Tribe hosts JT in huge game
Exactly six miles separate Jim Thorpe Area High School from Lehighton's football stadium and on Friday night there might be a six mile long line of cars on Route 209 between the two towns
That's because Friday night's game between the Indians and Olympians certainly has the most on the line since the two renewed their rivalry in 2002.
First on the agenda is the District 11 AAA playoffs.
It's not definite, but Lehighton (5-4) seems to be in no matter what the outcome on Friday night. For Jim Thorpe (7-2), it needs a victory over the Tribe and even then it's not clear whether they will be able to clinch that fourth and final spot.
Next up, is the Route 209 Trophy, which over the years has become one of the most coveted pieces of rivalry hardware in the TIMES NEWS area. Thorpe and Lehighton have always battled to the extreme to be able to claim that trophy and this year shouldn't be any different.
The Olympians will receive the Anthracite Football Championship trophy on Friday morning, so obviously coach Mark Rosenberger and his squad will do everything they can to make it two-for-two on the day in the trophy presentation department.
"There's no doubt what's on the line in this game," said Rosenberger. "We've been playing in championship style football games the last two weeks and this week will be no different. I think this game is a game between two very evenly matched opponents and the team that makes the least amount of mistakes and plays with the most control and focus, I believe will come out on top."
In this type of game sometimes a team can come out with too much emotion. That's where the job of a head coach becomes even more challenging, in trying to get their team to control their emotions. Every head coach wants their team to play with a lot of emotion, but sometimes too much of that can result in missed tackles, penalties, and other game-changing type plays.
"Our team is excited, I'm excited, and our staff is excited for Friday night," said Lehighton coach Tom McCarroll. "It's week 10 and we get to play our rival and obviously it's a better atmosphere when both teams are having successful seasons. A key for us will be to play this game with a lot of emotion, but to do that with control and focus. That comes with experience through the season, that can't be taught in one week, and I think our guys will do a good job of harnessing their emotions when they have to."
The Jim Thorpe and Lehighton game will also showcase the TIMES NEWS area's best offense (Olympians) against the TN area's best defense (Indians).
Jim Thorpe ranks first in total yards per game (376) and boasts the area's leading rusher in Ryan Saunders, who has rushed for 1,318 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Lehighton ranks first in total yards per game on the defensive side, giving up just 231.6 yards per contest. They're also an impressive plus six in turnovers.
Both McCarroll and Rosenberger are well aware of the challenge that lies ahead of their football teams.
"Jim Thorpe is a dangerous offensive team," said McCarroll. "Obviously, you have to to key on Saunders, but he's not their only weapon. They like to spread the ball around to a lot of different guys and they pose quite a threat for us. We just have to make sure we play disciplined and continue to fly to the ball like we've been doing throughout the season."
As noted, the Lehighton defense has been their foundation for success this season and they've done well containing high octane type offenses. The Olympians have proven they fit the high octane type mold and the match-up between them and the fast hard-hitting Lehighton "D" will certainly be interesting.
"They're a physical defense and even more importantly they're physical up front," said Rosenberger. "They really fly to the ball, they play aggressive, and they don't miss many tackles. What will be key for us is we need to really stay on our blocks, especially with our receivers down field. We won't get many big plays unless we do that. They just play an aggressive style of defense and they bring a lot of pressure in a lot of different ways. It will be a huge challenge for our offense on Friday night."
Lehighton's defense has played great, but Jim Thorpe's defense hasn't played too shabby this season. The Olympians rank just behind the Tribe, allowing 245.2 yards per game and they lead the area with a plus nine turnover ratio.
The Indians and Olympians since 2002 have played 11 times with Thorpe leading the series 6-5. The Tribe have won the last two contests by a combined score of 82-12. It's safe to say that Friday night's score will be a lot closer.
Whatever the result, this game will be fun to watch for area fans and quite possibly by Saturday morning there could two teams represented in the District 11 AAA playoffs located just six miles from each other.