The talk leading up to Tamaqua's backyard rivarly game with Panther Valley centered on an off the field comment. The Blue Raiders did their talking on the gridiron.
Tamaqua's power rushing game spoke volumes Friday night, piling up 397 yards as the Raiders routed the Panthers 49-6 in an Anthracite League contest on Stadium Hill.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak by Tamaqua (2-6 overall, 2-4 league), while the Panthers (1-7, 1-5) dropped their third straight.
Much pregame attention was focused on Panther Valley head coach Frank Damian, who said on Tuesday he would not be coaching on the sidelines at Tamaqua.
"For the safety of my players, my family, and for the integrity of the game of football, I will not be coaching," said Damian. No further explanation was offered for his comments.
Tamaqua Area Superintendent Carol Makuta stated Damian's comment was "a total misrepresentation" of the situation regarding his withdrawal from the game and defended Tamaqua's athletes against any implications of misconduct.
"We have great kids," said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner. "They overcame a lot, getting a little bit of undeserved attention that was unjustified, as did this town. Our kids showed a lot of class this week, and they played a good, clean, hard hitting football game tonight."
Leading the way was the Raiders' senior tandem of Garth Lakitsky and Grif Griffiths. Lakitsky plowed his way to 140 yards on 13 carries, rushing for two touchdowns and catching a scoring pass. Griffiths added 10 carries for 127 yards and also crossed the goal line three times.
"Our seniors had big games," said Bonner. "Garth continues to play tough, and Grif had some big runs. They've been around here for four years, and it's good to see them have a big game against a rival."
The Tamaqua offensive front of center Peter Conforti, guards Carl Wittig and Tyler Groner, tackles Mike Sweigert and Luke Matsago and tight end Jon Ansbach cleared the way against the smaller Panther front.
"We felt we matched up with them well, so if we could stay on our blocks, we could move the ball on the ground," stated Bonner.
The Raiders started freshman Nate Edmonds at quarterback for senior Ryan Palsgrove, who still played on defense and had an interception. Edmonds completed just one pass, but it went 13 yards to Lakitsky for the game's first TD.
Lance Williams booted the first of his seven conversions to make it 7-0 with 7:31 left in the first quarter.
After a Griffiths three-yard scoring blast capped an 11 play, 74 yard march to make it 14-0, the Panthers' Josh Vega returned a kickoff 58 yards to the Tamaqua 38.
The Panthers couldn't score on two straight forways in Raider territory, getting as close as the 14 and running out of downs after a Nick McArdle interception.
Following that defensive stand by the Raiders, Lakitsky rambled 74 yards for a TD to push the score to 21-0 at half.
In the third quarter, the Raiders tacked on a 45 yard TD run by Griffiths and a nine-yard Lakitsky scoring blast to widen the gap to 35-0.
The Panthers finally got on the board with 1:29 left in the third quarter when they inserted tight end Brock Mitchell at quarterback and he broke loose for a 72 yard scoring jaunt.
"Every week we have had to get a back-up ready because our quarterback keeps getting knocked out," said Matt Davis, who took over the Panther reins in Damian's absence. "Brock gives us a shot at a big play, and he did that for us tonight."
The Raiders still had time to find the end zone twice in the fourth quarter, with Griffiths scoring from 30 yards out and Jake Love doing the honors on a 59 yard scamper.
These weren't the best circumstances to make an interim head coaching debut for Davis, whose uncle and godfather is the late Walt Ligenza, the former Tamaqua head coach and Panther Valley assistant.
"It's a week I'll never forget," said Davis. "We kept our kids focused on the game, and they battled, as they have all season. I can't complain about that."