Spartans rally for big win for playoff hopes
TURBOTVILLE – There was no yelling, no anxiety. Nobody was knocking over chalk boards or throwing helmets.
Its District 4 Class AA playoff hopes slipping away and staring at a 17-point deficit Friday, Hughesville remained calm. Teaching ruled the moment, not panic.
And Hughesville ruled the second half.
Patrick Rogers, Landon Henry and Gavin Steele scored second-half touchdowns, the defense allowed no points and Hughesville rallied past Warrior Run for a thrilling 21-17 win at Defender Stadium. The Spartans (4-4) scored 14 fourth-quarter points, recovered an onside kick to set up the winning score and won their second straight while taking an important step toward earning a third straight playoff berth.
“At halftime it was calm and making adjustments,” Hughesville coach Dan Tucker said. “It wasn’t screaming and yelling. It was, ‘this is what we can do, let’s change a couple little things and we’ll be fine.'”
“We knew we had to come back. We knew what we needed to fix so we made the changes and took over,” linebacker Dale Shrawder, who made a team-high 10 tackles said. “That’s what it came to in the second half. It clicked in everyone’s head that we just had to win this game.”
Hughesville continued excelling in pressure situations. The Spartans overcame a second-half deficit for a third time and this was their most impressive comeback against a vastly improved Defender team also fighting for its playoff lives. Steele’s 1-yard touchdown run with 5:22 remaining gave Hughesville its first lead, the defense then forced a four-and-out before Henry clinched the win with a gutty 5-yard run on 3rd-and-4.
Henry dominated the second half, throwing for 161 yards and two touchdowns while running for a game-high 111 yards.
“We went in at halftime and told the guys we’re good enough to go and turn this game around. We have to play resilient defense and not let them score and the offense will come,” Henry said. “At halftime we said we’ve been in this position multiple times. We had confidence we’d be able to go out and do it.”
Henry ignited the comeback when he ended Warrior Run’s opening third-quarter drive by making an interception at the 10-yard line. Four plays later, Rogers made an excellent catch, spun away from the defender and went 52 yards for Hughesville’s first touchdown. It was a huge 14-point swing and the Spartans had just the spark they needed.
Another long touchdown pass, this one early in the fourth quarter, made it a 3-point game. This time, Henry threw down the middle of the field and found Jase Wright at the 30-yard line. Wright bounced off the defender looking to make a big hit and outran the rest of the defense, completing the pretty 53-yard touchdown play. Hughesville rolled the dice and kept the pressure on seconds later as Brody Heller dropped a beautiful onside kick down the right sideline that Hughesville recovered at the Defender 38-yard line.
Offensive linemen Josh Dauberman, Gage Avery, Brad Beaver, Kade Heckel and Braden Foresman helped pave the way on the ensuing nine-play play scoring drive as Hughesville mixed a key third down Brenden Gardner catch in with eight runs and kept moving forward. Dauberman made one of the game’s biggest plays, recovering a fumble at the 1-yard line and Steele scored his fifth touchdown a play later.
“We had to do it. We had to get it done,” Shrawder said. “It was a business trip, just like every other week and you can tell when the heart comes out.”
It continued pouring out after Warrior Run recovered another onside kick at midfield. Dauberman and Julian Brehm sacked Gage Anzulavich on second down and the defensive line nearly recorded another sack on fourth down, forcing a hurried incompletion.
Hughesville took over with 2:54 remaining and Henry delivered a clutch play on 3rd-and-5. The senior quarterback was hit two yards downfield but kept moving his legs and powered ahead for the first down that sealed another gutty win that might have saved Hughesville’s season.
“That’s a reflection of all the work they’ve put in,” Tucker said. “They’ve bought in for so long, some of them three years, and they know they just can’t throw that away now. They’ve worked too hard. They’re invested so much and they’re going to get everything they can out of this season that they can. They want to extend it as bad as the coaches do.”
So does Warrior Run which started 3-1 and is trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. The Defenders took over the first half, starting late in the first quarter when Anthony Delsite recovered a botched shot gun snap in the end zone. From there, Warrior Run’s passing game picked apart Hughesville. Anzulavich (150 yards) repeatedly made big throws under pressure and also caught a Kade Meyer 26-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-13, putting Warrior Run up 14-0.
The Defenders looked like they another touchdown on their next series, but a 6-yard scoring strike to Matt Gummo (7 catches, 87 yards) was wiped out by a chop block. Warrior Run settled for an Austin Soltesz 32-yard field goal and a 17-0 halftime lead.
Hughesville does not try being in these situations and facing these pressure-packed moments. But they sure know how to handle them. And they consistently are finding ways to own them.
“We’ve been working since late January and we were ready for tonight. The hard work in the offseason carries into games like these,” Henry said. “These are the games you remember.”