In recent years, when Tamaqua and Marian clash in the final weekend of the regular season, the game has meant much more than just bragging rights between two backyard rivals.
In 2011, the Blue Raiders and the Colts fought for Eastern Conference playoffs berth, and last year, the two squads battled for the Anthracite Football League championship.
Last night, however, if Tamaqua had any hope of making the EC playoffs, they needed to come away with a win over Marian, and then receive some additional help.
As it turned out, Tamaqua took care of its end of the bargain with a 24-10 victory, in which the Raiders scored 24 unanswered second half points.
The help they needed never materialized, as North Schuylkill defeated ELCO 40-21 to claim the final spot in the Class AA EC bracket. Tamaqua finishes with a 7-3 record and has the unfortunate fate of being the lone team (in District 11 and the Eastern Conference) with seven or more wins to fail to qualify for the postseason.
Meanwhile, even with last night's loss, Marian (5-5) has secured a spot in the Class A Eastern Conference playoffs.
"We finished 7-3 and won our last four games, so I think we definitely deserved a spot in the postseason," stated Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner. "Unfortunately, we can only control our own destiny and things just didn't fall into place for us tonight, but I can't say enough good things about this team and this group of seniors. They deserve to still be playing football next week."
Tamaqua may not have had luck on its side, but it had plenty of "hope," especially in the second half of last night's contest.
After Marian took a 10-0 lead into halftime, Tamaqua senior running back Tyler Hope began to take over the game.
Hope was completely bottled up in the first half with just 19 yards on eight carries in addition to four receptions for 27 yards.
However, after the break, Hope began heating up, which in turn began to open up the Raiders passing game.
On its first possession of the second half, Nate Edmonds found Adam Frantz for a nine-yard hookup on fourth-and-five. Two plays later, Frantz hauled in a 27-yard pass from Edmonds, and the Blue Raiders trailed 10-8 with 8:07 left in the third quarter.
A blocked punt in Marian territory early in the fourth quarter gave Tamaqua the ball on Marian's 20-yard line. Five plays later, Hope cashed in from a yard out, as Tamaqua took its first lead of the game (16-10) with 7:50 remaining.
Hope then provided an insurance touchdown on an 18-yard scoring run with just over a minute left.
Hope rushed 18 times for 94 yards in the second half, but more importantly, allowed Tamaqua to control the clock.
Tamaqua ran 31 offensive plays in the second half, while Marian had just 10 for three yards of total offense.
"Mr. Hope really came to play in the second half," added Bonner. "He's a gutsy kid and he just makes a lot of yards after contact. Our offense line came around in the second half and Edmonds hit some big play-action pass plays when we needed them."
Seeing his first offensive snap in over a month, Marian quarterback KJ Snerr returned to the starting lineup and his presence was immediately felt. On the fifth play of the game, Snerr raced 37 yards to pay dirt to give the Colts an early 7-0 lead. But Snerr's next carry would end up being his last, as the sophomore reseparated his shoulder for the second time this season.
"We came out and had our offense really cooking and then we lost our quarterback," said Marian head coach Stan Dakosty. "When you come into a big game like this and are forced to use three quarterbacks, it makes things very difficult.
"Give Tamaqua credit, they wore us down in the second half and didn't give us many opportunities. Right now though, my heart is broken for KJ."
With the win, Tamaqua has not only won five of its last six games, but the Raiders have now won their last three meetings against Marian.
"This is the first time a Tamaqua team has ever beaten Marian three times in a row, so that's definitely something to be proud of," said Bonner.
"These kids did everything that you could possibly do to put themselves in position for the playoffs; unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be."