Questioning a call
The first Overtime column of the season features outstanding offensive and defensive performances by area teams, some individual excellence, a notable position change, and a controversial ending.
With week #1 of the high school football season officially in the books, it's time to head into Overtime.
WHISTLE BLOWER ... Now in its third year of recapping the week's football highlights, Overtime has never questioned an official's call as part of this column. Sure, there have been some calls that we've seen that we might not have agreed with. But games are decided far more often on player and coaching miscues than on officiating mistakes.
The ending of Friday night's Jim Thorpe-Tamaqua game, however, warrants a break from our previous policy.
For those of you who haven't heard about the game's ending, here's what happened.
With Tamaqua leading the thrilling back-and-forth struggle 28-21, the Olympians scored on a five-yard TD pass from Corey Cinicola to Jon Fritz with just 1:43 remaining. Fritz was mobbed by teammates in the end zone and while in the midst of the celebration was evidently a little slow getting the ball to an official. Fritz didn't spike the ball or throw it into the crowd. He just didn't hand the ball over as quickly as the referee would have liked. Because of that, Thorpe was handed a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty.
The call took the Olympians out of their kicker's range and forced them to attempt a two-point conversion from the 17-yard line. The pass play failed and Tamaqua held on for a 28-27 victory.
"At that point and time of the game, it was a very, very tough call to go against us," said Jim Thorpe coach Mark Rosenberger. "We basically did the same thing on our previous three touchdowns and nothing was called. Our kids were showing excitement and passion after scoring an important touchdown and that's something we want them to do. We want our kids to show emotion. There was no taunting and no disrespect being shown towards Tamaqua. It was just a group of kids celebrating.
"That said, now it's time to move forward and get over it. We told our kids Saturday morning that we did enough things wrong to lose a football game. Give Tamaqua credit. They made more plays than we did. But now that game is just a memory and we aren't talking about it any more. Our focus now is getting ready to play Mahanoy Area."
The official's controversial call not only cost Thorpe a chance at a tie, but it has overshadowed the fact that the two teams staged a thrilling season opener. Without the call, Tamaqua might have won anyway. Or maybe Jim Thorpe would have tied the game and won in overtime. We'll never know.
What we do know is that all people were talking about after the game was "the call." Which is truly a shame. Because there were so many outstanding, clutch performances during the game, a penalty flag shouldn't have been the main topic of conversation.
An official should not make that call in that situation. I'm not a person who believes a ref should swallow his whistle in the final minutes of a game and "let the players decide it on the field." If a receiver pushes off to get open for a tying TD, the official shouldn't let it slide in the final minute any more than he should let it slide in the first quarter.
But a dead ball excessive celebration penalty? That's where judgement has to come into play and in our opinion the official showed terrible judgement.
PANTHER POINTS ... Panther Valley had a once-in-a-decade type of offensive performance at Mahanoy Area in its season opener.
The Panthers put up 40 first-half points against the Golden Bears on their way to a 48-8 mercy-rule victory.
It's been nearly 10 years since Panther Valley scored 40 points in a half of football.
The last time it occured was Oct. 8, 1999 in a 47-0 victory over Bishop Hoben. In that game, the Panthers jumped out to a 40-0 halftime lead as Paul Skodacek scored three first half touchdown and current Northern Lehigh assistant coach Dan Blazosky added a pair of scores.
WHITEWASH ... Northwestern opened the season with a 16-0 shutout of Salisbury. The last time the Tigers posted a shutout in the opening week of the season was 1998 when they defeated Pen Argyl, 24-0.
Since Bob Mitchell has been head coach, Friday was the Tigers' fifth shutout in Week 1 (all versus a different opponent). The others were 48-0 vs. Palisades in 1997, 21-0 vs. Hamburg in 1991, and 19-0 vs. Kutztown in 1986.
LONG DISTANCE RETURN ... JT Keer of Lehighton returned an interception 72 yards for a score against Marian on Friday night.
TIMES NEWS records on that stat go back to the 1986 season and no Indian player over the 23-year span had a longer interception for a touchdown.
The last time someone in the TN area had a longer "pick six" than Keer was Oct. 28, 2005 when Palmerton's Aaron Schweibinz returned one 96 yards against Northwestern.
AIR BEAR? ... Pleasant Valley hasn't had the reputation of being a pass-oriented offense in recent years. But with former high school and college standout quarterback Jim Terwilliger is his rookie season as the Bears' head coach, that might be about to change.
On Friday night, junior quarterback Derrick Walling completed 13 of 26 passes for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 49-18 loss to Nazareth.
Walling's performance was just the fifth time since 1988 that a Pleasant Valley quarterback threw for at least 200 yards in a game. The last one to do it was C.J. Haffner who had 215 yards on Oct. 1, 2004. The others to accomplish the feat were Trevor Micklos (207 yards on Sept. 17, 1999); Micklos (200 yards on Oct. 17, 1997); and Jeff Regina (227 yards on Sept. 20 1996).
By comparison, over that same period of time, Jim Thorpe has the most 200+ yard passing performances with 22.
POSITION SWITCH .... Anthony Bumbulsky had been Pleasant Valley's starting quarterback for the first three years of his career, but Bumbulsky switched to receiver in the Bears' opener on Friday and made quite a debut. In his first game at the position, the senior caught five passes for 104 yards and one touchdown.
The big night receiving gives Bumbulsky the very rare distinction of having a 100-yard rushing, a 100-yard passing and a 100-yard receiving game during his career.