BLOSSBURG - After failing to score on three straight possessions inside Hughesville territory, North Penn received just the spark it needed when Hughesville scored the game's first touchdown moments later.
Instead of growing frustrated, North Penn took another route. The Panthers played with a nasty edge from there, scoring on four straight series, scoring 32 points in a near 12-minute span and going on to route Hughesville, 32-6 Friday at Island Park. The young Panthers (3-2) dominated both sides of the ball, exacted revenge against a team that beat it last year and took a big step forward.
"They got that first touchdown and we all got mad and it lit the fire and just kept burning," said two-way starter Noah Corwin, who filled in admirably in his first start on the offensive line. "We just got mad and started pushing them back."
North Penn quarterback Bo Burleigh threw for 123 yards, two touchdowns and three 2-point conversions while also running for 79 yards. Running back Bryce Zaparzynski ran for 102 yards and a score while a bevy of wide receivers made big plays. Add in an offensive line that grew stronger while running a fast-paced offense and a stifling defense and North Penn looked like a team that might reach the postseason a year earlier than expected.
It was a big bounce back too, coming a week after an ugly loss at Towanda. The Panthers came unglued in that game but displayed their progress Friday night, playing their best after enduring some first-half adversity.
"After coming off a loss like that it's hard to believe at first. Once you start believing it's easier to finish," Burleigh said. "We were more of a team tonight and we stuck together."
"We lost it a little bit last week and didn't tonight and we could have after going down," North Penn coach Tom Dickinson said. "We worked at it all week and talked about sticking together all week and they did."
The Panthers dominated the first half but Hughesville (0-5) kept making big defensive stands and Nick Yeager's 40-yard run set up Logan Henry for a 9-yard second-quarter touchdown run that put the Spartans ahead 6-0. It was another test for the Panthers and this time they aced it.
North Penn drove 72 yards on nine plays in two minutes, taking an 8-6 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the half when Burleigh hit Luke Kelly with a 12-yard touchdown and the ensuing 2-point pass. Just like that, everything changed.
"That was a big answer right there before the half," Dickinson said. "It put their heads down a little bit and picked ours up."
Hughesville appeared to force a three-and-out on North Penn's initial second-half possession but an offsides penalty on the punt attempt brought up a fourth-and-2 at the Panther 46. Dickinson gambled and it paid huge dividends as Zaparzynski ran up the middle for seven yards. Seven plays later Burleigh found Brady Andrews for a four-yard touchdown and North Penn dominated from there.
The Panthers scored 24 third-quarter points, throwing and running at will, and converted fourth downs on all three third-quarter scoring drives.
Levi Christman scored the third North Penn touchdown then set up Zaparzynski's 11-yard fourth-down touchdown run moments later after returning a fumble 40 yards to the 20-yard line. North Penn extended its lead to 32-6 and it's no-huddle offense that ran 77 plays continued wearing on tired Hughesville.
"We really have some good receivers," said Burleigh, who missed the last seven games a year ago with a dislocated knee cap. "We were switching guys almost every drive. It's nice being able to rely on different guys."
As the offense opened up, the defense constricted. A year ago, Hughesville ran wild against North Penn, running 71 times in a 21-14 win. Take away Yeager's 40-yard run and North Penn held the Spartans to fewer than three yards per carry last night while forcing six punts. North Penn made good reads, stayed disciplined and hit hard. Ryan Turner was dominant up front and made a big first-quarter fourth-down stop while Corwin and Bradley Pequignot combined for 16 tackles.
"We did not want them to keep running the same thing did last year. They ran it down our throats and we were not going to let that happen again," Corwin said. "We weakened them down which helped us come closer as a team."
Alex Welch played a good game for Hughesville, making 10 tackles, while Yeager ran for 75 yards.