From the moment he first touched the ball against Marian, Grif Griffiths knew he was onto something special.
The Tamaqua junior tailback burst through the middle of the line on the Blue Raiders' first play from scrimmage and rambled 74 yards to paydirt.
That was just the beginning for Griffiths, who had a career night as the Raiders routed the rival Colts 47-21 Friday night in an Anthracite League game on Stadium Hill.
Tamaqua (8-2 overall, 6-2 league) reached the eight victory plateau for the second straight season and will now make its first-ever District 11 Class AA playoff appearance next week.
The Raiders, seeded fifth, will travel to fourth-seeded Panther Valley in a rematch of their week eight meeting, won by the Panthers 20-2.
In that game, the Raiders couldn't reach the end zone, despite 181 yards rushing from Griffiths. That turned out not to be a problem against Marian (3-7 overall, 3-5 league).
Griffiths racked up a remarkable 369 yards of total offense, carrying 16 times for 294 yards rushing with three touchdowns and adding a 75 yard scoring pass. He averaged 21.7 yards per touch, reaching the end zone on plays of 74, 41, 75 and 85 yards as the Raiders finished with a whopping 538 yards of offense.
That was a good way for the Raiders to solve the red zone: bypassing it alltogether.
"The first play, the hole was there," said Griffiths, who needed just eight yards to reach 1,000 for the season and now has 1,286. "I knew it was going to be a good game from there on out.
"We went into this game with a really good attitude, and we all worked together, from our line, our wide receivers, our quarterback and fullback. We all just pushed on the line and got big yards."
The Raider offensive front of center Peter Conforti, guards Carl Wittig and Erik Krause, tackles Mike Gurcsik and Justin Hubosky and tight end Jon Ansbach, along with fullback Garth Lakitsky, cleared the way for Griffiths as well as protecting QB Ryan Palsgrove, who passed for 102 yards and hit TD passes to Griffiths and Anthony Bumbulsky.
"Every chance we had the opportunity to score, we did," said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner. "Grif, I can't say enough about him. He was just ripping it up in there. That was the best game I've ever coached by a running back."
After a Griffiths 41 yard TD ramble made it 14-0 Raiders following Lance Williams' conversion kick, Marian cut it to 14-7 thanks to one of its big play leaders, senior Joe Kloap, who returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a TD.
Paul Martin kicked the PAT to slice the Raider lead in half with 6:02 left in the first quarter.
The Colts had two shots to try and tie it, one after a Dominick Richards interception, and another after a fumbled punt on a Raider punt was downed on the 20, but came up empty each time.
Griffiths then regained control for Tamaqua when he caught a dump pass from Palsgrove and weaved his way for a 75 yard TD, then broke loose on a 85 yard scoring scamper on third and five from his own 15 with 56 seconds left in the second quarter, giving the Raiders breathing room at 28-7 at the half.
"Give Tamaqua credit, they played well and came off the ball," said Marian coach Stan Dakosty. "This was the story of our season. We didn't play good defense all season.
"We also had some chances in the second quarter, and we didn't get in. We left a lot of plays on the field this season, and to be a good team, you can't do that."
Bumbulsky, who intercepted a pair of passes, added a pair of second half TDs, one on an eight yard fade pass from Palsgrove and the other on a 51 yard punt return. Freshman Jake Love tacked on a 12 yard TD run in reserve duty in the fourth quarter.
The Colts picked up a pair of late fourth quarter TDs, one on a 30 yard pass from QB Corey Quick to Eric Baker, and the other on a 23 yard run by Martin, who needed 70 yards for 1,000 and finished with 87 to end with 1,017.
"I want to commend our seniors for hanging in there this year," said Dakosty. "We have a lot of promising underclassmen, but we need to work to get stronger and more physical to make things happen next year."
Bonner feels the Raider program is on the right track.
"I think we were a little ahead of the game last year when we finished with eight wins, but our kids got a feel for what it took to get there," said Bonner. "You're seeing them getting the confidence to win games. It's a matter of working your butt off in the offseason and improving as the year goes on."