WILKES-BARRE – Ron Kotz couldn’t believe his eyes.
Usually, a blocked punt heads directly toward the ground. But when Michael Rosario-Clark blocked a Holy Redeemer punt in the third quarter, the ball went straight in the air toward the direction of Kotz.
The junior did the rest.
Kotz caught the ball and went 49 yards to the end zone as Trojans built a 45-20 lead after three quarters and held on for a 52-34 win in an offense affair at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium.
It’s amazing that a game that featured nearly 900 yards of total offense and almost 200 yards of penalties could come down to one single blocked punt to spark momentum.
Well, believe it.
“I was surprised because I thought it would hit the ground, but it just floated right to me. I was actually hoping no one would hit me from behind so I could catch it,” Kotz said. “I was actually looking back, searching for jerseys but I just saw our white jerseys. For me, it was a big turnaround.”
No doubt, the strategy for both was at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Nanticoke pounded the ball between the tackles, racking up almost 400 yards on the ground. Pat Hempel was a workhorse, especially in the fourth quarter where he touched the ball on almost every possession. He finished with 258 yards and two scores.
GNA head coach Ron Bruza used three backs primarily – Hempel, Blake Balderramma and Kotz – as each one accounted for two scores.
“We wanted to control the clock and keep their athletes off the field,” Bruza said, “and try to score on every possession. Our goal was to make the playoffs this year, and when we play well, we are interesting to watch. But when we have our bad days, they are bad.”
Not to be outdone was Redeemer (1-6) senior quarterback Jimmy Strickland, who threw for 469 yards, completing 28 of 42 pass attempts. He threw five touchdowns, three of those to Pat Villani – who finished with nearly 200 yards on 10 catches.
But two crucial mistakes really hurt the Royals.
The blocked punt was tough, no doubt.
The big swing happened right after Eric Kerr caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Strickland at the start of the fourth quarter.
Pat Reece rolled the dice, going for the onside kick – which was recovered by the Royals. But on the very next play from scrimmage, Strickland was picked off.
Just like that, the momentum was quickly erased.
“Those mistakes were big. I think that kind of separated us a little bit,” Reece said. “Those missed opportunities could have changed the game some. Overall, the defense made some stops for us, and the offense moved the ball. We just had too many mistakes at the wrong times.”
Nanticoke (3-4) sealed the game late in the fourth, putting together a 13-play drive that started on its own 33 and was capped off by Balderrramma’s second score of the afternoon.
“Our kids buckled down and played hard all week,” Bruza said. “We used the Northwest game as motivation because we knew we were a better team than we showed. They played pretty well today. The Strickland kid is a great player, and they have a great offensive game plan. Their receivers move around, and he could scramble. Our defense made some stands when they needed to. Our kids didn’t quit.”
Nanticoke Area 52, Holy Redeemer 34
N – Blake Balderramma 2 run (Balderramma run), 4:23
N – Tyler Hanna 17 pass from Joe Lewandowski (run failed), 3:03
HR – Pat Villani 76 pass from Jimmy Strickland (Mark Cantafio kick), 2:37
N – Pat Hempel 80 run (Alec Norton kick), 2:19
N – Ron Kotz 3 run (Norton kick), 8:18
HR – P. Villani 14 pass from Strickland, (Cantafio kick), 6:14
HR – Eric Shorts 25 pass from Strickland (kick failed), 0:46
N – Norton 28-yard field goal, 0:00
N – Hempel 44 run (Norton kick), 10:04
N – Kotz 49-yard punt return (Norton kick), 6:39
HR – Eric Kerr 23 pass from Strickland (Strickland run), 11:03
HR – P. Villani 44 pass from Strickland (pass failed), 7:45
N – Balderramma 1 run (Norton kick), 3:05
RUSHING — N, Pat Hempel 25-258, Ron Kotz 12-76, Joe Lewandowski 7-28, Blake Balderramma 9-24, Tyler Hanna 1-4, Team 1-(-2). HR, Jimmy Strickland 15-27, Pat Villani 2-(-6), Team 1-(-23).
PASSING —N, Joe Lewandowski 2-5-0-48. HR, Jimmy Strickland 28-42-3-469
RECEIVING — N, Kyle Gavrish 1-31, Tyler Hanna 1-17. HR, Pat Villani 10-195, Eric Kerr 5-110, Jason Hoggarth 5-32, Eric Shorts 4-82, Vince Villani 4-50.
INTERCEPTIONS – N, Alec Norton 2, Tyler Myers.