HOMER CITY — The postseason has already begun for the West Shamokin Wolves.
An 0-3 record at the start of the season indicated the importance of each proceeding game. Following their early struggles, it was apparent that every game could make the difference between a run into the playoffs or an early end to the year.
Since their winless start, the Wolves have steered the ship in the other direction, winning four of six games and capping their Heritage Conference schedule with a 33-15 win over Homer-Center on Friday night. The strong stretch puts them at 4-5 and in prime position to claim a fourth straight District 6 Class 2A playoff berth heading into their WestPAC crossover matchup with Conemaugh Township next week.
“The playoffs started for us a long time ago,” West Shamokin coach Jon McCullough said. “We had a little tough start to this season. We lost guys right away in the first quarter against Purchase Line, but our kids keep plugging away. There’s no quitting for us. We’ve been able to regroup, we’ve got a great group of kids and we have to finish strong.
“I thought we came out with a focus and sense of urgency in the second half. This was a game we had to have. We absolutely had to win this, and our kids came out and they responded.”
Jaiden Haswell rushed for 227 yards on 22 carries and scored four touchdowns, and the defense shut down the Wildcats after the Wolves fell behind 15-7. It marked the third straight game Homer-Center was shut out in the second half after holding a lead in the first half.
“We take pride in our defense,” Haswell said. “We really hit where they hit us in the first half, and we tried to eliminate that. It worked very well for us.”
Homer-Center faces a different situation. After a 5-1 start, Homer-Center has been plagued by injuries. Quarterback Ben Schmidt was severely limited in the second half of last week’s loss by a leg injury and was available only for placekicking last night. Cobe Daugherty, who started in his place, has also been hampered by a leg injury.
“It was difficult for us, and I’m sure it was difficult for Ben,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “But I give him credit for how he handled himself during the game. He was up by the coaches and was in every huddle coming over to the sideline at the end of the possessions.”
Page said he is uncertain when Schmidt will return.
“We’ll see what happens next week,” he said. “There’s no guarantee if he’s not a whole lot better next week that we’re not going to do the same thing.”
The Wolves received the kickoff to begin the game. They opened the drive with two big plays to get inside Homer-Center’s 30-yard line and later completed the drive on fourth-and-4 with Jaden Haswell’s first rushing touchdown for 11 yards.
Though Schmidt and Daugherty were able to play, Daugherty was the Wildcats’ quarterback, taking the place of Schmidt, was limited to kicking. Daugherty netted his first two passes for 20-yard gains, which put Homer-Center in the red zone. However, the possession came to a standstill and the Wildcats attempted to kick a 30-yard field goal with Schmidt. He missed the kick wide left near the midpoint of the first quarter.
“We knew that Schmidt was going to be banged up,” McCullough said. “We didn’t know what the situation was, but we had a feeling that if he didn’t go, Daugherty would be the guy. But regardless, whoever is the quarterback, we’re preparing the same way because it’s still going to be the same offense.”
West Shamokin was held to a three-and-out and Homer-Center’s offense had another chance to get an early strike. A 14-yard scramble by Daugherty bailed the Wildcats out of an early end to the drive, and he later did the same on fourth-and-1 at the Wolves’ 30-yard line. He then scored a 10-yard rushing touchdown, tying the game at 7-7.
Following the touchdown, Homer-Center’s defense also pulled through with an interception by Drew Kochman in Wildcats territory. The offense then executed a meticulous push downfield. In a 12-play drive, the Wildcats spent nearly eight minutes with possession before Travis Mock caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Daugherty. Kochman carried the Wildcats to an eight-point at 15-7 lead with a successful fake extra-point kick with five minutes left before halftime.
Both teams punted on their next series, but the Wolves experienced no trouble when their offense returned to the field. On the first play, Haswell stormed down the sideline through the defense to score a 73-yard touchdown. Like Homer-Center, the Wolves also faked the extra-point kick, but it was unsuccessful.
The Wildcats’ following drive ended with enough time to give West Shamokin an opportunity to take the lead. Haswell struck again with less than a minute left for a 47-yard touchdown, and the extra point put the Wolves ahead by five at halftime, 20-15.
A routine punt shortly into the third quarter turned into a disaster for the Wildcats. After stalling at the Wolves’ 42-yard line, the ball was fumbled on the punt attempt and rolled back to Homer-Center’s 29 before West Shamokin pounced on it. Another three-play possession ended with a touchdown by Haswell, this time from 36 yards and expanding the lead to 12 points, 27-15.
Both offenses were inactive until the beginning of the fourth quarter. Trailing by two scores, Homer-Center needed points to stay alive. A 32-yard completion to Kochman put the Wildcats at West Shamokin’s 31-yard line, but a fumble by D’Shaun Robinson gave West Shamokin the opportunity to take control with nine minutes to go.
While the Wolves ultimately punted, the turnover helped create strong field position. It proved highly beneficial on the Wildcats’ following drive when Daugherty threw an interception to Haswell. The Wolves mounted a six-play, 35-yard drive capped by Swartz’s 15-yard run that closed the scoring.