By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | November 14, 2009
HUGHESVILLE - Blaine Johnson remembers his freshman year when he and his teammates set out an ambitious path they hoped would end with a memorable senior campaign.
So after Johnson hyperextended his elbow in the second quarter Friday night, Hughesville trainer Brian Duke really need not ask Johnson whether he could keep playing. The senior linebacker/running back had not come this far to miss Hughesville's first home playoff game this decade.
Johnson returned, helped spark a swarming defense and broke off a 21 yard fourth quarter run. It was a performance that symbolized Hughesville's refuse to lose mentality on a night Athens threatened to pull a big upset. And it was a performance that helped keep those four-year old dreams alive.
D.J. Foresman threw two touchdown passes, Ethan Showers ran for two scores and Hughesville allowed just four yards over the game's final 19 minutes as it defeated Athens, 27-14 in the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals, earning its first postseason win since 2002. Up next is a semifinal against rival Loyalsock.
"There was absolutely no doubt I was coming back, especially senior year because there was a question whether we were going to win the game or not and there's no way I would not play this game," Johnson said. "We've wanted this for so long. We played our hardest and we came out on top."
It was not easy. Little has come easy for the Spartans (10-1) and maybe that's why its semifinal run means a little more this year.
Cody Butler ran for 70 yards, reaching 1,000 for the season, but reinjured the ankle that forced him out for most of two weeks earlier this season early in the second quarter and did not return. It was a scene eerily reminiscent of midway through the season when a rash of injuries, starting with standout two-way starter Andy Laychur tearing his ACL, led to the Spartans only loss.
Friday, Hughesville would not let history repeat itself. Showers capped an eight-play 52 yard drive late in the third quarter that broke a 14-14 tie and the defense never let Athens (7-4) threaten again.
"These guys are a tight group and they believe in each other and they just rallied each other," Hughesville coach Rick Reichner said. "It got to the point where the seniors knew it was time to step up because there was no tomorrow. It was really a gut-check time for our kids and they showed their character and their poise and what they're made of."
So did Athens. The Wildcats were heavy underdogs, but showed why they are a perennial district title contender, answering Hughesville's first two scores with two of their own. Two plays into the second half, Athens tied it 14-14 when Colin Eby hit Dan Riley with a 71 yard touchdown pass.
It was the kind of play that can change a game's complexion and that's exactly what happened. But instead of the play sending Hughesville reeling, the Spartans grew stronger, played angry and dominated from that point.
The Spartans allowed no more first downs and surrendered just four yards on the Wildcats final 13 plays. Hughesville put its season in the defense's hands and that unit delivered one of its strongest performances when it mattered most.
"Any time we can put the game in the defense's hands, that's great being a defensive player where you can control the game," said senior linebacker Bryce Pardoe, who caught a 13 yard touchdown pass on the game's opening possession and also was in on six tackles. "We picked each other up and came out on the right end which was great."
Hughesville's offensive line finally started winning the battle up front against Athens late in the third quarter and the Spartans slowly wore down the determined Wildcats. Showers converted a fourth-and-one on the go-ahead scoring drive before fullback Robert Hodgson, who consistently drug defenders for extra yards, set up the four yard touchdown with a 17 yard run.
The Spartans drove to the Athens 17-yard line on their next possession but a fumble kept the Wildcats hopes alive, but only briefly. Hughesville forced a four-and-out as Chet Ritter dropped Casey Shiposh for no gain, Pardoe broke up a pass, Jon Hoot stopped Rickie Young for one yard and then helped force a fourth down incompletion after doing a good job dropping back into coverage.
"We expected to come out on that first (second-half) series and step up and for them to come out and make that big play it showed that they came out to step up too," Johnson said. "We knew we had to take it to a new level at that point and I'd say we succeeded."
Athens took its final two timeouts after Hughesville started at the Athens 13-yard line. The Spartans faced a fourth-and-11 with 1:15 remaining and went for the jugular. Foresman rolled left, Levi Oden ran a terrific route and the two connected for a game-clinching touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. Pardoe recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Hughesville had created a lasting memory, becoming the first Spartan team to win 10 games this decade.
"We came into the season as seniors saying we're going to make the most of our final year and there's no better way to start the playoffs than this," Pardoe said. "We're going to enjoy the win tonight."
"But then we're getting focused on the next game."