Two undefeated Wyoming Valley Conference football teams remain. Just four in all of District 2.
That number will drop by at least one Friday night when the undefeated WVC finals — Dallas and Hazleton — play at 7 p.m. at Harman-Geist Memorial Field in Hazleton.
The other District 2 teams with a 5-0 record are Lakeland and Scranton in the Lackawanna Conference. However, these teams do not play during the regular season. Dallas and Hazleton Area will get a chance to tie the score on the field.
“Our kids did a great job,” Dallas coach Rich Manello said after Friday’s 45-14 win over winless Wyoming Valley West. “They understand it’s week-by-day, day-by-day. They get all that, but they’re still kids and it’s high school football, and they’re glad they put themselves in a heck of a position here.”
So is Hazleton Area, which will try to match its best start since going 6-0 in the 2008 season.
“Our players, our coaches, our program, the community as a whole, you have to go back quite a long time for our program to play a game like this at the end of the regular season,” Hazleton Area coach Dennis Buchman said. “Our players are very happy and I told them to enjoy the week. Not just on Friday in terms of the competition and the game, enjoy the preparation and the unity.”
The matchup features the two highest scoring offenses in the WVC. Hazleton Area scored 208 points (41.6 per game) while Dallas scored 207 (41.4). Those offenses, however, will be contested by two of the stingiest defenses in the WVC. Hazleton Area gives up 8.6 points per game, while Dallas allows 14.8.
The first place to look for offensive firepower is in both teams’ backfields.
Dallas running back Parker Bolesta passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season last Friday. His 14 rushing touchdowns tied his total for the 2021 regular season. He has rushed for over 2,100 yards since the start of last season, which is an incredible number considering he has missed two games in 2021. He is averaging 10.1 yards per carry.
Hazleton Area quarterback Tyler Wolfe passed for over 1,000 yards last Friday. The Times Player of the Year last season, Wolfe threw 15 TD passes, three shy of his 2021 regular season total.
Wolfe has the top two receivers in the WVC in Connor Shamani and Matt Kousatis, who are tied for first and second in receptions in Division 1. Running back Matt Buchman has rushed for 622 yards — already surpassing his 2021 total — and is averaging 7, 2 yards rushing. He is also a very good receiver out of the backfield.
Dallas had other veterans besides Ballesta in quarterback Dylan Gesky, tight end Nick Farrell and receivers Joe Peters and Zach Paczewski, although Paczewski was injured two weeks ago against Williamsport. The wild card was at quarterback, where sophomore Brady Zapoticki became the starter. He performed admirably and showed signs that the position is in good hands for the next few seasons.
The key for both defenses is how they responded to balanced attacks. Neither Dallas nor Hazleton Area have faced an opposing offense that can move the ball on the ground and in the air. Dallas’ toughest matchup so far has been Crestwood, while Hazleton Area is Wilkes-Barre. Both Crestwood and WBA show serious crimes.
“Offensively, they’re going to be balanced,” Dennis Buchman said. “They’re putting more and more on Brady Zapatitzky’s plate every week and he’s shown he can handle it. He has tremendous poise and can make all the throws and is very good in this offense.”
Dallas has one advantage over Hazleton Area – the kicking game. Jace Chapiak has been extremely reliable over the past two seasons and had a 35-yard field goal last Friday. Hazleton Area has struggled to convert tries this season after losing to Times All-WVC leader Luke Russo.
The history between the two teams is not long. They played just 10 times in Hazleton Area was formed in 1992 by the merger of Freeland, Hazleton and West Hazleton high schools. Hazleton Area has won six times and four games have been decided by seven points or fewer, including a 28-21 overtime win by the Cougars last season.