By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
EDINBORO — When legendary coach Vince Lombardi said “the only good thing that comes from losing is the desire never to lose again,” he could very well have been referencing the future for Coach Bill Brest and his Hickory Hornets.
Since Hickory lost to Sharon, 14-6, in the 2010 District 10 finals in Brest’s first year at the helm of the team, the D-10 Class AA title game has belonged to Hickory. And Saturday afternoon at Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium, it was no different as the Hornets topped Girard, 21-10 for a third straight crown.
“Enjoy the moment,” Brest yelled to his team as they celebrated the win. “At the start of the year, they said we wouldn’t make it back here,” Brest continued. “But these kids have expectations, they expect to win.
“This is about the coaches and about the kids; it isn’t about me. At the end of last season after we lost to Richland (in the PIAA quarterfinals), Matt Voytik and Daulton Linton came and asked to meet with me. They said, ‘Coach, we’re better than that. We’ll get back next year.’”
Well, next year is now and the Hornets are back. But it wasn’t easy against a strong Girard squad that beat both Sharon and Greenville in earlier playoff games to reach the D-10 finals.
And the weather didn’t help either. The first half of the game was a struggle in snow and blowing wind. But Hickory kept Girard in their own part of the field most of the half thanks to a swarming defense and outstanding kicking and punting of Hornet junior Jordan Wombacker.
Hickory finally got on the scoreboard with 8:03 remaining in the second period when freshman Charles Carr swept outside left end and raced 42 yards for a tally. Wombacker booted the point after to put Hickory up 7-0.
It was a Hickory miscue that set up Girard, which had started its first four series at their own 12, 1, 14, 16 and 35. With Hickory on its own 45, Yellow Jackets’ Cody Dinger picked off a Matt Voytik pass and returned it to the Hornets 32.
From there the Jackets mounted a 12-play drive and quarterback Joe Dunn carried the final 1 yard into the end zone. Devin Mason’s PAT kick tied the score at 7 with only 16 seconds left before intermission.
Another Hickory mistake early in the third quarter set the stage for Girard to take the lead. During a handoff from Voytik to Lou Derloni, the ball came loose and Yellow Jackets’ Brendan Kohan recovered it at the Hickory 31. Six plays later, Mason kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
“The defense came up big there,” said Brest. “They did get a field goal, but we kept them out of the end zone.”
But Hickory rolled right back and this time it was a Girard mistake that aided the effort. The Hornets took the ensuing kickoff and started at their own 21. It took 10 plays for the Hornets to drive to the Girard 5. On a fourth down, the Hornets lined up for a field goal. While Wombacker booted it through, the play was ruled dead for a Girard offside.
That moved the ball to the 2, so Brest decided to roll the dice and go for a touchdown. The gamble paid off as Derloni carried over right tackle for the TD. Wombacker’s PAT made it 14-10 with 2:29 remaining in the third frame.
Hickory put some distance between the two teams early in the final frame after Andrew Pryts returned a Girard punt from the Hickory 45 to the Girard 15. Four plays later, Voytik toted for the final 2 yards and Wombacker’s kick made it 21-10.
Girard threatened later in the fourth quarter, but again the defense rose up and stopped the Jackets at the 1 yard line on a fourth down play. Hickory later had an interception from Andrew Pryts and a fumble recovery by Anthony Cannone to help keep Girard at bay.
“I’m just so proud of these kids,” said Brest. “We had to beat the elements and a really good Girard team. We made some mistakes and had some penalties that hurt, but the coaches stayed with the game plan and the seniors stepped up.
“We felt we had to run the ball more and grind it out behind our line (Zack Cirillo, Austin Aikins, Nate Aikins, Dylan Brenneman, Blase Hudson and Anthony Nardone). And my quarterback (Voytik) threw that interception, but he bounced back. He’s been the kid — we can put the ball in his hands and count on him to get it done.
“And on defense the kids kept pressure on all day. All year long we emphasized two words — relentless and aggressiveness. That’s how the defense played.
As Brest reflected on the third straight title, he remarked, “Hickory is just a great place to coach. And we have the greatest fans in the world.”
The Hornets (11-1) will move on to face Central Martinsburg next weekend at a site to be announced in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs. Martinsburg upset undefeated Richland Friday, 27-22, in the District 6 title tilt. Richland ousted Hickory from the playoffs last season.
Notes: The Hornets joined Farrell (2008, 2009, 2010) and Sharpsville (1999, 2000, 2001) as the only teams from Mercer County to win 3 straight district crowns. In the last two D-10 titles games, Hickory beat Wilmington, 39-7, in 2012 and General McLane, 35-13, in 2011. ... Hickory was led in rushing by Voytik who finished with 103 yards on 15 carries. ... Hickory assistant coaches are Jason McElhaney, Mike Pilipovich, Brad Paulson, A.J. Staul, Dave Bodien, Mark Palumbo, Dontell Morgan and C.J. Stanfield.
CLASS AA CHAMPIONSHIP
HICKORY 0 7 7 7 21
GIRARD 0 7 3 0 10
H — Carr, 42 run (Wombacker kick)
G — Dunn, 1 run (Mason kick)
G — Mason, 37 FG
H — Derloni, 2 run (Wombacker kick)
H — Voytik, 2 run (Wombacker kick)
11 First downs 5
217 Rushing yards 37
7 Passing yards 127
3-1-1 Att-comp-int 17-10-1
214 Total yards 164
1-1 Fumbles-lost 4-1
8-45 Penalties-yards lost 4-28
Rushing: HICKORY — Voytik 15-103, Derloni 13-61, Carr 3-53, Pryts 1-4, team 2-(-4); GIRARD — Barnes 11-26, Dunn 17-11.
Passing: HICKORY — Voytik 3-1-1-7; GIRARD — Dunn 17-10-1-127.
Receiving: HICKORY — Pryts 1-7; GIRARD — Little 1-45, Dinger 3-32, Divido 1-17, Johnston 2-14, McCall 1-13.