BLOSSBURG - Matt Hildebrand's green Wellsboro football jacket is waterproof. His pants, not so much.
It was one of the two important lessons the Green Hornets' head coach learned Friday night after his Wellsboro team capped its first-ever perfect regular season with a 42-6 win against North Penn. The other important lesson will come in handy next week when Wellsboro plays in the District 4 playoffs for the first time since participating in the Class AA tournament in 2008. It turns out a Wellsboro offense which has thrown for 2,500 yards already this year can run the ball a little bit, too.
Jermain Brooks ran for a season high 223 yards and four touchdowns, and Wellsboro ran for 292 yards as a team as it sewed it up No. 2 seed for the District 4 Class A playoffs, and the NTL Big School championship. The Green Hornets host South Williamsport at Mansfield University in next week's semifinal round.
The loss for North Penn, combined with wins by Towanda and Mifflinburg, knocked the Panthers out of the District 4 Class AA field. North Penn could still secure a bid to the Eastern Conference playoffs, a tournament it won back in 2011.
"There was a lot of things we had on the line, so we told the kids just take care of the little things," said Hildebrand, Wellsboro's first-year head coach. "Don't turn the ball over and just do the things we've been doing all year to get us to this point. I think we did that. Getting a win takes care of that NTL title, a win over our rival and getting us to 10-0."
Wellsboro seemed a little out of sorts to start the game as its defense tried to adjust to keeping up with North Penn's break-neck offensive tempo. And the passing game which had guided Wellsboro to its first nine wins of the season struggled to find continuity as Mike Pietropola didn't complete a pass of more than 8 yards in the first quarter.
The Hornets settled in with a 13-play drive which bridged the first and second quarters and ended with the first of Brooks' four touchdown runs. Ten of the 13 plays on the drive were running plays, and five of those plays went for at least 5 yards. Brooks' 4-yard touchdown run on the final play of the drive gave Wellsboro a 7-6 lead it never relinquished.
For the rest of the first half, the Hornets gashed North Penn (6-4) on the ground with sweeps left and right. And in turn it opened up some options in the passing game. Pietropola (19 of 33, 231 yards) completed passes of 11, 22, 20, 11 and 18 in the second quarter. And the passing game was even more deadly in the second half as the junior quarterback completed 8 of 12 passes in the half.
"I think there were nerves with everything that was on the line," Hildebrand said of the early offensive struggles. "We don't play well when we're tight as a team. I wasn't seeing the smiles on the sideline I saw throughout the year. When we play loose, we play a lot better and we got it going the whole second half."
Brooks, who had three 100-yard games prior to Friday night, had 100 yards by the half, and a pair of touchdowns. He only built on that in the third quarter with a 27-yard run and an 8-yard touchdown run which gave Wellsboro a 35-6 lead.
He did it running patiently on the sweeps, letting his offensive linemen occupy defenders and letting fullback Wyatt Covert seal the corner so Brooks could break up the sideline. His 223 rushing yards were a career high, besting the 191 he rushed for against North Penn a year ago.
"We just had to let everybody know that even though we can pass, we're still a threat to run the ball," Brooks said. "I just let my blocks set up and then I can burst out. Without the offensive line and my fullback, none of this happens."
It wasn't as though Wellsboro completely abandoned the pass game because of Brooks' big night. Pietropola's 231 yards put him at 2,508 for the season. His two touchdown passes gave him 37.
Pietropola's 18-yard touchdown pass with 2 seconds left in the first half may have been the most important of Wellsboro's scores. The Green Hornets defense had stopped North Penn on a fourth-and-2 at its own 48-yard line with 1:49 to go in the half and Pietropola led Wellsboro on an eight-play scoring drive, capped with Dylan Prough's touchdown catch, to give the Green Hornets a 21-6 lead at halftime.
Pietropola also threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Owlett (6 catches, 105 yards) in the third quarter.
"It was big mentally to go up two scores into the half," Hildebrand said. "I think we had a little doubt creeping into our mind. To go up two scores was a big mental swing for us in the second half."