ENOLA — Field position plays a big part in any football game, even more so when defenses are going to make getting yards a tough practice.
In a special edition of varsity football on Monday night, Milton Hershey showed just what a team can do with that field position, turning back East Pennsboro 28-14 thanks in large part to its offense not having to work all that hard.
The Spartans (6-1, 4-0 Capital) used a pair of turnovers and two great returns by Aliver Delgado to set up each of their four scoring drives and outpace the Panthers.
“That was the biggest part,” East Penn coach Todd Stuter said of a first-half interception and fumble that set the Spartans up at the Panther 19 and 5, respectively.
“We gave them two short fields and they scored on both of them. We spotted them 14 points, and a team this good, you can’t do that. It came back to bite us.”
The Spartans bounced out to a 14-0 lead, with Justin Highter busting through for a pair of short touchdowns to end the short drives, and a third turnover — the Panthers had five on the day — just before the half was possibly more of a back-breaker.
East Penn (4-3, 2-2) found some holes in the Milton Hershey secondary after getting their own short field, moving quickly to the Spartan 10 with a minute to go in the second quarter.
Facing a first-and-goal, Josh Stambaugh completed his third straight pass, hitting Nick Guida in the seam. The senior was spun around by a defender, and lost the ball just as it was crossing the goal line. The closest official ruled a fumble, while another ruled a touchdown. After all five huddled, they determined there was an inadvertent whistle, which led to a replay of the down.
There, Delgado picked off the pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for the score. Even though that score would be called back due to a block in the back, the Spartans held onto the two-score lead entering the break.
“The turnovers were great,” Milton Hershey coach Jeff Boger said. “It was great getting the interception in the end zone, knowing we had the fumble in the end zone too. It worked out the way we thought it should have.”
The Panthers didn’t let the turnover bother them though, as they marched down the field to the Milton Hershey 5 on their opening drive of the second half, only to have the turnover bug bite them again.
With a lot of green behind them though, the East Penn defense held tough, allowing the offense to get the ball back and get on the board when Stambaugh hit Ryan Turpin for a seven-yard touchdown with 4:04 left in the third.
Then, Delgado stepped in again. The senior, who had a pair of interceptions and nearly 100 return yards, rumbled 20 yards with the ensuing kickoff, and the Spartans went up by 14 again.
Turpin returned the next kickoff over midfield, and with another short field, another touchdown went on the board, again to Turpin on a 22-yarder up the seam.
The teams traded possessions again, and with the Panthers looking to pin the Spartans deep with a punt, Delgado made sure it wouldn’t happen, scampering 51 yards on the return to set his team up on the Panther 31.
“Our return game is big,” Boger said. “We work on that. It’s something we emphasize in practice, and I think our kids buy into that, and they do a good job.”
Milton Hershey would put this one away three plays later, when Kevin Wiggins was in the right place to catch a tipped ball for the 17-yard score to put his team back up by two scores.
After Delgado’s second pick, the Spartans ran it six straight times to wind out the clock.
“We were playing a good team and playing from behind,” Stuter said. “(Milton Hershey) needed to step up in the second half when we got some momentum, and they made some plays and were just able to keep ahead of us the whole time.”
Despite the interceptions, Stambaugh finished 17-of-28 for 196 yards and the two scores. The Panther rushing attack was limited to 51 yards on 29 carries.