MATAMORAS — Maybe it was the bus ride that took nearly two hours.
Or maybe it was the loss of their starting quarterback.
But the Hazleton Area Cougars had something missing from their battle between winless teams Friday night.
Their coach sensed it.
“For some reason, the whole team didn’t come to play tonight,” Hazleton Area coach Jim Drumheller said. “I thought we came out a little bit flat. We didn’t have our game tonight.”
Delaware Valley did.
Backup quarterback Brett Cohen threw two touchdown passes, receiver/returner Rian Fowler provided a big-play spark and the Warriors waxed Hazleton Area 28-7 in their first home game at newly renovated Warriors Stadium.
“Two 0-2 teams playing, it was just a matter of who made the play first,” Drumheller said.
The tandem of Cohen and Fowler got the first shot.
They connected on a 22-yard touchdown strike with 58 seconds remaining in the first quarter — three plays after Hazleton Area lost a fumble — and the Cougars were on their way to an 0-3 record and their ninth straight loss over two seasons.
“Things just kind of fell off after that,” Drumheller said.
The rest of the night was a progression of big plays falling Delaware Valley’s way.
Cohen was subbing for injured senior starting quarterback Kyle Clark, who suffered a shoulder injury making a defensive interception against Wyoming Valley West last week. He came through on Friday, connecting with Shawn Chelbus on a 19-yard pass to trigger a 75-yard scoring drive at the end of the first half.
Later in the drive, running back Austin Cernek bulldozed his way through Hazleton Area’s defense for a 21-yard gain that got the Warriors into the red zone. And Cohen wrapped up the march with a 10-yard touchdown scramble with 10 seconds to play, giving Delaware Valley a 14-0 advantage at the break.
When the second half opened, Fowler was back at it again, bringing the third-quarter kickoff back 37 yards. Sparked by the return, Cohen, a junior, immediately connected with Lex Rosario on a 26-yard pass play, leading to Rosario’s 4-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 Warriors lead.
It didn’t help Hazleton Area that its starting quarterback, Julius Ward, played only sparingly after battling sickness for the past few days, leaving untested Ryan Heller to try an stage a comeback.
“Julius was sick,” Drumheller said. “The only reason we made the switch was he was sick. He just couldn’t go. He wasn’t 100 percent. He wanted to give it a shot. The second half, I wasn’t going to risk it. And Ryan can throw the ball.”
Heller tried to step up, connecting on 11 of 20 passes for 130 yards and the Cougars’ lone touchdown — a screen pass which running back Zach Zukoski took 40 yards into the end zone with less than three minutes left on the clock.
But by that time, Cohen — who finished 7 of 12 for 150 yards — had already found Chelbus with a 63-yard touchdown toss, giving Delaware Valley a four-touchdown lead in the third quarter.
“Kyle (Clark) being down with a sore shoulder, we went with Brett. That’s a guy who’s a really steady kid,” Delaware Valley coach Keith Olsommer said. “I thought he did a fantastic job stepping into a tough situation.”
Delaware Valley 28, Hazleton Area 7
DV — Rian Fowler 22 pass from Brett Cohen (Brendan Paulson kick), 0:58
DV — Cohen 10 run (Paulson kick), 0:10
DV — Lex Rosario 4 run (Paulson kick), 9:58
DV — Shawn Chelbus 63 pass from Cohen (Paulson kick), 2:38
HAZ — Zach Zukoski 40 pass from Ryan Heller (Tristan Williams kick), 2:47
RUSHING — HAZ, Zach Zukoski 11-71, Nick George 7-16, Julius Ward 4-14, Ryan Heller 3-(minus 14). DV, Lex Rosario 12-47, Ryan McGowan 7-38, Austin Cernek 3-26, Wyatt Sebring 5-26, Kyle Dillon 3-18, Brett Cohen 2-18, Devan Polanis 9-14, Kyle Clark 1-2, TEAM 4-(minus 3).
PASSING — HAZ, Ward 3-10-0-18, Heller 11-20-0-130. DV, Cohen 7-12-1-150.
RECEIVING — HAZ, Jeff Ochs 7-48, Zukoski 5-81, Gavin Kopczynskie 2-29. DV, Shawn Chelbus 3-91, Rian Fowler 2-26, Rosario 1-26, Ryan McGowan 1-7.
INTERCEPTIONS — HAZ, Zach Zukoski
MISSED FGS — None