HAZLETON — With his determination flowing and his legs pumping, Owen Shoemaker showed how much it meant to him not to break a promise.
He sure broke a lot of tackles, though.
Shoemaker ignited a stagnant Berwick offense with a 71-yard touchdown run and gained 153 yards over the final two quarters Friday, rallying the Bulldogs back from a two-touchdown deficit for a 28-21 victory over Hazleton Area at Harman Geist Field.
“Coach told me, ‘You’re our guy, you’ve got to put the offense on your back,’” Shoemaker said of a halftime conversation with Berwick boss Frank Sheptock. “I told him I would. And I think I did.”
Did he ever.
Bottled up for the first half and held to just 12 rushing yards, Shoemaker got the call with Berwick facing a third-and-one, not to mention a 14-0 hole, nearing the midway point of the third quarter.
Initially, Shoemaker was smacked in the backfield for what should have been a two-yard loss. And when he bounced off that attempted tackle, about five Hazleton Area defenders were stacked in a line ready to greet him at the line of scrimmage.
Somehow, Shoemaker squirted through them all, then burst down the center of the field for a 71-yard touchdown run.
In an instant, the Bulldogs had new life.
“Coach said, ‘You’ve got to power run up the middle,’” Shoemaker said. “The initial play was supposed to go to the left. I saw out of the corner of my eye an opening on the right. Again, the play was just supposed to get a first down. I kept pumping my legs.
“Next thing I knew, I was out in the open.”
And Berwick was finally in the clear, winning a game without completing a single pass but piling up 271 rushing yards.
Coming off a 35-7 thumping by Valley View last week, the 6-1 Bulldogs quickly fell behind Hazleton Area by two scores in Friday’s first half.
With the Cougars missing their star tailback Damon Horton, who was hurt last week, quarterback Sparky Wolk ran for a 1-yard score in the first quarter and zipped an 11-yard touchdown dart to David Smith in the second quarter to send Berwick reeling.
“We obviously didn’t start real well, you’re wondering what’s going wrong,” Sheptock said.
“There definitely was carryover,” Shoemaker said of last week’s dismantling by Valley View. “Last week, that was so embarrassing.”
After a lifeless first half by Berwick’s offense, Sheptock switched quarterbacks, sending Ryan Laubach out to call signals for the final two quarters.
“We were trying to find something to jump-start us a little bit,” Sheptock said. “We’re in a little bit of a funk on offense.”
Shoemaker pulled the Bulldogs out.
He added runs of 10 and 17 yards to set up Laubach’s tie-breaking 10-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, then Shoemaker rumbled for an eight-yard scoring run to finish with 165 rushing yards.
“Owen’s one of our hardest workers,” Sheptock said. “He’s a great inspiration in the locker room and a great role model on the field.”
The game really changed, though, when a kicker blocked a punt.
Berwick placekicker Jarret Groshek, playing on Berwick’s punt return team, shot through the line of scrimmage moments after Shoemaker’s long touchdown run and blocked a Hazleton Area punt to set the Bulldogs up nine yards away from the end zone. Teagan Wilk took a pitch nine yards into the end zone on the next play, Aiden Mason added a conversion run and suddenly, Berwick had tied the game in the span of 4:50.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” Sheptock said of Groshek. “He’s a senior, hard-working man. He plays some nickel (defensive back) for us, just trying to utilize all their talents. Key component of the game, where we got a little bit of momentum. At that point in the game, things are starting to go your way.”
Shoemaker made sure of it, as his final touchdown proved just enough to overcome Wolk’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Hunsinger with 13 seconds to play.
“We were still thinking about that (Valley View) game,” Shoemaker said. “Then we came out in the second half and put it to them. I think we’re finally over that game and I think we’re in a good spot.”
Berwick 28, Hazleton Area 21
Berwick`0`0`14`14 — 28
Hazleton Area`7`7`0`7 — 21
H — Sparky Wolk 1 run (Will Garcia kick), 1:20
H — David Smith 11 pass from Wolk (Garcia kick), 9:21
B — Owen Shoemaker 71 run (kick failed), 7:50
B — Teagan Wilk 9 run (Aiden Mason conversion run), 3:00
B — Ryan Laubach 13 run (Jarret Groshek kick), 8:12
B — Shoemaker 8 run (Groshek kick), 1:31
H — Jacob Hunsinger 27 pass from Wolk (Garcia kick), 0:13
RUSHING — BER, Owen Shoemaker 19-165, Ryan Laubach 7-51, Teagan Wilk 3-22, Aiden Mason 5-14, Blake Maurer 1-15, TEAM 1- (minus 2), Alex Force 1- (minus 8). HAZ, Sparky Wolk 23-50, Lance Johnson 5-21, Dallas Solomon 5-6.
PASSING — BER, Force 0-3-1-0, Laubach 0-1-0-0. HAZ, Wolk 16-28-0-165.
RECEIVING — HAZ, Matt Fisher 5-62, David Smith 5-42, Nolan Schneider 3-20, Evan Matyas 2-14, Jacob Hunsinger 1-27.
INTERCEPTIONS — HAZ, Hunsinger 1-16.
MISSED FGs — HAZ, Will Garcia, 42-WL.
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski