BLOOMSBURG - It would have been a relatively monumental feat for Anthony Barberio to hang on to the football when he was hit from the blind side in the second quarter Friday night.
The Muncy quarterback never saw Bloomsburg freshman defensive end Hunter Thomas coming, and his backfield protectors both went to the right to block instead of one providing help to the left. The truth is, Barberio didn't stand a chance.
And when he fumbled on that second-quarter play in a two-score game, the worst possible scenario unfolded as Bloomsburg speedster Jeveal Hemphill picked up the ball with nothing but the dusty dirt and dead grass of Panther Stadium in front of him. Hemphill's 70-yard fumble return for touchdown in the second quarter was a back-breaking score as the Panthers picked up a much-needed 27-8 win over one of the teams its fighting for a District 4 Class A playoff spot.
"The wheels, if they weren't loosened up, one came off there," Muncy head coach Jay Drumheller said. "When the Hemphill kid picks the ball up, he's gone. He's fast."
Hemphill and Thomas are both freshmen defensive ends who are creating havoc on Bloomsburg's defensive line with their speed and athleticism. The two had combined for eight sacks entering Friday night's game, but it was that one in the second quarter with Bloomsburg leading 14-0 and Muncy in the red zone which may have been the best of the year.
Hemphill and Thomas collapsed the pocket around Barberio, but when both running backs moved to the right to help block Hemphill, it left Thomas with a clean into the small of Barberio's back. Hemphill, who ran an 11-second 100-meter dash during the summer, was up to full speed in five yards and pulling away from pursuing Muncy players until he scored his second defensive touchdown and fifth overall touchdown of the year.
"It was the back-breaker," Bloomsburg head coach Mike Kogut said. "When you get a momentum-changing play like that on defense, it's big. Those two don't play like freshmen. They're very mature for their age and fierce competitors."
To that point Muncy's offense had been moving the football for much of the first half. The Indians recorded five first downs in the first quarter and was facing its best scoring opportunity after a 20-yard punt return and a 15-yard horse-collar tackle penalty set Muncy up at the Bloomsburg 20.
But the running game which had worked so well in the first half for the Indians (46 yards on 10 carries for tailback Dakota Nixon) began to struggle in the second half. Bloomsburg's on-the-fly adjustment found a way to plug the gaps between the tackles which Muncy was taking advantage of with its bigger offensive line.
Muncy couldn't get to the perimeter with its run game because of the speed of Bloomsburg's defense, and the Panthers' secondary wasn't leaving many openings for Barberio to deliver passes. What was a promising first quarter for Muncy quickly began to look quite bleak in the second quarter.
"We talked about their speed, but until you actually see it and get out there, you don't get a real feel for it," Drumheller said. "It's hard to give that look during the week."
"Early on I think they has us a little bit defensively," Kogut said. "But after that we really swarmed to the ball. Up front we did what we needed to do and our front eight defensively really did the job."
Bloomsburg utilized its speed offensively too, throwing bubble screens early to get their playmakers in open space. Zach Ashford took the Panthers' first play from scrimmage 50 yards on a bubble screen to set up the night's first touchdown, a bruising 1-yard run from Sam Miller.
The Panthers then made six first downs in nine plays on its next drive with 49 of its 73 yards coming on running plays, including runs of 13 yards from Evan Ball, and 11 and 14 yards from quarterback Ricky Klingerman. Klingerman capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Colby Klingerman, the first of two times the cousins connected for a touchdown, to give Bloomsburg a 14-0 lead.
Bloomsburg, averaging 176 rushing yards as a team coming into the game, had 149 yards on 16 rushes in the first half.
"We want to become balanced so people can't just sit with two safeties deep all the time, which I think happened a lot last year," Kogut said. "We have capable running backs and a capable line. I like to run the ball, and if you can establish that, it opens up play-action and some of our big plays were on play-action."
Klingerman, a 2,500-yard passer a year ago, was efficient Friday night, completing 11 of 16 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. His other scoring pass came on a brilliant diving catch on a fourth-down throw in the third quarter to Colby Klingerman.
Muncy didn't get on the board until there was 1 minute left in the game when a 50-yard pass from Eli Warnick to Kenny Koch set up a 5-yard scoring pass from Warnick to Maurice Brown. Warnick was 6 for 8 for 100 yards in his limited time in the second half last night.
The Indians lost their second game in a row after starting 4-0. Bloomsburg and Muncy will likely be separated by no more than about 30 points for the fourth and final District 4 Class A playoff spot after last night's game.
"This is a little bit disheartening. I thought this was a year we matched up with them pretty well and I thought we could come down here and do some things," Drumheller said. "I knew they were really fast, but I thought we matched up OK. But we have to regroup because we only have four weeks left."