Football preview: Hazleton at Williamsport

District 2-4 Class AAAAAA Semifinals

No. 3 Hazleton (6-4) at No. 2 Williamsport (7-3)

Hazleton PPG-24.7, YPG-33.6; PPA-16.8

Hazleton facts: The Cougars are playing some of their best football at the perfect time, winning two straight and blanking Crestwood, 35-0 last week. Hazleton has won five of seven games since a 28-23 Week 3 loss against Williamsport and its only two losses during that time are by 14 to undefeated Delaware Valley and three to Donegal. Hazleton gave Delaware Valley one of its toughest games this season and features a stingy defense that has allowed just 41 points the last four weeks. The offense is explosive and can do damage through the air or on the ground. Quarterback Sparky Wolk topped 1,000 yards as a sophomore last year and is closing in on a 2,000-yard campaign, completing 58 percent of his passes and throwing for 1,935 yards and 17 touchdowns. Wolk threw for 210 yards and four touchdowns against Williamsport as Hazleton built a 12-point halftime lead and he has topped 200 yards six times. Wolk also can run and has a team-high seven touchdowns. David Smith, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior, is his favorite target and has given Williamsport problems the last two years. Smith topped 100 yards in last year’s semifinal against the Millionaires and turned both his catches into touchdowns that totaled 88 yards last September. Fellow receiver Jacob Hunsinger has 29 catches and three touchdowns. Hazleton loves utilizing its running backs as receivers with Adrian Otero and Damon Horton both topping 20 catches and combining for 53 catches, 876 yards and nine touchdowns. Horton leads the team in rushing with 605 yards and has topped 100 yards in consecutive game. Horton ran for 165 yards and two touchdowns against Crestwood. Otero led the team in rushing last year and has 430 yards. He ran for 113 yards in a 34-8 win over Scranton in Week 7 against Scranton, but has carried the ball just 14 times since then. However, Otero gained 80 yards on two carries last week. The defense has 17 sacks and has made big strides throughout the season.

Hazleton player to watch-Josh Zukowski: The senior linebacker helps spark the defense and has a team-high five sacks. Zukowski is second on the team in tackles had two-sack performances against Wyoming Valley West and Scranton.

Williamsport PPG-37.6, YPG-411.3; PPA-32.9, YPA-319.2

Williamsport facts: The defending district champions are playing Hazleton in the semifinals for a second straight year. While Hazleton returned the majority of its starters from last year, Williamsport opened the season with several new starters. Williamsport has been up and down since a 3-0 start but played one of its best games against Berwick (8-2) last week, winning 32-27. It was a huge bounceback performance following a disappointing showing at Wyoming Area and Williamsport led by 18 points at one point against a team that had won four straight and allowed more than 20 points just once. Quarterback Joe Fagnano threw for 267 yards and four touchdowns and broke Isaiah Hankins’ single-season touchdown pass record (29) while going over 2,000 yards. Fagnano speads the ball well and four players have caught 26 or more passes. Marcus Simmons broke the single-season reception (63) record last week and tight end Ethen Stryker has 48 catches and eight touchdowns. Colin Esposito has come on strong throughout the season, catching four touchdowns the last three weeks. Williamsport’s offensive line was outstanding last week and has helped the team average more than 400 yards for a second straight year. Kurt Danneker will play at Ohio next fall and will graduate high school in December, starting college the next month. The four-year starter, Tucker Kreisher and Chance Bower all started a year ago and Dalton Kriner and Quadir Walker have helped solidify things up front. The defense has struggled, but was outstanding against the run last week, holding Berwick to 44 yards on 15 carries. Getting pressure on Wolk could be key tonight because the secondary has had a tough time the past two games, allowing 482 yards. Jamaire Burget did just that against Berwick and clinched the win when he recorded a sack at midfield on a 4th-and-2. Bower was a force against Hazleton eight weeks ago, recording three sacks in his first start along the defensive line. Linebacker Alec Dickey was fantastic in last year’s postseason and scored the game-winning touchdown against Hazleton.

Williamsport player to watch-T.J. Robinson: Hazleton will take several shots in the passing game, giving the defensive back a big opportunity to make an impact. Slowing down Hazleton’s offense is a must and if Robinson and his teammates can build off their second-half performance eight weeks ago, that would help a lot.

Outlook: These rivals are about as evenly matched as two teams can be. Williamsport overcame four turnovers in the regular-season win but cannot play with fire like that again. The Week 3 game was a thriller and tonight’s looks like it could be again.

Winner plays: No. 1 Delaware Valley (10-0) or No. 4 Scranton (6-4)