Through the first two weeks of the season, the Jim Thorpe football team has relied heavily on its running game.
The Olympians have run the ball a total of 87 times for 427 yards in their victories over Tamaqua and Reading Central Catholic while attempting to pass on just 15 occasions.
It is easy to see from the numbers that Mark Rosenberger's first priority is to establish a running attack. The Jim Thorpe head coach will attempt to do the same this week. Except this time around it will be much, much tougher.
The Olympians will travel to North Schuylkill this Friday to compete in this week's Game of the Week. Both teams enter the contest 2-0 and are averaging 329 yards-per-game on offense. However, neither offense will be the most dominant group on the field. That honor belongs to the Spartans' defense.
"North Schuylkill's defense is extremely physical up front," said Rosenberger. "They have two of the best defensive ends in the area and their linebackers tackle very well. They are the 'real deal.'''
Returning to the Spartans' defensive line is Tyler Dean, Charlie Hutnick, Jon Green and Scott Yagielniskie. Linebackers Mike Shinkus and Ed Pavalko, who will also come up to the line and present different fronts, are the two great players that Rosenberger is referring to.
The Spartans' defense has yet to give up a point this season, as they blanked both Shenandoah (43-0) and Minersville (41-0). Only four other schools in eastern PA (one in District 11 - Mahanoy Area) have shut out their first two opponents.
While Jim Thorpe prefers to run the ball, North Schuylkill has surrendered just 98 rushing yards (175 total) thus far. Regardless, Rosenberger said his offensive philosophy will not change.
"We have to establish the run," Rosenberger said. "The other teams they have played have not been able to do that.
"It starts with us. We are more physical this year as compared to how we have been in the past. If we can get some yards on the ground and mix in the pass then I think we will be alright."
Shane Edwards will once again lead the Olympians' ground attack. The senior was the team's leading runner last week, tallying 110 yards and three scores on 22 carries. It was his second straight game with at least 100 yards and two touchdowns (26-116-2 vs. Tamaqua).
Along with having a great defense, the Spartans possess one heck of a ground game themselves. The senior tailback-fullback combination of Kody Flail and Pavalko spear-head District 11's third highest scoring offense (42 ppg). Flail leads the team with 329 yards and four TDs on 19 carries (17.32 avg). Pavalko had totaled 127 yards on 18 carries with both a rushing and a receiving score.
Scott Houser, another senior running back-slash-slot man, has contributed with 50 yards rushing and 72 yards receiving. He has a TD on the ground and through the air as well. Thanks to its three backs, along with its lop-sided scores, North Schuylkill has rarely passed. Quarterback Ryan Henning has attempted only 14 passes in two games.
"It starts up front for them," said Rosenberger. "Much like their defensive live, they are great athletes and are very physical up front. We have to be able to match that.
"With Houser, they have three tough runners. Their quarterback is big as well (6-5, 250) and can get some tough yards. We will add a few wrinkles on defense, but either way we will have to play fundamentally sound. You can't miss tackles against these guys."
North Schuylkill, the defending District 11 AA champs, will present a huge challenge for the up-start Jim Thorpe team. Although the Olympians lost 38-7 last year, they are looking forward to this year's challenge.
"We are excited," said Rosenberger. "Nobody on this side of the state thinks we can play with these guys, but we are going to give it our best shot.
"We have put ourselves in position to play in an exciting game. Last year we weren't in many exciting games because we didn't put ourselves in that position. We didn't play well enough. Right now, we feel real confident with how we have been playing and are looking forward to the challenge."