If you were told the winner of last night's game between Tamaqua and Jim Thorpe ran the ball 58 times for 351 yards, you would think the Blue Raiders picked right up where they left off last season, right?
If you were told the winner of last night's Anthracite Football League opener between the Blue Raiders and Olympians would hold their opponent to only eight points over the first 47:47 of the game and limit their opposition to just 75 yards on 20 carries, you would think Tamqua wins in a landslide, right?
Last night, Tamaqua looked like a shelf of its former self, as Jim Thorpe ran over, around and through the defending Anthracite Football League champs, en route to a 34-14 upset victory atop Stadium Hill.
After back-to-back 1-9 seasons, the Jim Thorpe win sent shock waves throughout the League and silenced the doubters who thought the Olympians didn't stand a chance against a Tamaqua squad that went undefeated (10-0) last year.
"For the last two years, we were physically dominated by teams and we weren't going to stand by and let it happen again," stated Jim Thorpe head coach Mark Rosenberger. "Tonight, we came out and played a physical football game against a team that prides itself on playing that style of football. I thought our defense did an outstanding job of controlling field position and tackling, I thought our offensive line did a great job of opening up holes, and I thought our running backs and quarterback played a helluva game."
"Besides the Jim Thorpe football family, not many people gave us a chance to come in here and beat Tamaqua," added Rosenberger. "However, we felt very strongly that we could win this football game. We felt we had something special here with these kids and they really went out there and willed themselves to victory. I'm very proud of the effort all around tonight."
Jim Thorpe got on the board first with a nine-yard touchdown run by Deonte St. Hill and took an 8-0 lead following a successful two-point conversion run by Mike Mulderig. Quarterback Ryan Saunders aided the Olympians scoring drive with a 30 yard run that featured a host of missed tackles.
However, Tamaqua answered right back on its next possession as Zach Zuccati hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Nate Edmonds. A two-point conversion pass from Edmonds to Trevor Skripko tied the game at 8-8 with 10:28 remaining in the second quarter.
It didn't take Thorpe long though to respond, as St. Hill returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards and Saunders scampered in from one yard out to give the Olympians a 15-8 halftime lead.
Tamaqua went three-and-out on its first three possessions of the second half and Jim Thorpe received a 45-yard touchdown run from Robert Heller and a 11-yard toudown run by Saunders to put the Olympians ahead by a score of 28-8.
Following a Mulderig interception of Nate Edmonds, St. Hill raced 19 yards to pay dirt as Jim Thorpe took a commanding 34-8 lead.
"We obviously have to improve or it's going to be a long year. We have a couple of key guys out, but that's still no excuse to give up that much yardage and that many points," stated Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner. "We knew going in that Saunders was the guy we had to stop and we didn't stop him at all."
"Defensively we have to make tackles and fly to the ball. Offensively, we had about 10 drops tonight. We can't have success dropping that many balls. We have a quarterback that can throw but we need kids who can catch."
The Olympians' defensive performance was a stark contrast from last season when they allowed their opponents to rush for over 300 yards per game, while giving up 38.5 points per contest. Likewise, Jim Thorpe was often regarded as a soft team that averaged only 145.3 rushing yards per game.
"The last couple of years, we found ourselves being more of a finesse football team and we're trying to get rid of that image and get after people again," added Rosenberger. "In my 16 years here, we always prided ourselves on defense and playing aggressive football. Tonight was a great win and a good first step in getting Jim Thorpe football back on the map."