The seventh-seeded Hilliard Darby High School football team stuck with host Clayton Northmont in the first half of their Division I, Region 3 first-round playoff game Nov. 2, but couldn’t limit the second-seeded Thunderbolts’ big plays in the second half and lost 42-20.

“We knew we couldn’t allow the big plays and they got two or three of them that really hurt us,” said Panthers coach John Santagata, whose team finished 8-3. “It always hurts when (the season) ends, but you know I couldn’t be prouder of how hard the boys battled and fought all season and to the last snap tonight.”

Things started well for Darby, as Hayden Vroom recovered a Northmont fumble at its 1-yard line and quarterback Jack Stultz ran for a touchdown on the next play.

The game was tied at 14 late in the first half when a 13-yard punt by Darby gave the Thunderbolts a short field. Northmont capped the ensuing 47-yard drive with a 5-yard pass from quarterback Miles Johnson to Drake Hickman with 40 seconds left before halftime.

The Thunderbolts, who average 36.6 points per game, took the second-half kickoff and drove 86 yards in eight plays for a 28-14 lead. The big play on the drive was a 60-yard pass from Johnson to Hickman on third-and-21 that moved the ball to the Darby 4-yard line. That set up another 5-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Hickman.

The Panthers then moved the ball to midfield, but a penalty and a loss of 10 yards on a run thwarted the drive and Northmont struck quickly with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Johnson and Jazz Keys for a 35-14 lead.

“They scored on three straight possessions between late in the second half and their first two in the third quarter and that sucked the momentum out of us,” Santagata said.

Northmont improved to 10-1 and advanced to play sixth-seeded Pickerington Central in a regional semifinal Nov. 9.

“We like to spread the defense out and take some shots and we’ve got some real fast receivers, so we had a feeling we could get behind their defenders a few times,” Thunderbolts coach Troy Broering said. “But they have a stout defensive front and linebackers, so we had to take chances. They also have a great fullback (Connor Jones).”

Jones led Darby with 169 yards rushing on 34 carries and Stultz added 44 yards on 11 carries and was 3-for-8 passing for 24 yards with an interception.

For the Thunderbolts, Johnson was 20-for-23 passing for 303 yards with three touchdowns, Hickman had seven catches for 118 yards, Keys had five receptions for 134 yards and Mike Franklin rushed for 99 yards and two scores on 19 carries.

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek

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Team 1 2 3 4 Final HILLIARD DARBY 7 7 0 6 20 CLAYTON NORTHMONT
14 7 14 7 42

HD—Stultz 1 run (Mowell kick)

CN—Franklin 58 run (Goodwin kick)

CN—Franklin 5 run (Goodwin kick)

HD—Stultz 6 run (Mowell kick)

CN—Hickman 5 pass from Johnson (Goodwin kick)

CN—Hickman 5 pass from Johnson (Goodwin kick)

CN—Keys 64 pass from Johnson (Goodwin kick)

HD—Stultz 3 run (kick failed)

CN—Jacobs 5 run (Goodwin kick)