After a perfect 10-game run through the regular season, the Tamaqua Blue Raiders were hoping to start a new run when they hosted Pen Argyl on Saturday night in the District 11 2A semfinals.
For most of the first half, the Raiders looked like the team that hadn't suffered defeat. As a matter of fact, they held the Green Knights scoreless through the first two quarters and had built up a two-touchdown advantage by intermission.
The Green Knights, however, shook off the cobwebs, controlled the ball almost the entire second half, and turned things around for a 30-14 victory to end the season for the Blue Raiders.
"We had a chance to almost go up 21-0," said Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner afterwards. "After that, they had the momentum on their side, they chunked us on a good drive and pretty much kept the ball out of out hands pretty much the rest of the game."
Pen Argyl (9-2) will now take on Colonial League champion Catasauqua (11-0) on Saturday at Rough Rider Stadium for the district championship. The Roughies defeated the Green Knights during the regular season 48-21.
Early on, the Tamaqua defense owned the Green Knights as it forced three early turnovers, turning two of them into its only two scores of the game.
"I don't know anything about their schedule, but our schedule prepared us for this game," said Pen Argyl head coach Paul Reduzzi. "Our schedule and the leadership from our kids who were in big games before prepared us to play this.
"I credit the guys calling the offense because we have the versatily for movement. We said during the week that we would keep fishing around until we found something that worked and we did."
Nolan Ziegler recovered a fumble on the Pen Argyl 43 and the Raiders went to work. After a couple of nice runs by Jake Love, Dalton Nunemacher took it the rest of the way on an 11-yard run to set the single season touchdown record. Dustin Vandermartin's PAT with 5:16 left in the opening quarter made it 7-0.
On Pen Argyl's next offensive series, Vandermartin intercepted a Ryan Hunt pass giving the Raiders the ball back at the Green Knights 37.
Six plays later, Vandermartin was on the receiving end of a Nate Edmonds pitch-and-catch for a 26-yard touchdown and after his second PAT, the Raiders had a 14-0 lead with still 42 seconds left in the opening quarter.
And Pen Argyl's problems didn't stop there. On the next series, Tamaqua's Luke Matsago intercepted a pass to give the Raiders the ball back at the Green Knights 32.
The Raiders ran out of downs at the Pen Argyl 19 and on their next drive, the Green Knights gave the fans a preview what was to come in the second half when they used a 15-play drive to take seven minutes off the clock that ended with the Raider defense standing tough at their own five. They stopped one more Pen Argyl drive before the clock ran out and they took the 14-0 lead into the locker room.
"I think we basically had the ball about three times for about six plays the entire second half," said Bonner. "It's tough to score when you don't have the ball and they chunked us. Give them credit. They were physical up front their backs ran real hard and they picked up a lot of yardage after the first hit.
"They kind of went with their strength that was their power game. Once they found their rhythm and found something they could run against us, they stuck with it."
Tamaqua ran just 11 plays in the second half and didn't get a first down, while Pen Argyl managed to move the chains 15 times during that time.
Michael Racciato ran the ball four times on Pen Argyl's first offensive series after the kickoff, including a 50-yard run and Michael DePaolo finished it off from the four to cut the Tamaqua lead to 14-7.
All of a sudden, the Raiders lost their composure.
Racciato intercepted a pass on Tamaqua's third place from scrimmage on his own 26. Fourteen plays later, Jacob Krincek booted a 30-yard field goal and with 2:06 left in the third quarter, Tamaqua's lead was 14-10.
The Green Knights recovered a fumble on the Tamaqua 30 three plays later and after a 28-yard run by DePaolo, Racciato took it in for a two-yard TD and they took the lead for good at 17-14 with 11:16 left in the game.
A drive that took almost eight minutes ended on a three-yard TD run by DePaolo with 2:19 left and Ryan Lobb ran back an interception for 60 yards with no time left to seal the deal at 30-14.
"The kids played awesome all year," Bonner noted. "They made a lot of people in town proud of them and they deserved it. It was a great year for us and it's always tough to end on a loss. Our kids have nothing to be ashamed of. I thought our kids played great all year."