MOSCOW – The Pittston Area football team changed so much in its first winning season in nine years.
One trouble spot the Patriots could not permanently escape was a propensity to bunch together costly turnovers.
North Pocono converted four turnovers into scores Friday night, including three during a 28-point flurry in less than seven minutes of the first half, while opening defense of its District 2 Class 4A football title with a 48-15 quarterfinal romp over visiting Pittston Area.
“We’ve done that before,” said Nick Barbieri, who guided the Patriots to a 6-5 record in his first season as head coach. “In our games that we’ve lost, we’ve been very generous in giving the ball away.”
Friday night was no different.
The Patriots opened the game with Walter Coles hitting five straight passes in a drive that produced four first downs and ate up just 17 seconds less than half of the first quarter. The drive stalled, however, when first-and-10 from the North Pocono 19 turned into third-and-27 after a costly holding penalty.
“I thought we had a great drive to open the game,” Barbieri said. “We went right down the field, then we had a couple unfortunate penalties.”
The Trojans did not need long for their punishing ground game and opportunistic defense to combine to take charge of the playoff opener.
J.C. Gaughan had runs of 14 and 11 yards, Donny Blaine passed 36 yards to Dan Walsh and Joe Ianni scored from the 4 to complete a seven-play, 75-yard drive.
Ianni’s score gave North Pocono a 7-0 lead with 3:09 left in the first quarter.
Before the quarter was over, the Trojans added two more touchdowns and began the drive that led to the fourth score.
Pittston Area lost the ball on three of its next four plays after the game’s first touchdown.
North Pocono recovered a first-down fumble, then moved 31 yards in two plays with Gaughan scoring from the 27.
Another Pittston Area fumble on the next play led to Blaine’s 5-yard touchdown run.
The Patriots held the ball long enough to run a second play on the next possession, but that resulted in an interception for the third turnover in 2:08.
Gaughan carried six times for 50 yards on the next drive that he capped with a 7-yard run for a 28-0 lead with 8:33 left in the half.
“J.C. Gaughan and Jeremiah Acker are strong, hard, tough runners,” said North Pocono coach Greg Dolhon, a Wyoming Area graduate. “That was very key in the game and we got lucky with some turnovers.”
Gaughan carried 21 times for 192 yards. He ran for a touchdown in each quarter.
Acker carried 9 times for 64 yards.
Pittston Area’s offense did its best to respond but the Patriots were in too big of a hole.
Keemar Woodruff ran 29 yards to start a seven-play, 67-yard drive that he kept alive with a seven-yard run on third-and-three. Coles had a 22-yard scramble, then found Andrew Krawczyk for a 12-yard touchdown to cut the North Pocono lead to 28-7 with 6:19 left in the half.
North Pocono made it five touchdowns in five possessions to begin the game when Ianni took a short Blaine pass 52 yards down the left sideline for a 35-7 halftime lead.
Gaughan’s 37-yard run, after a Tyler Reilly interception, was the only score of the third quarter. Reilly’s only miss in seven extra-point attempts delayed the activation of the Mercy Rule for almost eight minutes until Gaughan’s 3-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Pittston Area put together one last scoring drive. Coles hit Mike Coe deep down the left side and Coe did the rest for a 34-yard touchdown. Holder Trevor Tigue threw to Kevin Krawczyk for the two-point conversion.