NANTICOKE — In a game where touchdowns were hard to come by, Pat Hempel and the Nanticoke Area football team ground out 323 rushing yards, but couldn’t find the end zone in the first three quarters Friday.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Trojans faced a third down deep in GAR territory. On his 30th carry of the game, Hempel bounced outside, cut back inside to avoid a defender and scampered into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
The play sparked a 13-point fourth quarter for the Trojans and a 16-7 victory at home on senior night.
“We came in and played the game 10 yards at a time,” Nanticoke coach Ron Bruza said. “We stumbled a little bit in the first half, but when we needed (Hempel) most he stepped up and he’s a big time player.”
The Trojans, who will play Hanover Area next week with a playoff berth on the line, had to come from behind as GAR struck first when Rashaun Mathis threw a screen pass to Anthony Maurent on fourth and long to give the Grenadiers a 7-0 lead.
After falling on a fumble, GAR had another chance to score with a few minutes left in the first half. The Grenadiers moved the ball into Nanticoke territory, but Trojans’ senior Tyler Myers ended the drive when he read a Mathis pass and recorded his second interception of the game.
“Tyler Myers has been a strong kid for us and a product of the program,” Bruza said. “He really stepped up at senior night with a lot of emotion flying around here because these kids will never play together again on this field.”
The Trojans (4-5) capitalized on the turnover when a 28-yard run from Hempel moved Nanticoke into field-goal range. Alec Norton connected on a 38-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half to cut the deficit to 7-3.
The two teams battled for field position in third quarter before the Trojans broke through in the fourth with the Hempel touchdown run to give Nanticoke its first lead of the game.
The Trojans stopped GAR (2-7) on its ensuing possession before an 11-play touchdown drive that was capped off by a 20-yard run by Blake Balderrama with 3:43 remaining in the game to give the Trojans a 16-7 advantage.
“We played real good in the first half,” GAR coach Paul Wiedlich Jr. said. “In the second half, they really stuck it to us. Kudos to Nanticoke because they did a nice job tonight.”
On GAR’s next possession, Myers sealed the game with his third interception.
“These kids worked hard all summer,” Bruza said. “We didn’t get the breaks at the beginning of the year but I really think that the work that they put in earlier in the year is carrying over now.”
Next week, Nanticoke travels to face the Hawkeyes (4-5) with a potential District 2 Class 2A playoff spot up for grabs or an Eastern Conference Class 2A berth.
“Next week you have to throw all records out,” Bruza said. “The guys are excited and the community is excited because whoever wins that game next week is going to the playoffs.”
Nanticoke 16, GAR 7
GAR — Anthony Maurent 13 pass from Rashaun Mathis (Rich Sickler kick), 0:17.8
NAN — Alec Norton 38 kick, 0:02.9
NAN — Pat Hempel 15 run (Norton kick), 11:20
NAN — Blake Balderrama 20 run (kick fail), 3:43
RUSHING — GAR, Maurent 15-90, Mathis 12-40, Sickler 4-22, Shaq Everett 1-3, Kyle Merth 2-11; NAN Hempel 37-243, Ron Kotz 4-6, Joe Levandowksi 3-7, Balderrama 10-67.
PASSING — GAR, Mathis 4-14-3-55, NAN Levandowski 0-4-1-0, Hempel 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — GAR, Rashaun Jackson 1-4, Merth 2-38, Maurent 1-13.
INTERCEPTIONS — GAR, Mathis; NAN Tyler Myers 3.