Haven hands Thorpe first AFL loss
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Jim Thorpe's Ryan Saunders gets caught from behind by Schuylkill Haven's Vince Fanelli during Friday night's Anthracite Football League showdown.
Schuylkill Haven coach Mike Farr was smiling ear-to-ear and who could blame him.
Farr had just watched his Hurricanes beat Jim Thorpe, 30-12, handing the Olympians their first Anthracite Football League loss. Haven's victory prevented Jim Thorpe from clinching the AFL title.
"It's been a long time since I've been this happy," said Farr. "This is a tough place to play and Jim Thorpe is a great team with great speed.
"I told our kids that I just wanted them to go out there and have fun tonight and they did that. We played with a tremendous amount of energy."
Haven flexed its muscles early, taking the opening kickoff and chewing up over six minutes of clock before a Will Casella's one-yard run gave them a 6-0 lead.
The Hurricanes dominated time of possession in the first half (16:37 to 7:23) and ran 35 plays from scrimmage to the Olympians' 17.
That ball control allowed Haven to build a 16-6 halftime lead.
"There's a reason why Schuylkill Haven was picked No. 1 in the league's preseason coaches' poll," said Jim Thorpe coach Mark Rosenberger. "They are a very talented team and they are starting to get their players healthy.
"They controlled both sides of the line scrimmage. We just couldn't move them off the line."
The Olympians did make a bid to rally in the second half, driving 65 yards in 10 plays on their first possession. Kevin Vitti got the touchdown when he scooped up a fumbled exchange from center on the one-yard line and dove into the end zone. That cut the Haven lead to 16-12 with 7:41 left in the third quarter.
But Jim Thorpe would get no closer. The Olympians had five more second half possessions none of them lasting more than four plays that produced a total of just one first down.
The half featured Thorpe's lone turnover of the game and a couple of dropped passes that prevented huge gains.
"We had some opportunities to make plays and we didn't do it," said Rosenberger. "Against a quality opponent like Schuylkill Haven, you can't make the mistakes we did tonight."
Following the Vitti touchdown that got Jim Thorpe close, Haven controlled play. The Hurricanes (5-3, 5-2) got a huge insurance score late in the third quarter when quarterback Ryan Fink hit Mike Feryo with a short pass in the flat that Feryo turned into a 38-yard touchdown.
"It was one of six passes Fink completed in the game which is sometimes a season's worth for Haven.
"We don't throw the ball a lot and when we do we usually throw short passes," said Farr. "But we hit some important ones tonight. We hit a couple for first downs and we got the big touchdown one one.
"We use the pass to keep teams honest. We're used to teams playing eight or nine people in the box against us, we just don't want to see 10. We need to take advantage of opportunities in the pass game when they present themselves and tonight we did."
Despite the loss, Jim Thorpe (6-2, 6-1) still controls its own destiny in AFL, needing a win at Marian next week to clinch the title. An Olympian loss, however, creates the possibility of multiple teams finishing with two league losses.
"We need to come out [to practice] on Monday and work to get better," said Rosenberger. "We still have goals out there that we can accomplish.
"Obviously, we have a couple of big games left. Coming off a loss like this, we're going to see what kind of leaders we have. We need to put this behind us and get ready for next week."