With a win, Pittston Area had a chance to start a winning streak, and give itself much-needed momentum heading into a tough stretch of games to close out the season.
Both Pittston Area and Hazleton Area were coming off of their first win of the season heading into week 5. And the difference maker turned out to be Hazleton running back Zach Zukoski.
Zukoski ran for 137 yards and scored all four Cougars touchdowns in a 26-7 win over the Patriots on Friday. Zukoski, on his fifth carry of the game, a 4-yard touchdown run, eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for his career.
“It felt amazing (getting the 1,000 yards), I’m not going to lie,” Zukoski said. “I just have to thank my line once again. They do everything for me.”
The Cougars controlled the line most of the game on both sides of the pigskin. They ran for 255 yards — 75 from Nick George — and limited Pittston Area to just 86 yards.
“We’ve always worked well together,” Zukoski said. “We work well as a team and we compete as a team.”
Coming off a 12-10 win over Tunkhannock in week 4, the Patriots looked poised to try and limit the Cougar offense early.
Hazleton’s first possession was promising for the visitors, as Pittston Area forced a three-and-out to open the game. But from that point on, the Cougars pretty much had their way with the Patriots.
“I thought our defense was doing a good job early on,” Pittston Area coach Mike Barrett said. “Then they started moving us a little bit. We had a few opportunities tonight. They are a big, physical team. (Hazleton coach Jim) Drumheller does a great job with them.”
Zukoski capped off a 12-play, 63-yard drive from four yards out to start the scoring on its ensuing possession.
Hazleton, coming off a win over Williamsport, got efficient play from quarterback Ryan Heller. Heller finished 7-of-9 for 105 yards, mostly on short passes or designed dump-offs to the Cougar backs.
A 31-yard pass from Heller to Gavin Kopczynskie set up Zukoski’s second touchdown of the evening in the closing moments of the first quarter.
And on the ensuing possession, Pittston Area gave the Cougars all they could handle. Barrett went to a wildcat formation with Kyle Gattuso leading the charge. Gattuso had runs of 15, 8, 9 and 12 set up the Patriots with a first down inside the Cougars’ 20.
“I just thought we needed to switch it up,” Barrett said. “We’re just not getting a good push up front. We moved the ball well at times and had two nice drives in the second half.”
However, after a 7-yard completion from Gattuso to Michael Schwab, the Patriots jumped offside. A sack and a pair of completions then stalled the Patriots’ best drive of the first half.
Back-to-back three-and-outs from the two teams set up Zukoski’s third score late in the second quarter.
Heller connected with Jeff Ochs for 30 yards then George for another seven. Zukoski then scampered in from 15 to make it 20-0. Zukoski has nearly 60 carries in the last two games. But he’s certainly not getting overworked.
“I feel better as I go,” he said. “But the only reason I get the carries is because of my line.”
Down only three scores, Pittston had it going again late in the third quarter. James Emmett connected with a crossing Gattuso from 10 yards out to finish off 77-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter.