JT rallies to beat Spartans
It's not how you start, it's how you finish.
Jim Thorpe proved that on Friday night when it stagged a pair of comebacks to stun North Schuylkill, 41-21, in an Anthracite Football League game.
With four minutes remaining in the opening quarter, the Olympians still hadn't run a play from scrimmage and trailed 14-0.
At that point, a North Schuylkill blowout looked possible and a Jim Thorpe loss looked probable.
But somebody forgot to tell the Olympians.
Thorpe battled back to make it close at halftime and then reeled off the final 29 points of the game to win going away.
"Our kids showed great character," said Jim Thorpe coach Mark Rosenberger. "To fall behind that quickly against a team like North Schuylkill and battle back like we did says a lot about our players."
Spartan coach Wally Hall was also quick to credit the Olympians.
"Jim Thorpe had us on our heels for three quarters," said Hall. "Coach Rosenberger and his staff do a fantastic job with their players. They played with a lot of heart and desire.
"We built that 14-0 lead, but that's when we started to turn the ball over and they took advantage of it."
A five-yard touchdown run by Kevin Vitti got Thorpe on the board late in the opening quarter. The Olympians then closed to within 14-12 with just :07 left in the half on one of the biggest plays in a game of big plays.
Taking over possession on their own 20-yard line with less than a half minute left in the half, the Spartans (2-1) decided to put the ball in the air. Jim Thorpe's Mike Mulderig made them pay when he picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought the interception return for a touchdown right before half was the big momentum changer," said Rosenberger. "I think that instilled even more confidence in us that we could play with them."
That turnover might have changed the momentum, but another Spartan miscue midway through the third quarter was just as crucial.
With the Spartans holding a 21-12 lead, they fumbled a punt and Jim Thorpe recovered at the North Schuylkill 25.
It looked like the Spartans might escape trouble when Thorpe faced a fourth-and-8 from the 23. But following a time out, the Olympians executed a tight end screen to perfection and Vitti rambled 20 yards. On the next play, Vitti scored from three yards out as the Olympians closed to 21-20.
"We just put that tight end screen in this week," said Rosenberger. "But our starting tight end Mike Malatak got injured in the first half.
"So during the time out, we moved Vitti, our fullback, to tight end and he did a great job of executing the play."
The score was the first of four straight Olympian possessions that results in touchdowns during the game's final 16 minutes.
"Football is a game of momentum," said Rosenberger. "We made plays on both sides of the ball to get that momentum and then our kids played with passion and energy to build on it."
After stopping North Schuylkill on a fourth down play the next time it had the ball, Jim Thorpe took the lead on a 43-yard pass from Ryan Saunders to Mulderig that made it 26-21 with 10:20 left in the game.
The Olympian defense came up with interceptions on the next two Spartan possessions and the offense cashed them both in for TDs as Deonte St. Hill scored from a yard out and 18 yards out.
"Our inconsistencies and turnovers eventually caught up with us," said Hall after watching his team turn it over five times. "We've been struggling with those things early in the season and tonight we couldn't overcome them."
Saunders finished with 154 yards rushing and 98 yards passing for the Olympians (2-1), but as good as those numbers are, they don't measure how many plays he extended with his elusiveness.
"Week in and week out Ryan Saunders continues to make plays for us," said Rosenberger. "No play is ever dead when he has the ball in his hands.
"He is such a valuable weapon for our offense."