TN rivals in key AFL tilt
Although it is only about nine miles away, Jim Thorpe will take the trip down 209 as the visitor in this Friday's Game of the Week at Panther Valley.
The Panthers enter this weekend's game looking to put together a winning streak, while the Olympians are hoping for a bounce-back victory to prevent an unwanted streak of their own.
Both teams enter their Anthracite Football League matchup at different ends of the spectrum. Last Thursday Panther Valley (2-1, 1-0) topped Lehighton 16-6 to avenge a loss to Schuylkill Valley from the week before. Meanwhile, Jim Thorpe (1-2, 1-2) was dominated at home by North Schuylkill, 38-7 - tarnishing its rebound win in week No. 2.
"We are hoping to bring in some momentum from last week's win," said Panther Valley head coach Frank Damian. "I think we bounced back very well last week. The thing is, we can't overcome mistakes versus Jim Thorpe. We got away with them last week and we can't do that this week. Jim Thorpe is a team that will make you pay."
The Panthers' defense has been stout so far this season. Not only are they first in the TIMES NEWS area in terms of points-allowed-per-game (9.0), they rank fourth amongst all District 11 teams - no matter the class. Ironically, two of the teams ahead of them are fellow Anthracite Leaguers North Schuylkill (4.6) and Schuylkill Haven (7.6).
So far Panther Valley has given up a total of 190 yards through the air. Jim Thorpe quarterback Corey Cinicola has already racked up 382 yards passing with six touchdowns, so something has to give. Last week Cinicola threw for just nine yards after averaging 180-plus the first two games. He was also sacked five times and had two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
"I think we were all disappointed at our performances last week," said Jim Thorpe head coach Mark Rosenberger. "Everyone was a little down on Monday, but we shook them up a little bit and reminded them that we can't do anything about it now. We had to get back to the drawing board.
"Corey was disappointed as well, but I know he is going to try and do something about it. Panther Valley likes to blitz a lot, so we are going to have to do a better job of protecting him this week."
The Olympians' defense isn't too bad either. They are giving up only 20 more yards-per-game and have forced 10 turnovers. Jim Thorpe, however, has given up 393 yards on the ground and is surrendering an average of 22 points.
While the Panthers' defense has been solid, they haven't quite seen an offense like Jim Thorpe's yet. The Olympians posses a balanced attack, as they have passed for 396 yards and ran for 358.
On top of his passing ability, Cinicola also leads the team in carries (35), rushing yards (149) and rushing touchdowns (2). The only other Olympian with notable carries is Carl St. Hill. He has run 30 times for 134 yards.
Receiving-wise, Jon Fritz is the team's biggest threat. He has 12 catches for 233 yards and three scores. Fellow receiver Cody Baier has added two touchdowns.
Panther Valley's offense is good as well. In fact, the two teams average the same amount of points-per-game (25.3). Whereas the Olympians will air the ball out, the Panthers prefer to keep it on the ground (461 rushing yards). Kyle McAvoy has done most of that damage, piling up 254 yards and three TDs on 42 carries.
When the Panthers do decide to pass, it is normally in the direction of Jake Dunn - who Rosenberger called one of the best receivers in the state. Eight of QB Casey Lawrence's 17 competitions have gone to Dunn, who has turned them into 196 yards and two touchdowns. That's an average catch of 24.5 yards.
"I think both offenses are similar in the fact that we both have big-play capabilities," said Damian. "We both try to get the ball to our athletes in space. We like to run more. They like to pass. But I think both sides have big-play potential."
Panther Valley won last year's matchup, 24-14. It was the first time since 2001 that the Panthers had knocked off Jim Thorpe. The Olympians had won the previous seven by a combined score of 215-34.
"We got physically beat up last week and that can't happen again," said Rosenberger. "We are looking at it as a fresh start. This game is big because it has playoff implications and is also a rivalry game. We need to play physical this week if we want to come out on top."