Hilliard Darby turned a couple of Delaware Hayes turnovers into a couple of touchdowns and followed quarterback Henry Sopko to a 35-7 victory in OCC-Cardinal Division football Thursday night at Cornell Stadium.
The Pacers (4-5, 1-4) turned it over twice on special teams — miscues which turned into a pair of Darby scores to put them behind in the second quarter.
Derrick Buford’s muffed punt, recovered at the Delaware 18, became a Sopko touchdown on the next play to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 6:59 left in the first quarter.
“Derrick hasn’t muffed a punt all year … in fact, I don’t think Derrick’s muffed a punt in three years since he’s been healthy,” Hayes defensive coordinator Justin Malivuk said. “I think a combination of the weather and him getting caught on that in-between bounce.”
Later, Buford picked up 10 yards on a fake punt, but the ball was jarred loose on the hit and Noah Li recovered for Darby at the Delaware 45 in the second quarter.
“He got hit really hard … sometimes kids make plays,” Malivuk said.
Ian Coverstone scored from 2 yards out six plays later to push the Darby lead to 21-7 with 7:51 left in the first half.
Buford came up with Delaware’s biggest play in the first half when he turned a short screen pass from Cullen Moore into a 28-yard touchdown that tied it 7-7 with 4:02 left in the opening quarter.
“You give him the ball in space and you see that he’s a playmaker,” Malivuk said. “We gotta continue to find ways to get him the ball.”
Moore finished 11-for-28 for 115 yards and an interception. Buford was his main target for the second week in a row, hauling in seven passes for 96 yards to lead the Pacers.
Moore missed four full games and most of a fifth with a shoulder injury before returning in last week’s win at Thomas Worthington.
“He’s not fully recovered,” Malivuk said. “He’s gritting it out and he’s playing as tough as anyone out there. I still think he throws the ball very well. I trust him to keep chucking them. He’s as good as we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Delaware was aggressive all night, including an onside kick attempt after its only touchdown, which was recovered by Clint Barnett at the Darby 46.
“We would call (the onside kick and the fake punt) again if we had the opportunity,” Malivuk said. “It’s a promise we made to our kids – they’re going to come out and be aggressive and we’re going to be aggressive in our play calling. Unfortunately, it led to a couple of short fields, which with their offense, it makes it easier for them.”
The Panthers (5-4, 3-2) started with great field position starting outside of their own 30 on all but one of their 11 possessions.
Grant Hollinger plunged in from 3 yards out to give the Panthers the lead back at 14-7 on the first play of the second quarter – eight plays after the onside kick. Hollinger had 48 yards on the ground.
Sopko capped a 57-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 28-7 with 5:33 left in the third. He set up his touchdown with a 47-yard run on the first play of the drive.
Sopko finished with 173 yards rushing on 20 carries to lead the way for Darby, which ate up 337 yards on the ground. Sopko attempted just six passes for the game and completed two for 15 yards.
“They grind it out, they stay on schedule – they want 3 and a half yards every time they carry the football,” Malivuk said. “They were able to do that pretty consistently.”
Delaware defensive lineman Stanley Sorn was injured in the first quarter and did not return.
“Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury and was unable to come back,” Malivuk said. “He went to get some X-rays and I hope he’s OK. (Glenn) Pauley and Stan Sorn have been, by far, our two best linemen all year.”
Coverstone scored his second touchdown on a 10-yard run with 1:48 left in the game as the Panthers were running down the clock. Coverstone finished with 70 yards rushing.
The Panthers drove down to the Delaware 13 on their first possession of the second half. Sopko’s pitch misfired and Buford recovered the fumble.
Delaware went three-and-out on its next possession.
The Pacers seemingly had a 23-yard touchdown run by Deven Ward later in the third quarter, but it was called back because of holding. Ward led the team with 89 yards rushing on 21 carries.
“He has over a hundred if there’s not a holding penalty,” Malivuk said. “I don’t think it changes the outcome. He’s always constant for us … breaking tackles and getting extra yards when it’s not blocked right and when it is blocked right, he’s got a chance to take it the distance every time.”
Delaware came up empty
on the possession after turning it over on downs, one of four possessions that ended that way for the Pacers in the game.
Delaware wraps up the season at Hilliard Bradley next Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.