For the second straight week, the Delaware Hayes Pacers dug themselves into a big first-half hole.
Like they did at Thomas Worthington a week ago, the Pacers came roaring back in the second half. However, the comeback fell just short as Kyle Klumpp’s beautifully executed onside kick attempt avoided everyone on the field, ultimately bouncing harmlessly out of bounds before visiting Hilliard Darby ran out the clock on a 31-28 win Friday in Delaware.
That Hayes (6-3, 3-3) even had a chance late in the game seemed improbable early on as Darby’s (7-2, 5-1) rushing attack had its way with the Pacers defense in the first half. Jack Stultz capped off a five-play opening drive with a 1-yard keeper to put the Panthers up 7-0 just over two minutes into the game.
Following a Pacers punt, the Darby offense went back to work, orchestrating a 14-play, 77-yard drive that was capped off by Stultz’s second rushing touchdown of the game. Jacob Mowell’s extra point made the score 14-0 with just over nine minutes left in the first half.
Fullback Connor Jones, who rushed for 119 yards in the first half alone, added a 7-yard scamper that pushed the score to 21-0 with five minutes left in the half.
The Hayes offense would cross midfield for the first time on the ensuing drive, but a Blake Eiland pass intended for Laquans Banks-Christian fell incomplete on fourth down, ending the Pacers’ only threat in the first half.
After receiving the opening kickoff of the second half, the Pacers offense finally came to life, orchestrating a 14-play, 82-yard drive capped by a Warren Clasen 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Darby lead to 21-7.
Darby would respond with a field goal to make it 24-7 with 33 seconds left in the third quarter. But, 33 seconds was more than enough for Hayes to steal back all the momentum.
One play into the ensuing drive, Clasen was streaking down the Hayes sideline after a well-executed fake reverse. More than 70 yards later, he was in the endzone and the Darby lead was down to 24-14.
Disaster struck for the Panthers on the ensuing kickoff as Eric Williams retreated back to his own 3-yard line on the return before being tackled. Already backed up to his own goal line, Stultz kept the ball on a run but was stripped of the football at the 5-yard line on the final play of the quarter.
Sebastian Meehan recovered the fumble, sending the Pacers into the final quarter with the opportunity to cut the lead to three. Eiland would do just that on the first play of the fourth quarter, finding Mekhi Smith on a 5-yard pass to bring the score to 24-21 with 11:57 left in the game.
The two teams traded punts before Darby increased the lead to 31-21 on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Stultz to Evan Grose with just over five minutes remaining.
The Pacers refused to go away, however, answering with a 19-play drive that was finished off by an Eiland touchdown pass to Sam Lagando on fourth and goal. Klumpp’s extra point brought the score to 31-28, setting up the thrilling onside kick that just barely eluded a Hayes player’s grasp before going out of bounds.
While the loss certainly hurts Hayes’ chances at a playoff berth, it will have a big opportunity for computer points in front of it next week when it travels to Hilliard Bradley to take on the 9-1 Jaguars.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.