Saucon's Savant runs over JT
bob ford/times news Jim Thorpe's Deonte St. Hill (right) finds a hole against Saucon Valley as teammate Kevin Vitti (33) prepares to throw a block.
There were plenty of reasons why Jim Thorpe won seven games and captured the Anthracite Football League title this season.
But there were just two reasons why the Olympians' season ended on Friday night in the semifinal round of the Eastern Conference Division II playoffs too many mistakes in scoring territory and too much of Saucon Valley's Nick Savant over the entire field.
Jim Thorpe's lack of success in and around the red zone combined with an incredible performance by Savant added up to a 35-20 Panther victory.
Savant, who was coming off a 333-yard rushing performance in Saucon Valley's regular season finale against Palisades, nearly matched that performance against the Olympians as he rushed for 264 yards and five touchdowns.
"He's a top-notch back," said Jim Thorpe coach Mark Rosenberger about Savant. "There is a reason why he is his school's all-time leading rusher.
"We had trouble tackling him tonight. He was phenomenal."
Despite Savant's huge game, the Olympians were still within one possession of tying the game with three minutes remaining and they were only that far behind because of numerous missed opportunities.
Jim Thorpe had possessions that ended on downs on Saucon Valley's 24-yard line, 28-yard line, 2-yard line, and 13-yard line. The Olympians also had one drive stopped by a fumble on the Saucon 25-yard line.
"Way too many turnovers and mistakes," said Rosenberger after watching his team turn the ball over four times, commit five penalties, and allow six quarterback sacks. "It was a really nice season, but it's a disappointing ending
"You can't win playoff games when you make as many mistakes as we did tonight."
Jim Thorpe started strong, scoring on two of its first three possession.
The first TD came when Olympian quarterback Ryan Saunders bought some time in the pocket and then hit Ryan Carroll with a 67-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes into the game.
Then, after Savant put Saucon Valley on the board, Saunders struck again, hitting Deonte St. Hill with a 74-yard pass to set up his own two-yard run. That gave Jim Thorpe a 14-7 lead with 2:08 left in the opening quarter.
"Saunders is an incredible athlete," said Saucon Valley coach Mark Evancho. "At least I won't have any more nightmares about having to find a way to try and stop him."
Saucon Valley did find a way to stop the Olympians over the final three quarters, however, as the only points it surrendered after the first quarter came on a 73-yard run by Saunders with just :35 left in the game.
It wasn't the way Evancho had envisioned it, but he said he'll take the end result.
"I never want to have to do that again," said Evancho about his defense constantly playing with its back to the wall. "That was definitely a bend but don't break defense we played tonight.
"But our kids showed great character. When we needed to make the stop, we did."
The biggest stand for the Panthers (8-3) came in the final minutes of third quarter when they were holding a 21-14 lead.
A 39-yard pass from Saunders to Carroll gave Jim Thorpe a first-and-goal from inside the one-yard. But a bad snap from center on first down and Saunders' scramble after scooping up the ball resulted in a 21-yard loss. On a fourth-down play from the 12-yard line, Saunders couldn't find an open reliever, tucked the ball away, and got tantalizingly close to the end zone before being brought down at the two-yard line.
Savant them took over in the fourth quarter, scoring on a 29-yard run with 2:50 left and adding a 62-yard scamper a half minute later that made it 35-14.
"Obviously, the running game is the focal point of our offense and Nick (Savant) is who we rely on when we run the ball," said Evancho. "He had another great performance, but our offensive line and receivers deserve a lot of credit as well. They did a great job blocking tonight."
For the Olympians (7-4), who defied preseason predictions and rebounded from back-to-back 1-9 seasons to win a league championships and qualify for postseason play, it was a bitter-sweet night.
"This was far from our best game of the season, but I'm proud of our team and especially our seniors," said Rosenberger. "These kids have built a stable foundation for our program.
"It was a very successful year, but it's not how we wanted to finish."