Panthers, Spartans meet again
Bob Ford/TIMES NEWS Panther Valley's skill players receive most of the attention for the Panthers success this season but the team's defense has been stellar all year and came up big on the goal line in overtime against Tamaqua last Saturday. The team's starting defensive front and linebackers include, front from left, Anthony Staivecki, Brock Mitchell, Jason Harrison, Jeff Corby, Andrew Tucker; back row, Ryan Porambo, Ryan Richards and Jake Dunn.
Sometimes all one can ask for is a second chance.
Fortunately for the Panther Valley football team, it will have a shot at redemption in its biggest game of the year.
The fourth-seeded Panthers and the first-seeded Spartans of North Schuylkill will square off once again in 2009 - only this time it will be in the District 11 AA semi-finals. The two teams met just two-and-a-half weeks ago in the regular season with the Spartans coming out on top, 12-8.
Panther Valley head coach Frank Damian isn't putting as much emphasis on the revenge factor as he is into the fact that this will be his team's second playoff game.
"The kids are wound up and are intense right now," said Damian. "Not so much that this is our second chance with North Schuylkill, but that it is just our second playoff game.
"The atmosphere is going to be electric regardless and we need to be ready to play an error free game. The big play hurt us last time and that is something we need to prevent this time around."
If it wasn't for the Panthers' fourth ranked scoring defense (in District 11), they may not have had a second playoff game. Panther Valley needed a goal-line stand in overtime last weekend against local rival Tamaqua to preserve a 32-26 victory.
After wide receiver Jake Dunn hauled in his third touchdown of the game on fourth down on the Panthers' first possession in OT, it was the defense's turn to live up to the billing.
Three straight Tamaqua runs got the ball down to the two-yard-line. Then on fourth-and-goal, the Panther Valley defense held strong and stopped the Raiders just inches short of the goal line.
"That stand ranks right up there in my football career," admitted Damian. "We haven't played too well in overtime games in the last few years. Even when I was playing in college at Lycoming, we lost the championship game in overtime. But that stand last Saturday has become one of the highlights of my coaching career."
As it was back on Oct. 30, Saturday's contest will again be a battle of two of the district's best scoring defenses. North Schuylkill, who boasts the district's best scoring D at 5.2 ppg, also ranks third in all of eastern Pennsylvania.
Panther Valley actually held an 8-6 lead over the Spartans in the first meeting, but managed just 53 yards of offense in the second half and went on to lose by four.
Fullback Eddie Pavalko, who did not score last time, had 92 yards and two touchdowns last week versus Pen Argyl and figures to be North Schuylkill's go-to-guy in the red-zone. If Panther Valley's defense has a weakness it is against the run - where it is allowing over 150 yards-per-game.
Quarterback Tom Ferrari is another one of the Spartans' main threats. He threw for 205 yards and a score last week and has his team averaging just over 29 ppg. Ferrari also had a throwing touchdown back on Oct. 30.
The Panthers' offense is equally as good on paper. They too are averaging slightly over 29 ppg and have scored at least 28 points on seven different occasions - something North Schuylkill can not say.
On top of his three touchdowns, Dunn caught nine balls for 145 yards and had two spectacular grabs. He is tied with teammate Kyle McAvoy for the team-lead in offensive touchdowns with ten.
Although the two teams met recently, Damian doesn't believe either will change much. At this time of year there is no time to get pretty. Each team will continue to do what has gotten it to this point.
"I expect them to have a couple of new things, but mostly they will keep it the same," Damian said. "We will look at the film and see what information we can gather, but both teams have come too far to change everything now."