By Matt Beltz
For The Daily Item
HUGHESVILLE — With three straight games scheduled on the road to begin the season and games at District 4 AA title contenders Montoursville and Loyalsock staring at it the next two weeks, Central Columbia could ill-afford a Week 1 loss at Hughesville, a team coming off a 1-9 season and who the Blue Jays defeated 45-7 at home to begin the 2012 season.
While Friday’s season opener proved that both teams are certainly different this year, the end result was the same as last year, as Central received some big second-half plays from a handful of individuals and held on for a 13-12 win over the Spartans.
Central, the defending Heartland II conference champions, stopped four straight Hughesville passes late after the Spartans had reached the Blue Jay 16-yard line to hold onto the victory after Cody Bowman had scored the go-ahead touchdown with just under three minutes to play.
“At the end, their quarterback had a lot of pressure in his face the whole time with Jake Klinger, and Payton Aucker and Tyler Young putting a lot of heat on him so he couldn’t throw (effectively). Our seniors stepped up when they had to,” said Central Columbia coach Jason Hippenstiel.
Neither team was able to muster up anything in the first half as penalties and plays that went for negative yardage stalled drives for both teams, resulting in a scoreless half. Both teams came close to the end zone but each defense came up with a timely interception inside it’s opponent’s red zone to keep each other off the scoreboard.
The start of the second half offered an immediate contrast to the first half, however, as Central scored on its first drive to draw first blood with Danny Koch breaking through a hole on the right side of the offensive line and taking it 46 yards to the end zone on just the fourth play from scrimmage of the half to give the Blue Jays a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter.
“Danny Koch had some really nice runs,” said Hippenstiel. “But up front we weren’t as crisp and clean as I had hoped. That’s the strength of our team and they didn’t play as well as they could have.”
Hughesville would answer on the ensuing drive as the Spartans chewed up almost four minutes of clock and put together a seven-play, 68-yard drive that was capped by a 30-yard hookup from Logan Henry to Nick Yeager for the score. Henry and Yeager had also connected earlier on the drive for 21 yards. A bad snap doomed the PAT, however, which would ultimately prove costly.
The Spartans would then benefit from an interception as Trey Smith picked off Blue Jay quarterback Austin Farver after his throw went off the fingertips of Cody Bowman, and the Spartans then capitalized by putting together a near-five minute drive on 10 plays that was capped by a five-yard run for a touchdown by Yeager on the final play of the third quarter. Given their problems on the previous PAT, the Spartans elected to go for two, but Henry’s pass failed, another play that would prove costly.
The teams traded punts on their first two drives of the fourth quarter, with Central taking possession with 5:34 remaining at the Hughesville 42. Farver found Payton Aucker for 24 yards on the second play of the drive to put the Blue Jays in business at the Spartan 30 and from there, Bowman took charge on three straight rushing plays, the final of which he went 21 yards up the middle to put the Blue Jays ahead 13-12.
“Cody took the game over when he needed to and that’s what you expect out of a senior captain,” said Hippenstiel.
After the two-point conversion failed, Hughesville advanced the ball all the way to the Central 16-yard line with under a minute to play but from there, the four straight incomplete passes combined with a false start penalty that took a field goal attempt out of the equation for Hughesville clinched the game for the Blue Jays.