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Hauser helps lift Hornets

WELLSBORO — Ryan Sweet wasn’t even supposed to be in a position to intercept a pass late in the first half Friday night. His assignment on Wellsboro’s defense didn’t involve covering the Canton running back coming out of the backfield.

But as he read the fourth-down play transpiring in front of him, he could see where Warriors quarterback Uriah Bailie wanted to go with the football, so he came off his coverage assignment and got between the receiver and the quarterback. The pass hit Sweet in the hands and there was nothing but green synthetic grass in front of him. Eighty-nine yards later, the sophomore scored his first touchdown to give Wellsboro a two-score halftime lead.

And when District 4 rushing leader Aidan Hauser ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run on the second-half’s first play, Wellsboro began playing the final notes of an impressive statement. The Green Hornets dominated every facet of last night’s game as Hauser scored four touchdowns and Isaac Keane threw three, and they knocked off previously unbeaten Canton, 40-6.

It was Canton’s worst loss since dropped a 45-8 decision to North Penn-Mansfield on Sept. 22, 2017.

“We’re underrated, I believe, and people don’t think anything of us,” said Hauser, who ran for 192 yards and caught three passes for 89 more. “As long as they keep thinking that and come into the week thinking that they’re going to stomp us into the ground, we’re going to keep doing things like this.”

“Hopefully we made a pretty strong statement,” Wellsboro coach Matt Hildebrand said. “We stumbled early on one, but we’re playing good football right now and hopefully we can continue to do that and open some people’s eyes.”

If Friday night’s win doesn’t open eyes, nothing will. It was easily the most impressive of the Green Hornets’ seven wins this season. Last night was the first time this season Wellsboro played a team with a winning record. It’s win was also its first this year against a team who has more than two victories on its ledger.

So skeptical might be the best way to describe feelings about the Green Hornets heading into a game against the likely top seed in the District 4 Class A playoffs in a couple weeks. But there was no skepticism on the part of Wellsboro. It played as if it was the favorite to win the game. It played as if other teams have to catch up to what they’re doing on both sides of the ball.

And maybe they do. Wellsboro accumulated 502 yards of offense with Keane throwing for a career-high 212 yards and three touchdowns. The defense held Canton quarterback Uriah Bailie, who went over 2,000 total yards for the season a week ago, to just 103 yards on 3 of 13 passing, and 42 rushing yards on 17 carries.

And then there was Sweet, a 6-foot-3 sophomore whose career high in tackles in a game is three. He was put at safety this week to help combat Canton all-state tight end Ben Knapp, who also likes to split out as a receiver. As a big-bodied defender, the thought was he could negate some of the matchup problems Knapp usually poses at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds.

But it turns out the biggest play Sweet made Friday night had nothing to do with Knapp. Instead, it was all about him trusting his instincts and reading the play in front of him. The Warriors were facing fourth-and-goal at the Wellsboro 15 thanks to a pair of dropped passes, one in the end zone and one just short of the end zone. And with 18 seconds left in the first half and Wellsboro leading 14-6, Canton coach Tyler Sechrist called timeout to get the play he wanted.

That play involved running back Carson Stiner coming out of the backfield on a wheel route. And, initially, Wellsboro blew the coverage and let Stiner run free. But as Sweet recognized Stiner was uncovered, he stepped in front of the pass and gave the Green Hornets a 21-6 halftime lead. Wellsboro was also set to receive the second-half kickoff.

“It was just a great football play on is part, and I think he’s going to see more playing time moving ahead,” Hildebrand said. “We were just hoping to stop them down there. To end up in the end zone was a total momentum swing for us and it really set us up coming out of the half.”

“That was probably the clutchest moment I’ve seen in my career,” Hauser said. “He just started playing defense a couple weeks ago and he’s improved so much. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

With Canton on the ropes starting the second half, Hauser delivered the knockout blow. He had been held to just 36 yards on eight carries in the first half. And that came one week after winless Milton held him to a season-low 118 yards.

But he flipped the script on the second half’s first play. The call was simple, just a dive up the middle, but the Wellsboro offensive front parted the defense like Moses at the Red Sea. Hauser needed to make just one cut to his left to beat the safety and he was gone for a 60-yard scoring run.

That was the moment the game ended. There was still 23 minutes, 48 seconds left to play, but that was the back-breaking moment for a Canton team which collectively played its worst game of the season. Bailie had little to no time to throw in the pocket and was 0 for 4 passing in the second half. Running lanes which had opened in the first half on the Warriors’ read-option rushing attack were slammed shut by filling linebackers.

“We wanted to come out and battle in the second half. But he broke that one, and … It’s a tough one,” Sechrist said. “If their line gets any kind of push and he can get to where he can make a cut, we haven’t seen anybody that good this year, and that quick. We did all right in the beginning, but he’s good.”

“We wanted to kick them when they’re down,” Hauser said of his long touchdown run. “We knew their heads were down a little bit, so we came out 100 miles an hour and put that on the board and put the game in our hands.”

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