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Quick start key for Tamaqua

If there was one lesson Tamaqua learned from its regular season meeting with North Schuylkill, it’s to avoid a slow start.

That slow start played a primary role in the Blue Raiders’ 38-15 setback to the Spartans back in mid-September.

Fully aware of that, Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner will take his squad into Thursday’s District 11 Class 3A quarterfinal meeting against North Schuylkill ready to build off a strong finish in the first matchup.

“I thought after we watched that game, offensively we got to get a better start,” said Bonner. “It was 7-0 at the end of the first quarter but unfortunately, we couldn’t convert on third-down conversions. I think the game would have been closer going into half if we could have got a couple of drives going.

“With that being said, I think we played a whole lot better in the second half where we got two scores on them. So, we just got to start this game the way we finished our last game with them.”

No, 3 seed North Schuylkill reached the end zone on four of its first five drives in the first meeting. The Spartans (8-2) scored on the fifth thanks to a 35-yard field goal.

Bonner and his coaching staff will try to avoid falling into an early hole – as well as allowing 349 yards of total offense.

The sixth-seeded Blue Raiders (5-5) will hope to match the second half effort – ripping off 15 straight points – by playing four solid quarters this time around. Bonner believes two key points that they didn’t have in the first meeting should help make that possible this time around.

“In the first game, we didn’t have our nose guard and our tailback, Bradley Whalen,” said Bonner. “So, we got to establish some runs and build off the pass from our run game this time. Whalen didn’t play the first game, and he gives us a little more dimension in our run game.

“Plus, it was Week 4 then, and our offensive line and some of our younger guys have a lot more experience thanks to getting anotherhalf of the season under their belts. So, I’m hoping we show that improvement come Thursday night.”

It’s obvious that the varsity minutes have benefited the Blue Raiders, who finished the regular season going 5-1. And, in his first two games, Whalen has made an impact in the Blue Raiders’ ground game since returning in Week 5, averaging 100 yards over the last six games, and compiling a total of 623 rushing yards since he came back.

After falling in the playoffs to Palmerton a year ago, the Blue Raiders will look to end a streak of three straight postseason appearances that ended in the opening round.

The last time the Blue Raiders advanced was 2019, the same year they raised the Class 3A championship trophy with a 20-0 victory over the Spartans.

“We have played them in the postseason in the past. Not just that time,” said Bonner. “Everything is different. It is obvious we looked at some stuff that worked well against them. But, with different personnel, different faces, it’s a completely different game. It’s a completely different season.”

The winner of this game moves on to face the winner of No. 2 seed Palmerton (10-0) and No. 7 seed Jim Thorpe (4-6).

But Bonner and his Blue Raiders will be focused on only the Spartans tonight.

“No doubt. I mean North Schuylkill has been bombing it out in our district the last 10 games,” said Bonner. “In order for us to win the game, we basically got to play mistake free football, and take advantage of our opportunities when we get them.”