Tamaqua's upset bid falls short
A couple of steps.
That's all that prevented Tamaqua from pulling the upset of the year in the Anthracite Football League.
The Raiders executed coach Sam Bonner's game plan to near perfection.
But in the end, it was a touchdown saving tackle in the final seconds that allowed unbeaten North Schuylkill to escape with a 12-7 victory over Tamaqua.
The game's most dramatic and pivotal play came when the Raiders took possession of the ball on their own 17-yard line with just :48 remaining. On the first play, quarterback Matt DelBorrello hit Jarred Muffley crossing over the middle of the field. Muffley caught the ball around his own 35-yard line, broke a tackle, and headed down the sideline. But a Spartan defensive back had the angle on Muffley and was able to pull him down at the NS 25-yard line. One or two more steps and the chase down the sideline might have had a different result.
The Spartan defense then rose up and denied Tamaqua a go-ahead touchdown.
"We did a lot of good things tonight," said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner. "But the bottom line is that we are now sitting here with a 2-4 record and I know we are a better football team than that.
"It's upsetting because we played really tough tonight, but have nothing to show for it. We just have to find a way to start getting on the winning side of things."
The high-powered Spartans entered Friday's contest averaging over 46 points and having scored at least five touchdowns in every game.
But Tamaqua had an answer.
Led by huge games from linemen Josh Nemeth and Nick Hollenbach, the Raiders' swarming defense held North Schuylkill to just 157 yards of total offense.
"Our defense played a great game," said Bonner. "We wanted to be aggressive. We were sending lots of people and wanted to force them to throw the ball to beat us."
Throwing the ball was something that North Schuylkill struggled to do. Spartan quarterback Ryan Henning was held to a 2-for-11 night through the air that included an interception.
"Give Tamaqua credit," said North Schuylkill coach Rick Geist. "They came out and hit us hard. They crowded the line of scrimmage and dared us to throw the ball.
"We tried to throw the ball and I thought we had receivers open. We just have to hit them. That's the bottom line. We need to pass the ball better or every team we play is going to do the exact same thing against us."
North Schuylkill (6-0) broke a scoreless tie when reserve running back Curt Adams scored on a six-yard run with 3:50 left in the first half.
The half ended with Tamaqua having just 32 yards in total offense, but still in the game. Even when the Spartans' Jonathan Long scored on a nine-yard run less than four minutes into the second half, the Raiders hung tough.
"Our game plan was to try and keep things tight by controlling the clock with our offense and playing good defense," said Bonner. "We thought if we could do that, we had the skill players who could pop a couple of big plays for us offensively."
That finally happened late in the fourth quarter. With Tamaqua facing a fourth-and-eight at the Spartan 46-yard line, DelBorrello hit Tyler Hope with a middle screen and Hope weaved through the North Schuylkill defense and into the end zone with just 2:57 left in the game.
The Raiders kicked deep, limited the Spartans to one first down, used their remaining time outs, and got the ball back deep in their own territory with less than a minute left on the clock.
The desperate situation almost turned into a miracle finish when DelBorrello and Muffley hooked up on the next play.
"I was a little scared when I saw their receiver running down the far sideline," said Geist. "I don't even know who made the tackle for us. But it definitely saved the game."