Area football teams turning it around
What a difference a year can make!
This week's OVERTIME column will focus on the early-season turnaround the Jim Thorpe football program has made in 2013. The Olympians haven't been alone when it comes to laying the ground work for a bounce back season, however.
You have to look no further than last week's results to see the proof. Five teams in the TIMES NEWS coverage area Palmerton (0-10), Jim Thorpe (1-9), Panther Valley (3-7), Northwestern (3-7) and Lehighton (3-7) had losing records a year ago. All five of those teams won this week and all them except Panther Valley currently have winning records.
In addition to looking at Jim Thorpe's strong start, OVERTIME will check out comebacks, turnovers and field goals among other topics from the third week of the season.
Jim Thorpe's start to the 2013 season has caught almost everyone by surprise just don't count Olympian coach Mark Rosenberger among them.
Thorpe entered the season coming off back-to-back 1-9 campaigns. The Olympians lost their All-State quarterback, top two scorers, top passer, top rusher and top receiver from a year ago. In the Anthracite Football League's preseason coach's poll, they were picked seventh out of nine teams.
Just to make things a little more challenging, Jim Thorpe faced a demanding schedule to open the season. It's first two league games were against Tamaqua and North Schuylkill, teams that had combined for the last four AFL titles and were tabbed to finished third and second respectively in the preseason coach's poll.
Combine all those ingredients and you don't exactly get a recipe for success. But that's exactly what Rosenberger and the Olympians have found.
Friday's 41-21 victory over North Schuylkill improved the Olympians' record to 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the league.
"I'm really not surprised at all," said Rosenberger. "We expected to be where we are right now if not better. We realistically thought we could win each of our first three games."
So what if no one else outside of the Jim Thorpe football family had that same belief, the Olympians believed and that's all that mattered.
"I knew how hard our kids worked in the offseason and how many kids we had working," explained Rosenberger about where his confidence came from. "I also knew we had some exceptional athletes returning and that we had tremendous senior leadership. All those things had me confident heading into the season."
Despite the head coach's optimism, getting players who had experienced just two wins in the previous two years to believe that things were going to be different in 2013 wasn't going to be an easy task.
But Rosenberger had some outstanding resources available to help deliver that message.
"I have some great, young assistant coaches who have done an outstanding job of changing the players' attitude," said Rosenberger. "Craig Zurn, Tyler Mangold, Scott McGonigal and Kyle Porembo were all part of winning teams when they played here at Jim Thorpe. As a matter of fact, they all were members of our 10-0 team in 2004. They have talked to the kids about what it takes to be successful and win games.
"They have also brought an intensity and enthusiasm to practice that has been contagious for our players."
One area where the Olympians didn't have many problems last season was offense. But the loss of quarterback Pat Duvigneaud and receiver Mike Harelston to graduation had the potential to severely hamper a unit that averaged almost 27 points a game last year.
The Olympians solved their quarterback problem by moving Ryan Saunders, the team's second leading receiver a year ago, under center. Saunders has been dynamic, rushing for over 150 yards in both of his team's wins and also throwing for at least 98 yards in two of three games so far. They have also taken role players from a year ago and moved them into prominant positions in this year's offense. The result has been an offense that has averaged 31.3 points per game, second in the area to Pleasant Valley.
"Coach [Frank] Miller has to get a lot of credit for what our offense has been able to accomplish this season," said Rosenberger. "He has done a great job with the play calling and also of maximizing the weapons we have.
"We lost some great athletes from last year's team, but our offense hasn't missed a beat."
A couple of impressive early-season victories, an explosive offense, and an improving defense. It has added up to plenty of excitement surrounding the Jim Thorpe football team.
But Rosenberger knows there is a long way to go.
"We are just thinking about taking it one game at a time and getting better every time we step on the field," he said.
If the Olympians can continue to do that, this season holds the potential for one of the greatest turnarounds in recent football history.
EARLY DEFICIT ... In Friday's game against Pocono Mountain East, Lehighton fell behind 7-0 before rebounding for a 35-7 victory.
The win snapped a streak of 21 straight losses by the Indians when their opponent scored first.
The last time Lehighton had won after allowing the game's first score to its opponent was Sept. 26, 2008 also against Pocono Mountain East. The Tribe trailed that game 3-0 before bouncing back for a 30-16 win.
BOMBER BOOT ... Palmerton's John Schwartz booted a 25-yard field goal in last Friday's win over Salisbury.
Schwartz's kick ended a streak of 51 straight games in which the Bombers had not kicked a field goal. The last field goal by a Palmerton player came on Sept. 12, 2008 when Alex Graver booted a 23-yarder against Palisades.
OLYMPIAN COMEBACK ... Jim Thorpe fell behind North Schuylkill, 14-0, on Friday night before rallying for a 41-21 victory.
It was just the fourth time in the last 25 years that the Olympians rallied from a deficit of 14 or more points to win a game.
The last time it occured was Oct. 30, 2009 when Jim Thorpe trailed Marian, 20-0, but rallied for a 37-34 victory. The other two times the Olympians overcame deficits that big to win were Nov. 5, 1994 when they fell behind Pius X, 24-7, before rallying for a 27-24 win; and Nov. 2, 1993 when they trailed Nativity, 14-0, and stormed back for a 21-14 win.
TAKEAWAYS ... Palmerton forced eight turnovers in Friday's victory over Salisbury.
It was the most takeaways in a game by a Blue Bomber team since Sept. 17, 1999 a total of 147 games ago.
In that game, coach Caz Kosciolek's team forced 10 turnovers. Kyle Versuk had two fumble recoveries and an interception in the game while Tommy Marques added a pair of picks.
A LOT ON A LITTLE ... Tamaqua's Justin Vandermartin ran the ball just four times in Friday's victory over Shenandoah, but he gained 163 yards and scored three touchdowns on those four carries to easily surpass the 100-yard plateau.
The last time a Blue Raider player carried the ball five times or less in a game, but still topped the 100-yard rushing mark was Oct. 10, 2005 when Ryan Stahler had five carries for 101 yards against North Schuylkill.
GETTING DEFENSIVE ... Lehighton not only earned a win over Pocono Mountain East last Friday, but it received two defensive touchdowns in the process.
Gavin Zehner returned an interception 20 yards for one score and Connor Frey took a fumble 31 yards to the end zone.
The last time the Indians recorded two defensive TDs in the same contest was 283 games ago. In that Oct. 2, 1987 matchup with Pleasant Valley, Dan Buck intercepted a pass and went 38 yards for a score while Troy Hartman also registered a pick-six going 37 yards to the house.