This past spring, the TIMES NEWS area had one of its football teams put together an amazing playoff run to cap off its best season in its two year existence.
Chances are not many people have even heard of this team. That's all about to change.
The Summit Hill Tigers are a member of the Greater Eastern Football Association, which is a semi-pro league that began in 2005. The league consists of 16 teams (eight per conference, four per division) that hail from New Jersey, Harrisburg, Bloomsburg, Schuylkill County as well as other places. The goal of all of these teams: to make it to the Keystone Bowl and compete for a championship.
This past season Summit Hill finished the regular season 5-5. Although the Tigers were only .500, they improved on their 3-5 mark from their inaugural season and made the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Scott Reese, the team's quarterback and interim coach in 2010, recalled some moments from the season.
"We missed a golden opportunity to get a first round bye," said the Panther Valley native. "We lost a tough game in overtime against Bucks County at home and then came up three yards short again against them in Bristol. At times we played like the best team in the league. At other times we seemed to struggle with finding our rhythm.
"Our high points were beating the three-time champion Bayshore Brawlers 19-18 on the road to open the season. Later we beat them 8-0 - handing them their first shutout ever. A week later we won in dramatic fashion against Mount Joy on the last play of the game. We had our rough patches throughout the regular season, but we really got it together at the end of the season and were hitting out stride as we entered the play-offs."
Even through the Tigers dropped their last game of the year and let the division title and a first-round bye slip away, they qualified for the playoffs as the No. 5 seed and decided to make the best of it.
"Our goal was never anything short of winning a championship," said Reese. "We knew that nobody was taking us serious and that most of the league had written us off for dead. We took it very personal."
Summit Hill opened the playoffs against one of their biggest rivals - the Middletown Maniacs. Things didn't start out too great, as the Tigers quickly fell behind 12-0. However, one drive changed all of that. Reese led his team down to the one-yard-line where he called for a QB sneak. He audibled at the line, changing the play from the right to left, and snuck in for the score. Warren Hile then pulled down the two-point conversion a play later to give the team the spark they needed. The Tigers would go on to roll over the Maniacs, 45-18.
It was the 'Tigers versus the World' in the second round, as they faced off with top-seeded Lykens (9-1). Lykens had blown out Summit Hill in its previous two meetings and seemed to be the unanimous favorite to win. Regardless of what everyone else thought, the Tigers believed they had a chance.
The two teams matched each other point-for-point for three quarters as the game remained in the balance. It was before the start of the fourth quarter that the Tigers decided to shock the world.
"We ran a trick play called 'the sleeper,'" Reese said. "We huddled on the sideline instead of in the middle of the field. We broke the huddle and immediately lined up before the defense could properly adjust. One of our players stayed on the field at the sideline with his back turned to the defense. The defenders never covered him and he streaked into the end zone."
From then on it was all Summit Hill, as it went on to win by a lop-sided score of 43-18.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they lost in the Penn-Jersey Conference championship to No. 3 Schuylkill County (9-1). It was the second time in as many years that the Tigers' playoff run was ended by the Wolfpack.
About half the players on the team are from the TIMES NEWS area. Reese, along with Defensive End Tony Stoeckle, Running Back Danny Reed, Cornerback Noel Abadia, Offensive Lineman Warren Hile, Linebacker Shane Kaufman, Linebacker Danny Thorpe and Wide Receiver Rob Marrero all started on the varsity level for either Tamaqua or Panther Valley in the late 90s-00s. Stoeckle was voted onto the All-Star Team this past season.
Next year Randy Smith will take over as head coach. Smith coached Panther Valley's knee-hi teams to undefeated seasons and championships several years ago.
Until 2011 rolls around, Reese will reflect on last season and smile.
"I don't think anything could rival the feeling of beating the 9-1 defending conference champions on their home field," said Reese. "It was an amazing feeling. On a personal level, scoring a touchdown in a play-off game was incredible. But no personal moment could trump being on a team of guys that worked so hard.
"Together we worked through the snow, sleet, slush and freezing practices. We had scrimmages where we couldn't even find the ball in the snowy, muddy mess of a field. Together we won two playoff games in 90 degree heat and humidity. It was an incredible journey."