Tamaqua line wears down JT
bob ford/times news Tamaqua's Nolan Zeigler straight arms a Jim Thorpe defender as he looks for more running room.
Throughout the off-season, Tamaqua thought its offensive line would be its strength this season.
On Friday night, the men in the trenches proved that prediction to be true.
A dominant effort by the Blue Raiders up front allowed Sam Bonner's club to pull away for a 34-13 victory over Jim Thorpe in both team's season opener.
"Going into the season we knew we had experience there," said Bonner. "They're not the biggest but they fly around and get on people. I'm not sure what kind of numbers we had but obviously we ran the ball pretty well tonight."
Pretty well would be an understatement.
Tamaqua went to the ground on 50 of its 51 offensive plays and finished with 325 yards rushing.
The main beneficiary of the front-line success was Jarred Muffley, who carried 25 times for 140 yards and three touchdowns. The senior back also had a big night on defense, coming up with a pair of interceptions.
"I'm very proud of our team's effort," said Muffley. "I can't even explain how this feels to beat Jim Thorpe in our senior year. We've been the underdog against them for how many years. It feels awesome.
"Our running game was tight ... We only threw the ball once tonight but if it's not broke, you don't fix it. Our line is great. They're doing a really good job. They've worked all off-season."
After the Raiders opened up a 14-0 advantage on a pair of Muffley scoring runs, the Olympians worked their way back into the game.
Following a Tamaqua fumble on a punt return, Thorpe went 45 yards in three minutes to cut the gap to 14-7. The drive ended when Patrick Duvigneau hit Khaaliq Lynch with a 10-yard touchdown toss.
Duvigneau got his team into the end zone again on their first possession of the second half, moving 80 yards on nine plays. The junior quarterback hit PJ Johnson with a pass, and Johnson raced away from the secondary for a 44-yard tally.
"We were right there," said Olympian mentor Mark Rosenberger. "We came back to make it 14-13 but we were just inconsistent tonight. We played well in some spots, but they just wore us down.
"We just couldn't match up with their up front personnel. We also missed tackles and the pile was always moving forward for them. That's the strength of their team."
That strength proved to be the difference down the stretch as Bonner's club tallied on all three of their final possessions.
Dalton Nunemacher extended the lead to 20-13 when he received a key block from Pete Conforti and raced around the left side for a 25-yard touchdown run.
"You always have questions going into the first game," said Bonner. "We kind of left them back into the game with the fumble on the punt but I thought we did a good job of coming back right after that. Last year when we'd give up a quick one to start the second half we'd get down. I thought our team tonight bounced back right away and that was a key.
Muffley and Nolan Zeigler (11 carries, 71 yards) each added four-yard scoring runs in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
"(Jarred) was great tonight," said Bonner. "He dedicated himself in the offseason with this being his senior year. We're expecting a lot from him so I'm glad he had a good night. Nolan was also all over the place. He's another undersized guy that plays with a lot of enthusiasm and is all over the field."
"They were the better team tonight and they deserved to win," added Rosenberger. "When you can control the line of scrimmage the way they did, you're going to win games. When you get manhandled the way we did you're going to lose."