HAZLETON — During the uncertainty of a crucial moment, Chris Melovitz never stopped.
And because he didn’t, a Wyoming Valley West rally had a chance to start.
Aaron Austin ran for two touchdowns and threw for three more scores Friday as Valley West scored 33 unanswered points and overcame a 188-yard rushing performance by Hazleton Area’s Adrian Otero to sting the Cougars, 33-15 at Harman-Geist Stadium.
“We’re just doing the best we can,” Melovitz said.
His heads-up play may have done in Hazleton Area’s upset hopes.
With the Spartans trailing 15-0 early in the second quarter, Hazleton Area tried to bull across the goal line for more points on a second down from the 1-yard line. But as the Cougars running back attempted to slam across the goal line, the ball was pried free and fell to the ground.
Melovitz, playing as a defensive back, alertly scooped it up, thwarting an opportunity for Hazleton Area to go up by at least 21 points.
“At first, I thought he was down,” Melovitz said of the Cougars ball-carrier. “I didn’t hear a whistle, so I just picked the ball up and ran with it.”
From there, the heavily-favored Spartans ran away.
Sean Judge took a screen pass from Austin 65 yards for a touchdown to get Valley West on the board and back in the game just 75 seconds before halftime.
“That was huge,” Valley West coach Pat Keating said, “to get some points on the board and just a little bit of momentum.”
The Spartans carried their surge into the second half.
They opened the third quarter with a 13-play, 73-yard scoring march capped by Austin’s 1-yard touchdown sneak to pull within 15-13, then took the lead for good, 19-15, when Zach Davies took another Austin screen 14 yards for a score with 11:17 to play.
Austin wrapped it up by throwing a 29-yard touchdown pass to Darrian Tyson and scoring on another 1-yard touchdown run in the final four minutes.
But it all started with a play that prevented Hazleton Area from going ahead by three scores.
“It definitely gave the team a boost,” Melovitz said, “in the context we were able to battle back.”
Otero and the Cougars made it a fierce battle.
Kaleb Yahner chased down Austin to make a tackle in the end zone for a safety that gave Hazleton Area a 2-0 lead, then the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Otero broke free for a 34-yard touchdown run with 1:28 to play in the first quarter as the Cougars boosted their advantage to 8-0.
“It’s hard when they have such a big back,” Melovitz said. “And we’ve got a really young team.”
The Cougars then turned a Valley West fumble into points when Damon Horton scored on a 5-yard run, as Hazleton Area — coming off a 44-0 loss to Berwick in its season opener — began thinking upset.
Melovitz and the Spartans had other ideas.
“Hazleton always comes out and plays us hard,” Keating said. “I’m just thankful for the way our kids responded.”
Wyoming Valley West 33, Hazleton Area 15
Wyo. Valley West`0`6`7`20`—`33
H — Aaron Austin tackled in end zone for safety, 7:24
H — Adrian Otero 34 run (kick failed), 1:28
H — Damon Horton 5 run (Will Barrientos kick), 10:46
WVW — Sean Judge 65 pass from Aaron Austin (kick failed), 1:15
WVW — Austin 1 run (Jack Gurtis kick), 5:46
WVW — Zach Davies 14 pass from Austin (run failed), 11:17
WVW — Darrian Tyson 29 pass from Austin (Gurtis kick), 3:37
WVW — Austin 1 run (Gurtis kick), 0:46
RUSHING — WW, Chris Melovitz 5-58, Judge 13-51, Austin 14-35, Darrian Tyson 1-3, Zach Davies 1-2, Sean Mikovitch 2-2, TEAM 1- (minus 25). HAZ, Otero 26-188, Damon Horton 4-20, Carson Kinney 4-11, Matt Sutton 2-8, Sparky Wolk 4- (minus 7).
PASSING — WVW, Austin 12-16-0-185. HAZ, Wolk 6-10-0-25.
RECEIVING — WVW, Judge 4-84, Tyson 3-40, Melovitz 2-27, Derek Doreskewicz 2-20, Davies 1-14. HAZ, Hunter Vanblargan 4-23, Otero 2-2.