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Blue Bombers defeat Notre Dame

Ground and pound.

Most people don’t associate that phrase with Palmerton’s offense.

The quick-strike, Matt Machalik-led Blue Bombers have scored at will many times this season.

But on Friday night against perennial power Notre Dame, Chris Walkowiak’s team took advantage of an experienced offensive line and the hard running of Ty Sander to move the ball methodically down the field - especially in the first half.

The success they had doing that - along with typical moments of greatness from Machalik - helped Palmerton build a sizable lead and maintain an advantage the rest of the way for a 41-26 victory over the Crusaders.

“We came out and wanted to establish the line, and dominate both sides of the ball and I think we did a very good job of doing that,” said Walkowiak, whose club is now 5-0. “The coaches do a great job with the offensive and defensive linemen, and the kids responded. They’re a veteran group up front.

“And Ty is just one of those gritty kids that I absolutely love. He’s no nonsense. He a north and south runner. He doesn’t want to get outside because he loves to pound in between the tackles. And you can’t beat that type of mentality when you have an o-line like our guys. He says just give me the ball.”

The Bombers moved the ball at will against Notre Dame (3-2) in the first two quarters, scoring on all four of their possessions to jump out to a 28-7 lead.

Machalik ran seven times for 53 yards and Sander ran three times up the middle for 26 yards during a 14-play, 80-yard march to open the game’s scoring.

“We were trying to get downfield with the run,” said senior lineman Clayton Christman. “We wanted to get a big push on the line, and I feel we did just that.

“We just knew that we had to be strong up front.”

In the second quarter, with the Bombers up 14-7, Sander (who finished with 123 yards rushing) carried seven times - including a 6-yard touchdown run to complete an 11-play march that extended the margin.

“That’s what they said they were going to do (run the ball at us) ... and that’s exactly what they did,” said Notre Dame mentor Phil Stambaugh. “I was a little bit surprised (they were able to do that) ... We had to play better up front, and we didn’t. They got a lot of momentum out of the gate. Our kids fought back but it was unfortunate that the game didn’t go our way.”

Palmerton also gained some momentum and some distance from the Crusaders late in the second quarter when Sander intercepted a pass and the Bombers converted it into a score.

Machalik started the drive with a pass to Sander, while Sander ended it by taking a pitch and throwing an 11-yard TD pass back to Machalik, who made a highlight-film, one-handed catch in the end zone.

“He’s very difficult to defend,” Stambaugh said about Machalik, who finished with 237 yards rushing. “The worst plays are the ones that are broken plays. He just has such natural speed that he’s able to make a lot of plays. We knew how good he was ... We just weren’t able to match that tonight.”

After Notre Dame opened the second half with a score to cut into the gap, Machalik used one of those broken plays to open up the margin again. Snaring a wide snap, he broke free down the right sideline for a 43-yard touchdown run that made it a three-score game at 35-14.

“He’s unflappable,” said Walkowiak. “He never panics and when a pressure situation comes, he wants the ball. It doesn’t matter who he’s going up against. He’s just a special kid and that’s why I think he one of the best in the state.”

DEFENSIVE EFFORT ... The Bombers seemed to frustrate Notre Dame quarterback Danny Darno, especially in the opening quarters. “Besides our line, Bryce Marino brought a lot of pressure and so did Emilio Gonzalez,” said Walkowiak. “The game plan going in was to make (Darno) as uncomfortable as we could because he can pick you apart if he has time.”

FOURTH DOWN SUCCESS ... Palmerton converted on five fourth-down plays, one of them the touchdown catch by Machalik. “I told the kids we’re playing to win, and I told them I believe in them and have total faith in them,” said Walkowiak about going for it on fourth down. “I have faith in our offensive line and I have faith in what No. 2 (Machalik) does for us, and you also saw how Ty was running the ball tonight.”

ONE AT A TIME ... Walkowiak’s club continues to preach one game at a time despite the program being 5-0 for the first time since 1994. “The win means a lot,” said Christman. “We just try to go 1-0 every week, and that’s what we focus on.” Added Walkowiak, “Our weekly goal is to be 1-0. I understand (we’re 5-0 and where we’re at) but we’re focused on 1-0. Even the kids after the game were yelling 1-0.”

UP NEXT ... Palmerton returns to action Friday when it hosts Pine Grove. The Bombers travel to Salisbury the following week. Notre Dame will be on the road next at North Schuylkill.

Palmerton's Ty Sander (12) runs the ball while teammate Alexander Konze (54) blocks Aaron Gordon of Notre Dame. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS