Haven holds off Raiders
Schuylkill Haven's Tyler Naus (with the ball) is stopped by Tamaqua tacklers Garth Lakitsky (34), Carl Wittig (72) and Nicholas Hollenbach (36). BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Schuylkill Haven coach Mike Farr is thankful he has Tyler Naus on his side.
Naus, a 6-0, 200 pound senior running back and linebacker, has a knack of coming up with big plays in the clutch.
Naus' contributions on offense, defense and special teams paved the way for the visiting Hurricanes to hold off Tamaqua for a 21-14 Anthracite Football League triumph Friday on a blustery Homecoming Night on Stadium Hill.
The victory improved Schuylkill Haven to 5-2 overall (4-2 league).
Meanwhile, the contest was a rerun of a type of game Tamaqua has played all too often this season. The Blue Raiders could have won, but played just well enough to lose, dropping their third straight game to fall to 1-6 (1-4 league).
The Raiders had more first downs (11-9) and outgained the Canes 207-147. The difference turned out to be an interception return for a touchdown by defensive tackle Richie Batz, as well as the Raiders' frustrating inability to punch in the tying score in the fourth quarter, despite three forays inside the Canes' 30.
"We turned the ball over at inopportune times, and we gave them a touchdown on that one play," said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner.
"It was a tough game. We didn't know we would have Grif (Griffiths, Tamaqua's rushing leader) until Thursday night, and he played with a slight separated shoulder. Garth Lakitsky was all over the place for us on defense (with double digit tackles). Our kids played hard."
So did Naus, who returned the game's opening kickoff 84 yards to the Raider 9 before kicker Lance Williams made the TD-saving tackle.
The Raider D held on the goal-line stand, but Haven forced a punt, then drove 45 yards to paydirt on nine plays, with quarterback Brian Murphy scoring on a one-yard plunge. Ian Hower's PAT kick made it 7-0.
The Raiders answered with an 11 play, 64 yard TD march of their own, with Jarred Muffley scooting right into the end zone from six yards out. Williams kicked the point-after to tie it at 7-7 with 9:13 left in the first half.
The Raiders' Pete Conforti stopped Matt Naftzinger a yard short on fourth-and-two on the Tamaqua 27, but three plays later Batz turned a screen pass into a "pick six" going 26 yards the other way with 4:26 to go in the half for a 14-7 Haven lead.
Muffley, who topped Tamaqua with 10 carries and 94 yards rushing, returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards to the Haven 24, but the Raiders were stopped on fourth down at the 5.
The Canes fielded a short 10 yard punt on the Tamaqua 37 on their first series of the second half, and nine plays later, Naus bulled his way in from the 3 to widen Haven's advantage to 21-7 with 5:28 left in the third.
"Both teams has chances to win this one, but Tyler Naus was the difference maker," said Farr. "Every time we needed a play, he made it, whether it was a run, a kickoff return, a strip or a stop. The kid was all over the field for us."
Muffley answered once again, this time with a 73 yard TD scamper to cut it to 21-14 with 4:58 to go in the third.
Despite spending the fourth quarter in Haven territory, the tying score eluded the Raiders.
The Raiders drove to the Haven 24, where they were stopped on downs, coming up short on two straight spots; to the Haven 11, with Naus coming up with a crucial fumble recovery; and to the Haven 27, where Griffiths just missed coming up with a diving catch on Ryan Palsgrove's fourth down pass into the end zone on their final play of the game.