The theme for the Hartley High School football team’s game Aug. 31 was superheroes, with cheerleaders decked out in Superman, Captain America and Batman capes and some students wearing similar T-shirts.
For the first half and early in the third quarter, their Hawks looked the part of strong men in building a 28-point lead over defending Division V champion Wheelersburg.
But the Pirates showed why they had won 36 straight regular season games since September 2014 in storming back with Hartley players dropping all over the field with leg cramps.
Hartley took a deep breath, hit reset and punched out a 51-20 victory before a standing-room crowd at Jack Ryan Field.
Quarterback Miles Fleming put the game away with a 50-yard run with 2:41 left to play and defensive back George Dunor supplied the exclamation point with a 57-yard return of an interception for a touchdown with 1:35 remaining.
It was a comeback in that the Hawks were blown out 42-17 by ’17 Division III runner-up Toledo Central Catholic last week.
“As a team, that loss took a toll on us,” running back Jalan January said. “We went back to practice and grinded. We knew we had a great opponent, but we went after it tonight. Great players make great plays and everyone contributed.”
Coach Brad Burchfield has his players shoot for the stars almost every season, but being humbled by Toledo Central Catholic had the coaches and players thinking they weren’t all that super.
“You’d have to be silly to say there wasn’t doubt,” Burchfield said. “Obviously, we needed a win. There was recovery that needed to take place. They were thinking about dreams that could take place. There was a lot of work this week because we just got a whupping.”
Hartley took a 24-0 lead on an 80-yard drive capped by a 4-yard run by January, a 74-yard touchdown catch by Phillip Cole, a 26-yard field goal by Matteo Agriesti and 37-yard run by January.
People had to start thinking about a running clock when Cole took a direct snap as a blocker in punt formation and ran 68 yards for a touchdown on a fake to make it 31-3 with 59.8 seconds left before halftime.
But after recovering an onside kickoff, Wheelersburg closed to 34-20 on a 48-yard touchdown catch by Makya Matthews with 6:13 left in the third quarter.
That was when Hartley found another gear.
Defensive back George Dunor had a fumble recovery and the interception to lead a defense that forced five turnovers.
“We had to lock in and play like we did in the first quarter,” Dunor said. “We had to prove this week that we’re Bishop Hartley. We knew what we had to do. We didn’t want to be 0-2. We had to prove that we’re a powerhouse in Ohio.”
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final WHEELERSBURG 0 6 14 0 20 HARTLEY
14 17 3 17 51