Williamsport drops third straight

HAZLETON – The streak is over.

Hazleton Area snapped a nine-game losing skid spanning two seasons on Friday, as the Cougars rolled over visiting Williamsport, 30-7, in a matchup of Wyoming Valley Conference Class AAAA teams.

Tailback Zach Zukoski ran for a career-high 190 yards and a touchdown, Nick George intercepted a pass to set up one of his two short touchdown runs, and backup quarterback Ryan Heller threw for 100 yards and a score as the Cougars (1-3 overall, 1-1 WVC) broke into the win column for the first time in a year. Their last victory came at Williamsport (48-25) in Week 4 last season.

Williamsport fell to 1-3 (0-1 WVC) following their third consecutive setback.

“That’s a ton of weight off a lot of people’s shoulders,” Cougars head coach Jim Drumheller said afterward. “This is our first home win in two years.

“This win definitely helped the psyche of all the players and the staff. It was just a very, very good overall team win.”

The Cougars took control of the game from the onset, taking the opening kickoff and marching 56 yards on nine running plays to score first. Zukoski burst through a huge hole on the right side on that ninth play, completing the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run at 8:32 of the first quarter. Tristan Williams toed the extra point.

After Williamsport went three-and-out on its first possession, Hazleton set up at the Millionaires’ 46 and drove inside the 10 before a fumbled pitch stalled the push. The Cougars settled for a 29-yard Williams field goal to up their lead to 10-0 with two minutes still on the first-quarter clock.

The Millionaires’ offense showed signs of life following Tajmir Williams’ 40-yard kickoff return and a 29-yard run by senior Isaac Foust (17-68). But that drive stalled at the Cougar 7-yard line, and Benjamin Hillman’s 25-yard field goal try on the first play of the second quarter sailed wide left.

Taking over at the 20-yard line, the Cougars mounted an 80-yard march to paydirt, with Heller doing most of the damage with his arm and legs. A 17-yard pass over the middle to Gavin Kopczynskie and a 13-yard screen pass to Zukoski pushed them into Williamsport territory. Heller kept the drive alive on fourth-and-5 from the 28, when his 14-yard option keeper moved the chains.

George finished things off with a one-yard dive for his first touchdown of the season, and Williams tacked on the extra point for a 17-0 Cougar cushion with 5:51 left in the half.

Williamsport wasted little time with its answer. On the ensuing kickoff, Brice Harris fielded Williams’ kick at the 12, and zig-zagged his way 88 yards for the Millionaires’ first touchdown since Week 1. Hillman added the extra point, and the Cougar lead was suddenly sliced to 10 (17-7).

Hazleton came right back, however, going 63 yards in 10 plays to reach the end zone again. Heller completions to Kopczynskie (14 yards) and Jeff Ochs (15) got the Cougars deep into Williamsport territory once more.

On fourth-and-14 from the 25, Heller connected with Ochs on a crossing pattern over the middle, and the senior wideout did the rest, racing untouched to the pylon for the 25-yard score. The PAT try failed, but the Cougar lead swelled to 23-7 at the 1:50 mark.

The Millionaires threatened moments later after a short kickoff, a 14-yard run from Rhomello Martin, and Dale Berkheimer’s 14-yard completion to Justin Hoffman. Berkheimer then threw a 26-yard completion to Tyler Gardner inside the Cougar 10-yard line, but a big hit on the senior tight end forced a fumble that Hazleton Area’s Joey Bayzick recovered at the 3 to quell the uprising.

Any thoughts of a Williamsport comeback were quieted early in the third quarter when George stepped in front of a Berkheimer pass near midfield and returned the interception 44 yards to the Millionaire 4-yard line. Two plays later, George powered his way into the end zone from two yards out for the game’s final touchdown.

Although the Millionaires ran off 30 offensive plays to the Cougars’ 23 in the second half, they got no closer than the Hazleton 25.

Williamsport’s Gene Blackwell blocked a field goal try late in the third quarter for their only second-half highlight.

Williamsport will look to end its three-game slide a week from today at Dallas.