SCHUYLKILL HAVEN - With the elusive end zone in sight, Grif Griffiths went airborne.
The final five yards gained by the Tamaqua junior running back were the most crucial, as he sailed across the goal line in overtime to give the Blue Raiders a 13-7 Anthracite League victory over Schuylkill Haven Friday night at wet Rotary Field.
The win, Tamaqua's first over Schuylkill Haven since 2000, improved the Raiders to 6-1 overall and kept their league hopes alive at 4-1, heading into next Friday's showdown at Panther Valley. The Panthers and North Schuylkill are both unbeaten in Anthracite competition.
''It's big,'' said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner of the OT triumph, the first for the Raiders since a 29-28 win at Minersville in 2007. ''Schuylkill Haven has a great program, and we haven't beaten them in eight years. It was also big that we bounced back from last week's loss (against North Schuylkill).''
Schuylkill Haven (4-3 overall, 3-3 league) had the first chance when Tyler Naus recovered a loose ball on the game's opening kick-off on the Tamaqua 23. The Raiders held, however, and Garth Lakitsky blocked Mike Georgevic's 32 yard field goal attempt to keep the Hurricanes off the board.
On their second possession, the Raiders drove from their own 24 to their 47, from where quarterback Ryan Palsgrove ran an option left, slipping around the end and racing 53 yards to paydirt. Lance Williams' conversion kick made it 7-0 with 1:06 remaining in the first quarter.
Haven appeared to have a threat going to open the second half, driving to the Tamaqua 34. A 'Canes' fumble was recovered by Lakitsky, however, to halt the drive.
Griffiths, who carried 28 times for 171 yards, broke off a 36 yard run to the Haven 29, but the 'Canes stopped him short on fourth and one at the 20.
Later in the quarter the Raiders took over on their own 48 and marched down to the 'Canes' 11, but Palsgrove's pass for Anthony Bumbulsky in the end zone was intercepted by Haven's Brian Murphy.
The 'Canes then drove 80 yards for their lone TD, behind the hard running of Evan Fink (22-108 rushing) and a 35 yard pass from Murphy to D.J. Fairell down to the seven, from where Murphy scored on a keeper with 7:21 left. Georgevic's PAT kick tied it at 7-7.
The Raiders had another chance to pull it out in regulation when Griffiths busted a 56 yard run to the Haven 12, but three plays later, Williams' 22 yard field goal attempt was judged wide right by the officials with 21.5 seconds left.
In the overtime period, Tamaqua won the coin toss and elected to play defense first. With a first and goal from the 10, three Haven runs netted just four yards, and Georgevic's 23 yard field goal try was wide right.
On Tamaqua's turn from the 10, Griffiths was not to be denied.
''Grif has been running hard for us all year, and we felt he was due to break a couple of long runs,'' said Bonner. ''We pulled out the counter trey this week for the first time, and on the last play, it was a toss out of the Power I. We had hit them with a double Power, so when they started loading up on us, we felt we could get outside better.''
Griffiths praised his offensive front of center Peter Conforti, guards Dakota Krapf and Erik Krause, tackles Justin Hubosky and Mike Gurcsik and tight end Jon Ansbach, as the Raiders racked up 265 yards rushing.
''Our line is one of the nastiest lines in the league and as long as I'm running behind them, I'm going to get yards,'' said Griffiths.
''On the TD, we knew they were going to crash inside, so coach called the toss behind Garth and (Eric) James, and they just led me in for the TD. I jumped in the air and hoped for the best, getting my shoulders across the line.''
''I thought both teams were evenly matched, but they made one more play than we did,'' said Schuylkill Haven coach Mike Farr.