Pittston Area has had a monkey clinging to its back through the first three weeks on 2013. The Patriots have played well, just not well enough to win.
But after a gutsy, defensive effort Friday night in Tunkhannock, the Patriots finally got over the hump with a 12-10 win over the Tigers in a Wyoming Valley Conference football game.
Although the Patriots didn’t win the battle in the box score, they did win the battle on the field. The Tigers totaled nearly 80 more yards than the Patriots while rushing for 225 on the ground.
But the feeling of getting that first win throws all the stats out the bus window on the ride home.
“It’s great,” Pittston Area coach Mike Barrett said. “You get that monkey off your back. It wasn’t pretty. But I thought we came out and played well early on.”
They did play well early, scoring all 12 of their points in the first half. And it was the defense that was most impressive.
Although Tunkhannock’s Brian Cywinski ran for 142 yards on 23 carries, including a 40-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the Patriot defense looked as fast as it has all season.
“We came together on defense a lot better than we did in the first three weeks,” running back/linebacker Hassan Maxwell said. “Guys were on point and everyone was focused. We just have to step up and try and get that win next week.”
The Patriots’ defense was good getting to the football. But sometimes tackling was a problem. Cywinski made a few highlight reel plays breaking would-be tacklers and gaining a few extra yards on multiple plays.
“I thought we were in the right spots but we gave them a lot of yards after contact,” Barrett said. “But it’s something we can go back and work on.”
Tunkhannock’s offense started well moving the football. Its first drive, however, was derailed near midfield by a few penalties. That led to a punt that put the ball back to Pittston Area for its second possession.
It didn’t take long for Pittston Area to ignite the Tunkhannock scoreboard lightbulbs.
It was a six-play drive that burned 3:30 off the clock that got Pittston Area its first score. Quarterback James Emmett hit a sliding Michael Harth in the end zone from 12 yards out and a 6-0 lead.
Emmett started the game by hitting his first four passes. But he completed just one after that, finishing 5-of-12 for 95 yards.
Following a three-and-out from the Tigers, and a 22-yard punt return from Josh John, the Patriots needed just three plays, capped off by a Maxwell 15-yard run, to balloon the lead to 12-0.
Many, including both coaches, said the final series of the half for Tunkhannock proved to be a difference maker.
The Tigers took over on their own 8 with just over seven minutes left in the half. Tunkhannock converted a pair of third downs and a fourth down during a 7-minute drive. Cywinski accounted for 52 yards on the ground, while Beauchemin had 29. But the drive stalled at the 6.
Tunkhannock settled for the Beauchemin field goal.
Pittston Area had its first first-half lead of the season. But it was only a 9-point game.
The two teams traded possessions for the entire third quarter with neither team moving the ball very well until the final moments. Tunkhannock’s 8-play, 80-yard drive was capped by Cywinski’s 40-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter.
From there, three straight three-and-outs combined led to Tunkhannock’s last chance with 5:27 left, and 74 yards to go.
After picking up a fourth and short from the 36, Beauchemin was sacked by a host of Patriots. Two short runs and a false start created a 4th-and-15 from the 32 with 1:29 left. The deep pass fell incomplete.
“That was huge,” Barrett said. ” To have our back against the wall and make a stop I think it shows the heart that our kids play with. They’re doing whatever they have to do to see this through.”