Rematch at Pa. Vy.
Here they go again.
Three weeks after battling it out in a crucial Anthracite League contest, Tamaqua visits Panther Valley once again, this time on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in a District 11 Class AA quarterfinal match-up.
The two backyard rivals first met on Oct. 23 at Lansford, with the Panthers posting a 20-2 victory over the Blue Raiders on a rainy night that included two power outages at Panther Valley Stadium.
Both teams enter the District playoffs with identical 8-2 records, with the Panthers earning the fourth seed, and thus the home field advantage, due to their win over the fifth-seeded Raiders.
While bragging rights are always on the line in any Tamaqua-PV match-up, this is their first playoff meeting on the gridiron, which has raised the stakes to an all-time high.
"From our standpoint, the playoffs are a whole different animal," said Panther Valley coach Frank Damian. "You can look at the previous game between us, but this is one and done. The winner moves on and the loser goes home, and both of us are taking it that way."
While this is Tamaqua's first-ever District playoff appearance, it is actually the second straight year in the postseason for the Raiders, who edged out the Panthers for a berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs a year ago.
Meanwhile, Panther Valley's last postseason game was in 1999, when the Panthers, coached by Rick Bennett, lost 31-7 to Pius X in the opening round of the District 11 Class A playoffs.
Both Panther Valley and Tamaqua have potent attacks; the Panthers average 28.9 points and 309.4 yards of total offense per game, while the Raiders rack up 26.4 points and 314.3 yards per outing.
While each squad has its weapons at quarterback (PV's Casey Lawrence and Tamaqua's Ryan Palsgrove), running back (PV's Kyle McAvoy and Tamaqua's Grif Griffiths) and wide receiver (the Panthers' Jake Dunn and the Raiders' Panthers' Jake Dunn and the Raiders' Anthony Bumbulsky), both have also thrived on the defensive side.
The Panthers have allowed just 82 points in 10 games, with no one scoring more than 14 points. The Raiders give up 14.4 points per game but have held opponents to an average of 161.5 yards of offense.
"Our defense has not been a one-man show," said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner. "Our kids fly to the football and don't give up a lot of points or big plays. They have been consistent all year."
"We preach to our kids that defense wins championships," said Damian. "Our philosophy has been, bend but don't break."
That worked out perfectly for the Panthers in the previous meeting, as they held the Raiders without a TD despite 181 yards rushing by Griffiths.
Meanwhile, Jake Dunn made the big plays with two TD receptions. "Jake's a big-time player, and stopping him is easier said than done," said Bonner.
Griffiths has been on a roll and is coming off a career-best 294 yard rushing, four TD performance against Marian last week.
"I don't know if we can stop him, but we have to contain him, and we did a good job of that in the first game in keeping them from scoring," noted Damian.
"You need to finish off drives against a good team like Panther Valley," stressed Bonner. "We had opportunities last time and weren't able to capitalize on them. Our kids are excited about the rematch."
The winner Saturday advances to the semifinals next week against the winner of the game between top-seeded host North Schuylkill (10-0), the Anthracite League champion, and eighth seeded Pen Argyl (4-6).