HAZLETON — Hazleton Area’s defense, which has been dominant all year, finished the regular season with its best game yet, pitching a senior shutout to beat Berwick 20-0 at Harman-Geist Memorial Stadium.

Berwick managed just two trips into the red zone, both of which resulted in turnovers, and the rest of the night saw Hazleton Area pile on the pressure to make big plays, sacking Bulldogs quarterback Matt Lonchinski five times and forcing him into several rushing yards. including one that led to an interception to seal the game in the fourth quarter.

“We were able to consistently pressure the quarterback, he didn’t have a clean pocket all night,” Hazleton Area coach Dennis Buchman said after the game. “For us to be able to kill them all night long is a testament to our players, our coaches and our execution.”

The Cougars were able to lean on their defense a little more than expected in the second half on Friday night. Quarterback Tyler Wolfe, one of the best pass rushers in the Wyoming Valley Conference and one of the team’s biggest leaders, left the game in the third quarter after injuring his knee at the end of a long drive.

Wolfe did not return to the game and his status for the district playoffs is unknown, but he was vocal and visible on the sidelines as his team continued to shut down the Bulldogs.

“His (Wolf’s) leadership showed even more,” Buchman said. “He immediately wanted to get out of the tent and be a visible presence and a vocal presence for his teammates on senior night because he knew they needed him.”

Before the injury, Wolfe had thrown for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to lead the Cougars, one on a 31-yard strike to Matt Kousatis and the other on a screen pass to Matt Buchman, who forced a man miss behind the line of scrimmage and bounced to the sideline 8 yard line.

Another senior, Buchman took most of the snaps after Wolfe left the game and added Hazleton Area’s final touchdown midway through the third quarter.

Defensively, senior leaders like Buchman and Ryan Mathias played their part in keeping a Bulldog offense full of talented skill players from doing any damage.

“We needed to step up,” Mathias said. “Our defense needed to make plays and we did just that.”

The win improved Hazleton Area’s overall record to 8-2 heading into the 2/4-11 District 6A sub-regional, where the Cougars will hit the road to take on a yet-to-be-determined opponent.

Berwick dropped to 4-6 to end the regular season. The Bulldogs will also make the playoffs in District 2 4A. Their opponent and venue have yet to be determined.