Last night, Marian and Tamaqua played for more than just pride and bragging rights.
The Colts and Blue Raiders played for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
For one team, a win would extend its season.
For the other, a loss would end it.
After falling behind 7-0 at halftime, Tamaqua rallied for 21 unanswered points in the second half, as the Blue Raiders lived to fight another day with a 21-13 Anthracite Football League victory over Marian.
The win advances the Blue Raiders into next weekend's Eastern Conference playoffs, where they will travel to Catasauqua (a 28-27 overtime winner over Northwestern Lehigh in a game that was played under identical circumstances).
"We feel even at 5-5, we're a lot better team than our record indicates," stated Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner. "Tonight we were fortunate to be in a situation where we had a chance to extend our season and make the playoffs and I thought our kids did a good job of coming around and making plays when they had to."
After driving to the Tamaqua 20 yard line on its opening possession, Anthony Iacoviello recovered a Colts fumble to thwart the drive. However, Tamaqua coughed it right back up on the very next play when Phil Schron scooped up a Brett Kosciolek fumble.
Five plays later, Marian would capitalize on a Dylan Quirk seven-yard touchdown run to put the Colts ahead 7-0 with 6:26 left in the first quarter.
The early miscues by both teams proved to be a recurring theme throughout the night in a game where turnovers became turning points.
Tamaqua fumbled away its ensuing possession, but got the ball right back with a Tyler Krell interception of Marian's Ryan Karnish. However, the Colts would catch a break by recovering another Tamaqua fumble (its third in the first eight minutes of the game).
"We put the ball on the ground way too much in the first half, and to be quite honest with you, we were very fortunate to be down only 7-0 at halftime with the mistakes we were making," added Bonner. "
However, the Raiders stared adversity right in the face and never panicked.
After forcing a Marian punt on the first possession of the second half, Tamaqua drove 62 yards on eight plays, with freshman quarterback Brett Kosciolek hitting Jarred Muffley from three yards out on a fourth-and-goal play to tie the game at 7-7.
With starting quarterback Matt DelBorrello out for the year with an injury sustained last week, Kosciolek's first varsity start came in arguably the team's biggest game of the season.
And the youngster showed plenty of poise and moxy.
"The kid did a heckuva job for being thrown in there as a freshman," noted Bonner. "In the first half, he completed a few big third down conversions, and in the second half, he did a good job of managing the game."
Marian marched right down the field on its next possession, and appeared to be going in for a go-ahead score, but Tyler Krell recovered a Colts fumble at the five yard line.
Tyler Hope then broke free for 78 yards and Nolan Ziegler gave the Raiders a 14-7 lead with a seven-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
"We have a great bunch of kids and they played hard, but when you fumble at the five yard line and then allow an 80-yard run, that's going to change momentum in a hurry," stated Marian head coach Stan Dakosty.
On Marian's first possession of the fourth quarter, Paul Martin carried the Colts down the field and set them up with a first-and-goal from the Tamaqua four yard line. After carrying the ball nine times for 53 yards to get there, Martin was stuffed on four straight carries, including a fourth down run that was bottled up by Muffley for a six-yard loss.
"I tip my hat to Tamaqua because their defense played well," added Dakotsky. "But if you want to win ball games, you need to finish, and we came up empty way too many times tonight."
"That's kind of been our problem all season long," reflected Dakosty. "Tonight was very reminiscent of the Minersville game where we had chances to put them away and we didn't."
On the next drive, Marian recovered a Raiders fumble (their fourth lost fumble of the game) at Tamaqua's 14, but once again couldn't capitalize, as Nolan Ziegler intercepted Karnish and rumbled 51 yards on the return.
Muffley then sealed the win with a 20-yard run to pay dirt to give Tamaqua a 21-7 lead with 1:23 left.
Up to that point, Marian (5-5) had six possession inside the Tamaqua 27 yard line, but could muster up just one touchdown and seven points.
"Our defense came to play tonight," lauded Bonner. "They kept us in the game in the first half and they won us the game in the second half."