DEVNER — The amazing advancement of the Daniel Boone football team through the first two rounds of the District 3-AAA Tournament was one of the feel-good storylines of the area gridiron season.
Friday night, however, the Blazers saw the final chapter of their campaign authored by Cocalico in a frigid district semifinal.
Hunter High rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns as the No. 7 seed Eagles brought an end to Boone’s impressive postseason run with a 24-6 victory.
Cocalico (10-3), which had defeated Boone 32-14 in Week 1, advances to next Friday’s District 3-AAA final at Hersheypark Stadium and will face the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal between Bishop McDevitt (12-0) and Red Land (9-3).
The Blazers, who had taken down third seed Lampeter Strasburg 34-14 in the first round and 11th seed Milton Hershey 28-16 in the quarters, finished 8-5 — doubling their win total from the previous season for the second straight year.
“They’re a real tough team,’ Blazers middle linebacker Jon Passifione said of the Eagles. “They’re good at what they do. Tonight we came out and had some good things and some bad things, but we had a hard time stopping how powerful they were.’
The Blazers actually appeared to have the better of it in the early going, with safety Nick Hughes recovering a fumble on Cocalico’s first offensive play and Cinque Ramsey ripping off a 28-yard run two plays later to put Boone on the Eagles 11.
But on fourth-and-1 from the 2, Ramsey slipped in the frozen sod for what wound up a 3-yard loss.
“We had some missed opportunities that hurt us,’ Boone coach Bill Parks said. “In a game like this you can’t do that.’
Cocalico broke the ice four plays into the second quarter on a 1-yard run by High that made it 6-0.
The Blazers looked to be in the process of answering right back, as they drove inside the Eagles 30 thanks to some tough running by Marcus Harmon. But on a second-down play from the 28, a bad snap flew over the head of QB Hughes and Cocalico’s Justin Marderness picked up the loose ball and returned it to the Boone 49.
Six plays later, D.J. Fabiani took it in from 5 yards out on a nifty reverse pivot to put the Eagles up 13-0.
From there, it was tough sledding for the Blazers’ offense, which immediately went three-and-out.
High then broke off a 39-yard run to put the ball on the 1, plowed in on the next play, and converted a two-point conversion run to make it 21-0 with 1:07 left in the first half.
“The toughest team we’ve played all year,’ said Boone linebacker Adam Carr. “You’ve got to give it to their players. They’re good, they’re physical and they play the right way. They’re a class act.’
“They come hard every play,’ echoed fellow senior linebacker A.J. Spagnoletti. “And they don’t make many mistakes.’
Spagnoletti actually forced one of those mistakes two plays into the third quarter by sacking QB Brady Sawyer and jarring the ball loose before Carr recovered it at the 14 to put Boone in business.
But Cocalico’s Abdul Saad spearheaded a strong defensive stand with two sacks in a span of three plays, punctuated by his dropping Hughes for a four-yard loss on fourth down.
“Credit to them,’ Parks said. “They do an incredible job of tightening up in the red zone. That’s a very tough defense. They have a great system, and their coaches do a great job.’
Cocalico extended the lead to 24-0 on a 26-yard field goal by Matt McKinney on the second play of the fourth quarter before the Blazers finally got on the board on Ramsey’s 18-yard run with 4:27 left in the game.
By that time, however, the outcome had long been decided — though Boone kept fighting to the bitter end.
With the Eagles running out the clock, Parks called timeout with 25 seconds remaining to insert his second-teamers while he showed his appreciation for his senior-laden starting unit by greeting each one of them as they exited the field.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our players — we had 35 guys in uniform — for coming here and fighting like they did,’ Parks said. “We knocked out two league champions along the way. It’s an incredible feat for this team. We have a bunch of great young men who are going to go far, not just in football but in life.’
“No one gave us any chance to be here, but we work harder than any team in our league,’ said Carr. “We just all love to play football and work hard.’
“I’ll remember this season forever,’ Passifione said. “It was a long journey, and we had our ups and downs, but we fought through adversity when a lot of people didn’t think we could do it. It’s such a tight-knit group. They’re all my family, and I’m proud of every single one of them.’
Boone played without running back/corner Paul Galanti, the area’s leading rusher (1,336 yards), who tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of last week’s game. The Eagles also had to battle injury issues, with top rusher Matt Weinhold and starting quarterback Dante Haines both lost for the season. … Cocalico, which entered the game averaging 300.3 rushing yards per game, had 251 total yards (all on the ground). … Boone had 178 total yards, with Ramsey rushing for a team-high 60 yards, Jonathon Charles collecting three receptions for 31 yards and Passifione making two grabs for 40 yards. … Darius Hinton also recovered a fumble for the Blazers.