SHENANDOAH No longer can Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner talk about the importance of the Blue Raiders getting off to a good start this football season.

After three games, the Raiders have had what could be called an excellent start in winning twice on the road in Anthracite Football League play and being undefeated. That second road victory came at the expense of Shenandoah Valley on its Hall of Fame Night, and once again it was the big-play offensive that made the difference in a 26-18 victory.

Tamaqua (3-0, 2-0 AFL) opened the scoring with an 83-yard touchdown pass from Nate Edmonds to Dustin Vandermartin and closed the scoring with a 50-yard pass from Edmonds to Dalton Nunemacher. In between, there was an average, everyday 16-yard touchdown pass from Edmonds to Nunemacher and, oh yes, an outstanding 95-yard kickoff return by Nunemacher for a touchdown.

"Each of the last two times we came up here, it was the big play that hurt us and we were looking for someone to step up and make a big play," Bonner said. "Tonight, we got those plays.

"Now, we've just got to keep it going, and there are plenty of things we've got to work on. In fact, if anyone had told me we would only rush for 40 yards, I would have thought we would have been in big trouble."

Clinging to a 7-6 lead, it was Nunemacher who caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Edmonds on fourth-and-10 with six seconds left in the half for a 14-6 lead. Then, after the Blue Devils had cut the lead to 14-12 on a 1-yard run by Kevin Karpovich with 3:06 left in the third quarter, it was Nunemacher who turned a potential disaster into one of the highlights of the early season by recovering a bouncing kickoff and returning it 95 yards for a touchdown and a 20-12 lead just 20 seconds later.

"When that ball was bouncing around back there, I knew I just had to find my blockers," Nunemacher said. "They did a real good job of sealing off the tacklers and I was able to break free."

After Tamaqua was stopped on its opening drive on an interception by Palubinsky, the Raiders got the ball back three plays later on a fumble recovery by Mike Kelly at the Tamaqua 22. Three plays later, the Raiders scored on their first big play of the night when Edmonds found Dustin Vandermartin for an 83-yard touchdwon pass. Shenandoah came back to score on an 18-yard pass from Palubinsky to Merva.

Then the defenses took over before the Devils were able to move 47 yards to the Tamaqua 22 before Tyler Krell made the first of his two interceptions. His second interception came in the fourth quarter, allowing the Raiders to run out the clock.

Before then, however, there was plenty of drama, as the Devils used a seven-play, 55-yard drive in the third quarter to cut the lead to 14-12. Then, just 20 seconds later, the Raiders had a 20-12 lead on 95-yard kickoff return by Nunemacher.

Still, the Devils refused to fold, as Palubinsky led a 14-play, 73-yard drive that cut the lead to 20-18 on a 21-yard touchdown pass to Nick Merva on fourth-and-17.

With Shenandoah regaining the momentum, it forced the Raiders into a third-and-12 at their 34, needing a stop to get the ball back with more than five minutes left. That stop never came as Edmonds and Nunemacher combined on a 14-yard completion for a first down, and two plays later they combined on a 50-yard touchdown pass for the final score.

"On that touchdown, we were just looking to beat your man and get open," Nunemacher said. "It was a play-action fake, and that gave me time to get open."