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Spartans flex muscles against Tamaqua

FOUNTAIN SPRINGS - Strange things can happen in the game of football.

When North Schuylkill and Tamaqua met during the regular season, the Spartans overwhelmed the Blue Raiders early.

Tamaqua was struggling to keep its head above water in both the game and in its season - but found a way to keep treading water.

A strong second half in that game very well may have been the turning point in the Raiders’ season as the young team began to come of age.

Five wins in its final six games earned Tamaqua a District 11 Class 3A playoff berth.

The Raiders’ reward? Another shot at the powerful Spartans.

Only this time, North Schuylkill wasn’t going to let Tamaqua hang in the game and build confidence.

This time, the talented Spartans looked every bit as good as they were projected to be to open the season.

North Schuylkill manhandled the Raiders 55-15 on Thursday in the quarterfinal round of the district playoffs to set up a semifinal round meeting with undefeated Palmerton.

The North Schuylkill win came in spite of the fact that the Spartans were stung early when sophomore quarterback Cayden Mengle was sent to the sidelines with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.

Mengle’s relief was the player he replaced during the second week of the season - Trevor Minalda. The 6-foot senior was sensational in relief as he directed North Schuylkill’s offense flawlessly over the next three-plus quarters.

Minalda completed 10 of 12 passes for 205 yards, including a pair of long touchdowns to speedy wide receiver Collion McGee. Minalda also ran for 98 yards, scoring touchdowns on runs of 21, 14 and 13 yards.

“I tried to stay prepared,” said Minalda. “It was a tough situation knowing that this was always a possibility, because sometimes unfortunate things happen.

“More importantly I want to keep Cayden in my prayers.”

Mengle drove the offense right down the field on its first offensive possession, tossing completions of 17 and 15 yards to Luke Miller and Collin Stanakis, before the latter bounced into the end zone on a 6-yard run.

However, Tamaqua had an answer of its own, using a fake punt to sustain its first scoring drive. Two-way lineman/punter Mike Styka tossed a 22-yard completion to Jacob Hehn on the fake to keep the drive alive. Six plays later, Bradley Whalen burst 10 yards to paydirt. Quarterback Luke Kane came up with a 30-yard completion to Tyler Koch in the march.

Thereafter it was the Minalda show. He made his entrance after Mengle took off on a 42-yard run, hitting his left shoulder as he was tackled, sidelining him for the game.

Minalda set up the second touchdown for his team ripping off runs of 13 and eight yards before Ricky Helford ran five yards for a touchdown.

In the third offensive series, Minalda and McGee hooked up with a beauty of a 52-yard scoring strike.

“Defensively, we played incredibly well,” said North Schuylkill coach Wally Hall. “We got some guys back defensively, which helped us very much. The thing is we moved some guys around on our defensive line and that gave us a lot of help from our line to our linebacking.”

Minalda’s 21-yard dash to the end zone to open the second quarter lifted his team to a 27-7 lead. Helford scored on a 1-yard plunge before McGee and Minalda hooked up for another 52-yard scoring strike to make it 41-7 at halftime.

Two quick touchdowns to open the third quarter made it 55-7, with Minalda scoring on runs of 14 and 13 yards.

Tamaqua hit the scoreboard with a little over eight minutes to play. Kane capped off a 9-play drive on a 1-yard run. The march featured a 33-yard pass from Kane to Hahn, and a 12-yard run by Victor Schlosser.

“I’ll tell you what, we really came a long way from the start of the season,” said Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner. “We lose our first four games, then we did a great job of turning that around over the second half of the season..

“It was a terrific turnaround by these kids. We’re going to be just fine. We’ve got a great group of kids coming back.”

TOUGH LOSS … Losing Mengle is a tough loss for the Spartans. The sophomore might be the best quarterback in Schuylkill County.

LIKING TAMS … Tamaqua will be a contender next fall if all goes well. Only four seniors depart - Marcus Roseland, Devin Sell, Damon Sell and Matt Walsh.

PULLING OUT ALL STOPS … Bonner’s game plan started with an onside kick in addition to the fake punt.