The Jim Thorpe football team hasn't exactly had the season it was hoping for back in late August.
Fortunately for the Olympians, they may have received the 'spark' they needed at exactly the right time.
Jim Thorpe's 37-34 come-from-behind victory last week over Marian - in which it was down 20 points in the first quarter and ended up kicking a field goal with four minutes to go to win - has kept its district playoff hopes alive heading into the last week of the season. If the Olympians can defeat rival Lehighton and get some help along the way, they can sneak into the AA playoffs as either the seventh or eighth seed.
"We are sure hoping last week's win can spark us forward," said Jim Thorpe head coach Mark Rosenberger. "I hope our kids have realized their potential and know that they can go out and win games. A win like that supplies everyone with added enthusiasm and motivation, so I am hoping it can be the driving force."
In order to qualify for district play, the Olympians (3-6, 3-5 AFL) will first need to knock off one of their biggest rivals in Lehighton (1-8, 0-6 MVC). Although the Indians have only one win on the season, history says it won't be easy for Jim Thorpe.
Thorpe leads the series 4-3 since the two teams began playing again in 2002. The Olympians won last year's meeting 27-20, but lost the previous three match-ups by scores of 24-21, 27-20 (OT) and 28-25.
"Our kids are excited to play Jim Thorpe," confirmed Lehighton head coach George Ebbert. "The kids have been getting healthy this past week and practice has been good. Their attitude has been great heading into this last game.
"We want to win regardless of the scenario. Knocking them out of the playoffs is just an added incentive. At this point we are just trying to get a win, but at the same time we can ruin their season. I expect it to be a battle."
If the Olympians can pull out the win they would also need some help. They would need two of three teams to lose: 3-6 Salisbury (at 7-2 Southern Lehigh), 3-6 Pine Grove (at 6-2 Line Mountain) or 3-6 Pen Argyl (at 3-6 Bangor).
Any combination of two of those teams losing - along with a victory - will be enough to get Jim Thorpe into the playoffs.
Rosenberger said the main focus of his defense this week will be stopping Lehighton fullback Tim Sulzer.
Sulzer missed most of last week's game with a shoulder injury but should be ready to go for the final game of his career. He put a hurting on Jim Thorpe last year, so slowing him down will be crucial for the Olympians.
Indians' quarterback Kyle Hunter will be another focus, but he completed just five of 16 passes last week. He also tweaked his ankle, but should start under center.
On the other side, look for Jim Thorpe to continue rushing the ball.
Shane Edwards racked up 114 yards and three touchdowns against Marian and will now face a defense that gave up nearly 300 yards on the ground last week.
With so much on the line, it should be a pretty intense week for Jim Thorpe and its student body. While the Olympians have more to play for this week, Rosenberger believes nothing can be taken for granted.
"I think you should take everything and throw it out the door," said Rosenberger. "Throw out districts. Throw out the records.
"This is a big rivalry game. Adding even more to it is that fact that we have an opportunity to make the playoffs and they have a chance to knock us out.
"On top of that, it is Lehighton's senior night and I am sure they will all be ready to go. There is a lot riding on this game for both teams and I expect it to be a great one."