Tamaqua led Panther Valley four times in their District 11 Class AA quarterfinal contest.
As long as the Panthers have Jake Dunn, however, they may be down, but they are never truly out.
The standout senior wide receiver caught nine passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns, including two truly amazing circus catches in the end zone, the last being the game-winner in overtime, as the Panthers pulled out a 32-26 victory over the rival Blue Raiders Saturday night.
The Panthers also used a dramatic goal line stand on the Raiders' overtime possession to preserve the win.
The District 11 playoff triumph earned fourth-seeded Panther Valley (9-2) a rematch with top-seeded North Schuylkill (11-0) in next week's semifinals, which beat Pen Argyl 22-8. The Spartans beat PV 12-8 on Oct. 30.
The Panthers repeatedly got off the canvas in the rematch against fifth seeded Tamaqua (8-3), which lost 20-2 at Panther Valley Stadium on Oct. 23.
"One of the things that really impresses me about these kids is their poise under fire," said Panther Valley coach Frank Damian. "There were times we were down and we kept coming back."
The Raiders, in their first-ever District 11 postseason appearance, led 13-8 at half on a pair of TD passes from junior QB Ryan Palsgrove to senior wideout Anthony Bumbulsky, the first a 20-yard on the game's opening series, and the second a one-yarder with five seconds left in the first half.
The Panthers, whose first half points came on a Kyle McAvoy five-yard run and QB Casey Lawrence's two-point run on the"swinging gate" PAT play, regained the lead on the opening series of the second half.
McAvoy (13-84 rushing) had a 32 yard burst into Raider territory to set up a 16 yard fade pass from Lawrence to Dunn for the TD and a 14-13 PV edge.
Raider rushing leader Grif Griffiths, who had 47 yards before leaving the game with 6:31 in the fourth quarter due to a hamstring pull, picked off a pass and returned it to the PV 7, setting up Palsgrove's seven-yard TD on a bootleg run for a 19-14 Tamaqua with 4:11 left in the third.
The Panthers went back in front with 11:52 left in regulation when Dunn laid out and made a diving 30 yard reception in the end zone for a 20-19 PV lead.
Jarred Muffley, who took over for Griffiths and finished with 66 yards on 21 carries, then led a 12 play, 63 yard scoring drive, with fullback Garth Lakitsky bulling his way across the goal with 5:07 to go. Lance Williams' PAT kick made it 26-20 Raiders.
"We have some seniors up front (Erik Krause, Mike Gurcsik and Justin Hubosky) who come off the ball, and when Grif went down, Jarred Muffley did a helluva job at running back," said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner.
PV gave up the ball on downs near midfield with 2:55 remaining and no timeouts, but a high snap on a Raider punt attempt was the break the Panthers needed, as they took over on the Tamaqua 39 at the 1:43 mark.
Lawrence, who was 10 of 23 for 164 yards and 4 TDs, connected with tight end Jeff Corby on a 19-yard TD strike to deadlock things at 26 at the 1:10 mark. Lawrence's PAT pass was short, keeping it 26-26.
"They made a bad snap there. and we took advantage," said Damian. "That gave us the momentum we needed to come back and take it into overtime."
In OT, the Panthers had the first possession, but were pushed back to the 15 on a delay of game penalty. McAvoy ran for a yard, and two incompletions set up fourth and 14.
On fourth down, Lawrence was hit by Eric James as he threw, but somehow Dunn made a sensational one-handed catch in the end zone. "I couldn't reach it, so I threw one hand up there and was able to bring it in," said Dunn.
"I always have faith in Jake," said Lawrence. "My job is to stand in there and take the hit and throw it up to my best receiver, Jake Dunn."
On the Raiders' series, Muffley carried all four times, getting to the PV 2, but the Panthers held firm, with the fourth down play ending with a rugby-style scrum in which Muffley was stopped inches short of the goal.
"Obviously, our kids thought we were in. There was a pile there. We went with our big guns because we thought we could push it in, but we came up a little short," said Bonner.
"The bad snap hurt us, and we missed a couple of PATs that we don't normally miss. A couple of things didn't go our way, but that's life and that's football."