "They were making some pretty good holes for me to run through."
"Early in the game they couldn't handle our offensive line. We were absolutely dominating them," Zaparzynski said. "Later in the game it slowed down a little bit, but we'll work on that."
Canton, enduring only its second three-game losing streak in the past eight seasons, dressed only 22 players Saturday and suffered another blow when two-way starting lineman Wes Campbell was injured in the first quarter. The Warriors are down to two of their original starting offensive linemen, but still moved the ball well at times over the three quarters and pulled within 26-7 on Wes Moore's 2-yard second-quarter touchdown.
The Warriors then forced a three-and-out and had a short field to work with, threatening to make it a two-score game at halftime. As quickly as that opportunity came, Zaparzynski ended it. The sophomore cornerback read a pass perfectly, stepped in front of the receiver and went 69 yards the other way.
"I saw both the receivers come out and I stayed behind them both. I broke up on the ball and I was gone. Nobody was around," said Zapar-zynski, who ended an earlier Canton scoring chance with an interception at the 12-yard line. "I was just thinking I hope nobody is behind me that is going to catch me. I have to get to the end zone pretty quick."
Under pressure, John Bowman found Chase Pepper for a 21-yard third-quarter touchdown that pulled Canton within 32-14. Pepper made a tremendous leaping catch in the back of the end zone and when Tim Bassett caught a 51-yard pass on the next Canton series, the Warriors appeared ready to make it a game. Zaparzynski saved a touchdown on that play and on the next one, Hillson recovered a fumble at the 11-yard line.
Hillson officially put the game away 5 minutes later, rolling right, cutting back to his left and going 59 yards for his third touchdown. After having a non-existent running game the first two weeks, North Penn ran for 240 yards.
"It was originally a play-action, but coach D said if you have it, run it and I ran it down the sideline and took it all the way," Hillson said. "We just had to keep our heads down and keep competing hard."
Carlson was a beast, making 12 tackles, including eight in the first half while also scoring his first varsity touchdown. Bo Burleigh added eight tackles while Tim Bassett and Garrett Wesneski combined for 16 tackles and a sack.
Canton nearly had as many yards as North Penn, but the Panther defense consistently made the big plays when it mattered most. That alone shows that this young team already has come a long way. And that could pave the way for bigger things to come.
"A lot of these kids were role players before and now they have to step up," Dickinson said. "It's been taking some time for them to grow into that leadership role and today I think we made some good strides with it."