By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | October 13, 2008 | Photo courtesy Chris Masse
HUGHESVILLE - Kyle Stubbs already had thrown three touchdown passes and just one incompletion.
But when North Penn mounted a second-half comeback and threatened Hughesville Friday, the Spartans returned to their calling card over the last 12 years - the power running game. Running behind a standout offensive line that controlled the line of scrimmage throughout, Andy Laychur and Robert Hodgson ran four straight times, covering 51 yards. Hodgson capped the drive with a 16 yard touchdown, extending the early fourth quarter lead to 26 and securing a 46-27 win.
Hodgson and Laychur both topped 100 yards and Levi Oden scored three times as Hughesville (6-1) won its third straight game and clinched its 11th winning season in 12 years.
"Our offensive line really made a statement and they wanted to come out and finish it off," Hughesville coach Rick Reichner said. "I think we were pretty much able to do what we wanted to do and that's a credit to our kids. That's a good team and a good defense and our offensive line really paved the way."
Chet Ritter, Kevin Daugherty, Cameron Day, Jon Hoot and Cameron McGowan were at their best in the first half, exploding off the ball and giving Hughesville's running backs gaping holes to run through. Laychur and Hodgson also consistently broke tackles downfield as Hughesville built a 39-6 halftime lead and gained 341 first-half yards.
Hughesville was so efficient in the first half that 22 of its 25 first-half plays gained five or more yards. The Spartans ran seven straight times on the game's opening possession, going 54 yards in 3:25, showing there would be no letdown after last week's impressive win at Danville as Mike Hanner scored from five yards out.
"We are young and with each win we're getting more and more experience," Oden said. "We just keep chugging along and doing the best we can."
Oden dazzled North Penn (3-4) with his playmaking skills, catching two touchdowns and returning a punt for another score. Oden's punt return came following North Penn's first possession and gave Hughesville a 14-0 lead less than six minutes in.
Oden, developing into a weapon who can stretch the field, caught the punt at the 41-yard line, received some solid blocks, then wove in and out of traffic while going 59 yards for the touchdown. The junior receiver did a little bit of everything, also providing terrific blocking and recovering a fumble. Oden's block near the 20-yard line helped eliminate the last obstacle on Laychur's second quarter 45 yard touchdown reception that made it 39-6.
"I saw guys coming to the right (on the punt return) so I cut and had beautiful blocks from the whole team. They opened everything up and I just beat the last guy and it worked out nicely," Oden said. "I feel like I'm starting to fit in. I'm just trying to make plays and help the team as much as I can."
Like Hughesville, North Penn is a young team. But the Panthers showed plenty of promise in the second half, outscoring Hughesville 21-7. North Penn did not get away from its game plan, instead taking control up front and mounting two straight scoring drives built around the run. Rather than getting away from the run, North Penn nearly ran its way back into contention.
"I just challenged them and I wanted to see who would come out and play the second half and I'm very happy with the effort I got from my players," North Penn coach Tom Dickinson said. "I can't be disappointed in that."
After Mark Fidler scored on an eight-yard touchdown run, North Penn recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and cut the deficit to 39-20 six plays later on Marty Blasz's one yard touchdown run. Hughesville sealed the win on its next drive, but the Panthers showed why they could be a dangerous team over the final three weeks as they try recording their fifth winning season in seven years.
"That third quarter it was the same teams that played in the first half and our kids stood toe to toe with them," Dickinson said. "We can like moral victories at times, but we can't go for any more of those. We have to finish with three real ones."
Graeme Zaparzynski played an excellent game for the Panthers, catching six passes for 118 yards. Zaparzynski's 69 yard touchdown catch on the first quarter's final play cut the deficit to 20-6.
Hughesville linebacker Blaine Johnson made a game-high nine tackles, including six in the first half. Laychur, who had 190 rushing and receiving yards, added eight more. Hodgson was a two-way threat as well, consistently applying pressure to Blasz.
"Our defense did a nice job," Reichner said. "We let down a little in the third quarter but we made big plays when we needed to."