SHENANDOAH – If Jim Thorpe head coach Mark Rosenberger had to give his team a mid-season report card, "S" would probably be an appropriate grade.
"S" as in "satisfactory." Last night, with a 27-14 Anthracite Football League victory over Shenandoah Valley, the Olympians improved to 4-1 at the halfway point of the season and remained undefeated in the AFL (4-0).
However, "S" can also stand for "Saunders," as in quarterback Ryan Saunders. The Jim Thorpe senior signal caller accounted for two rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown against the Blue Devils to propel Jim Thorpe to its best start to a season since the Olympians began the 2010 campaign 7-1.
"Anytime you can beat Shenandoah is a good win, because we know they're always a tough physical football team," stated Rosenberger. "We're excited about where we're at right now (4-1), but we can't be satisfied. We have to keep working to get ourselves better for next week against Minersville."
The Blue Devils (1-4) began the game with an 11-play, 63-yard drive. However, on 4th-and-3 from the Olympians 12, Jim Thorpe blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by Shenandoah's Nick Krusinsky.
Four plays later, Jim Thorpe was on the scoreboard when Robert Heller raced 45 yards to pay dirt for a 7-0 Olympians lead.
Jim Thorpe took its next two possessions into Shenandoah territory, but came away empty-handed after losing a fumble and suffering a turnover on downs.
However, the Olympians managed to increase their lead on their final possession of the first half. Jim Thorpe marched 65 yards down the field in seven plays and capped off the drive with a Saunders six-yard run. The kick failed and the Olympians held a 13-0 advantage at the break.
Jim Thorpe then began the second half by orchestrating a drive deep into Blue Devils territory, but a Heller fumble (his second of the game) thwarted the scoring opportunity.
After forcing a Shenandoah punt, Saunders took over the contest. After five straight runs, which netted 48 yards, Jim Thorpe was faced with a 4th-and-8 from the Blue Devils 20. Saunders executed a perfect screen pass, and Deonte St. Hill followed his blockers untouched for a 19-0 lead with 3:37 remaining in the third quarter.
"Credit goes to Coach (Frank) Miller on that fourth down call," added Rosenberger. "Shenandoah was getting a heavy rush on us, especially the outside linebacker off the edge, so we figured they'd bring the house on us on that fourth down play, which they did. It was just a perfect call and a perfectly executed play."
Shenandoah finally got on the scoreboard with 9:23 left in the game when Ian McCole found Kayin Herb from five yards out to cap off a 13-play, 63-yard drive.
However, Saunders answered right back on the ensuing possession (following a failed Shenandoah onside kick attempt) with a three-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 27-8.
The Blue Devils closed out the scoring with a Ian McCole 3-yard touchdown scamper.
McCole gashed the Olympians for 251 yard passing (21-for-35); however, Jim Thorpe stymied the Shenandoah rushing attack for just 35 yards on 17 carries (2.1 ypc).
"Through the first four games, I thought we struggled against the run, while our pass defense was actually pretty good for the most part," touted Rosenberger. "Tonight, I thought our run defense played exceptional, and even though they had a lot of yards through the air, I can't really fault our pass defense because I thought our lack of a rush on their quarterback was very inconsistent all night long."
Saunders, who had 74 rushing yards at halftime, ended the night with 185 yards on 29 carries (including 111 yards on 20 carries in the second half). Saunders accounted for 20 of Jim Thorpe's 26 rushes after the break and now leads the TIMES NEWS area with 694 yards rushing on 98 carries (7.08 ypc).
"He's been doing it all year for us," concluded Rosenberger on the importance of Saunders.
"He's a very physical runner for a quarterback and he gets a lot of positive yards after contact. Tonight, he really carried us."