After three frustrating losses in as many weeks, Tamaqua was due for a breakout game.
The Blue Raiders busted loose in a big way Friday night, exploding for a 49-7 Atnhracite League trouncing of previously unbeaten Mahanoy Area during Hall of Fame Night on Stadium Hill.
On an unseasonably warm evening more like summer than the first weekend of fall, Tamaqua (1-3 overall, 1-2 league) rolled to its initial victory behind a balanced rushing attack that produced a season-high 351 yards, with five players gaining 50 or more yards.
Defensively, the Raiders clamped down on the Golden Bears' potent option running game, led by QB Mike Gaval.
While Gaval rushed for 61 yards on 12 carries, the Bears didn't find the end zone until a Jordan Mroczka 15 yard TD run with 5:34 remaining, and by then Tamaqua had built a 35-0 advantage.
It was the Raiders who made the big plays, avoiding the penalties and turnovers at the wrong times that have plagued them in their defeats.
"We didn't do things to hurt ourselves tonight," said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner. "We could say 'would have, should have, could have,' not to take anything away from the teams that beat us. This was big for our kids, because we played well, had some nice long drives and didn't make the mistakes we've been making.
"This week we had the best pregame practice we've had all season. We emphasized to our seniors to keep it going. We're not where we wanted to be at this point, but if our kids learned anything from being in this program the past three years, it's don't give up."
After forcing a Mahanoy three-and-out on the opening series, the Raiders marched 45 yards to paydirt on six plays, with a Jarred Muffley 28 yard run setting up a one-yard TD plunge by Grif Griffiths.
Lance Williams kicked the first of his seven PATs for a 7-0 lead at 7:42 of the first quarter.
The Bears (1-2 overall and league) then drove to the Tamaqua 5, but on fourth down Muffley tackled Jordan Mroczka one yard short of the first down to complete a key goal line stand.
The Raiders punted, but a Mahanoy muff was recoved by Griffiths. Five plays later, fullback Garth Lakitsky rambled around left end for a 51 yard TD to swing momentum in Tamaqua's favor at 14-0.
Raider QB Ryan Palsgrove kept the Bears off balance by completing 7 of 8 passes for 112 yards, as well as rushing for 61 yards. Palsgrove's launched a 39 yard pass to Matt DelBorrello down to the Bears 2 to set up a two-yard Muffley scoring run and pushed the Raider edge to 21-0 at the half.
"Ryan played a hell of a game," praised Bonner. "He ran well and threw the ball well. We know he's capable of making plays with his legs as well as his arm."
The Raiders took the second half kickoff and drove 58 yards in nine plays, including a 27 yard Palsgrove to Lakitsky screen pass to the MA 26, setting up a Griffiths' one-yard TD run.
Tamaqua scored three TDs in the fourth quarter, one on a one-yard Lakitsky dive and scampers of 50 yards by freshman Tyler Hope and 63 yards by sophomore Jake Love after both teams began substituting the reserves.