If someone would of told you at the beginning of the 2013 high school football season, that Jim Thorpe and Mahanoy would be playing each other to see who would be the lone undefeated team in the Anthracite Football League, then you probably would of thought that person was crazy.
Possibly only Nostradamus himself could of predicted that the Olympians would be 5-1 and the Bears would be undefeated at 6-0, heading into their week seven match-up.
Historically, programs usually don't make that fast of a turnaround, but oh boy did both teams turn things around this season. Thorpe and Mahanoy were a combined 3-17 a year ago, with JT getting their only win against against Mahanoy and the Bears getting their two wins against Nativity and Carson Long.
The match-up between the Olympians and Bears feature the AFL's most dynamic and exciting players in Jim Thorpe quarterback Ryan Saunders and Mahanoy signal caller Dylan Mahmod. These two won't throw all over the field, but they can certainly rack up the yards in the ground game.
Both Thorpe and Mahanoy run a spread offense where they create a lot of misdirection and read option type looks. Saunders and Mahmod have proven they are the perfect candidates to run such an offense and the statistics they've produced back that up.
Saunders has rushed 105 times for 850 yards (8.10 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. Mahmod's numbers are out of this world as he has rushed for 1,225 yards on 136 carries (9 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns. He's also been efficient through the air, passing for 440 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
"This is obviously a huge game this week and first off the credit has to go to our kids for putting themselves in this position," said Jim Thorpe coach Mark Rosenberger. "This is a championship style football game, obviously it's not for a championship yet, but the excitement will be at that level. It's a big game for both us and Mahanoy and there are certainly a lot ramifications that will come out of the end result of this one."
Besides maybe the Bears game with Tamaqua or Marian, the Olympians will serve as Mahanoy's first true test of the season. Mahanoy's six wins have come against teams that have a combined record of 11-25.
The Olympians' opponents also have a combined 11-25 record. However, they've faced some definite stronger opponents in North Schuylkill and Blue Mountain. Thorpe's lone loss came to the Eagles in the second week of the season.
You can talk strength of schedule all you want, but the fact remains that both Mahanoy and Jim Thorpe have very potent offenses.
The Bears average a stunning 52.7 points per game, while the Olympians average a modest 36.2. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the team most likely to come out on top in this one is the team that plays better defensively.
The Olympians have certainly improved in that area, giving up 19.7 points per game compared to the 38.5 points per contest they gave up a year ago.
"I think it all starts up front," said Rosenberger. "Unfortunately, for them their line doesn't get a whole lot of credit, but this is probably the best offensive line we're going to see all season. They're big, physical, and strong and from there obviously we need to contain Mahmod. He's the second leading rusher in the state and a very dangerous player, so we need to do our best to not allow him to make big plays."
As noted, this Olympians group did not see much success last season. So, another question arises, can this Jim Thorpe team that is not used to playing in championship type games rise to the challenge on Friday night?
"We're ready and we're focused and I have no doubt that our kids will be ready to take on the challenge that lies in front of us," said Rosenberger. "We're going to keep working hard this week, work to get better in all facets of the game, and we'll be ready to play come Friday night."