Lehighton 'D' steps up
bob ford/times news Lehighton quarterback Anthony Farole (right) tries to escape the grasp of Tamaqua's Derek Vandermartin.
All last year and even in the first week of this season, Lehighton's defense has failed to hold down opponents.
The Indians finished last among TIMES NEWS area teams in 2010, allowing an average of over 350 yards a game. This year didn't start any better as Marian racked up nearly 400 yards in an opening night loss.
But during this past week, Lehighton head coach George Ebbert tried to rally his troops on 'D'.
"Yeah, I challenged them," said Ebbert. "I told them it was going to be a long season if they didn't step it up. And they responded to that.
"Our defense came out on fire in the beginning and that kind of set the tone. They were flying to the ball."
Holding visiting Tamaqua scoreless through three quarters and frustrating the Raiders' running game, Lehighton managed to gain its first win of the season with a 14-6 victory.
"They stepped it up tonight," said Ebbert, whose team improved to 1-1. "They really picked up the intensity and I'm proud of them. They set the tone.
"Coach Cory Hartsell calls the defense and Chris Knappenberger is in charge of the secondary. Those guys did a great job of getting the kids ready."
It didn't hurt that, either, that they were practically handed an early advantage
After Tamaqua (1-1) went three-and-out on the game's first possession, a bad snap on the punt attempt gave the host team a first-and-goal on the two-yard line.
Jacen Nalesnik waltzed into the end zone and Lehighton had a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest.
"It's nice when your offense starts with a short field like that," said Ebbert. "It definitely makes it a lot easier."
For the Raiders, that miscue was unfortunately the first of many throughout the evening.
A fumble in Lehighton territory ended one drive, while crucial penalties cost them at other moments.
"Lehighton's a good team," said Tamaqua mentor Sam Bonner. "We knew that coming into the game. They have some weapons. But I felt like we beat ourselves tonight. I don't mean to take anything away from Lehighton because they had a great effort. But a bad snap, a big penalty, a fourth-and-one and we jump offsides. That's stuff that we have to correct."
The hole got bigger for the Raiders early in the second quarter when an Anthony Farole 28-yard pass to Jon Strauss helped set up Nalesnik's second score of the game. Nalesnik took a dircet snap and worked his way over the goal line from five yards out for a 14-0 edge.
From there, the defense was asked to protect the lead.
After limiting Tamaqua on the ground in the first half, the visitors went to the air over the final two frames. That, coupled with key scrambles from quarterback Matt DelBorrello, led to a Raider drive that cut the gap to 14-6 with 7:49 left in regulation.
DelBorrello, who threw 17 times after putting just one ball in the air a week ago, accounted for his team's score with a five-yard run.
"Obviously we run the ball and they loaded up on us," said Bonner. "I was pleased with the play of our quarterback. We felt we had to loosen them up a bit in the second half and Matt DelBorrello made some plays for us.
"Our kids did a good job of fighting back. At the end we had a shot of going in for the tying score."
Speaking of scrambles, Farole had quite a few big gainers after that score in an attempt to run out the clock. Aided by a key facemask penalty, the Indians held the ball for 10 plays and over six minutes.
Their march, however, stalled giving the Raiders a final chance.
A 36-yard catch-and-run from DelBorrello to Muffley put Tamaqua in Lehighton territory but Farole came up with an interception with 38 seconds left to seal the win.
"I was just backing up in coverage," said Farole. "I was worried because one of the plays before when they a big gain I slipped. He put the ball up my way and I came up with it. I slipped on that too and I was on my back when I caught it."