Blue Raiders roll over PJP II
First ever district playoff win — check.
First ever district championship — check.
First ever state playoff win — check.
The postseason of firsts continued for Tamaqua on Friday night in the opening round of the PIAA 3A tournament. The Blue Raiders turned to their first option offensively — running the football — and dominated Pope John Paul II (PJP) on the line of scrimmage throughout the night to come away with a 47-21 victory.
After struggling to get the running game going in the first quarter, Tamaqua (11-2) got it going on the ground in the second quarter. Trailing by one (7-6), the Raiders used the run to take a 14-7 lead with 2:21 remaining in the half. A 14-play drive starting from their own 11 featured 12 run plays and a heavy dose of running back Nate Boyle, who carried the ball six times for 36 yards. The drive ended on a Brayden Knoblauch one-yard TD plunge.
The run game was again key on Tamaqua’s ensuing possession — perhaps its most important possession of the game. After a quick answer from PJP, which brought it back to within a point (14–13), the Raiders got the ball back with a minute left to go in the half at their own 31. A big 59-yard run by Boyle on the opening play of the drive put Tamaqua in business at the PJP 10. Four plays later, the Raiders cashed in on a five-yard hookup between Knoblauch and Matt Kistler as time expired to give Tamaqua an eight-point lead at the half.
“It was a one-point game and the way the game was going it looked like it was going to be a shootout,” said Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner. “We knew we had to gain a bigger advantage over their potent offense.
“That score before the half was huge. The great run on the counter set us up and Brayden did a nice job with clock management there, getting the score with no time left. With us getting the ball to start the half, that score was really big.”
Tamaqua took advantage of the momentum it gained at the end of the first half, putting together another lengthy drive after starting at its own 37. A seven-play march — this time driven by the pass (47 yards) — that ended in a Knoblauch one-yard score gave the Raiders a 14-point cushion.
Tamaqua would tack on another score at the end of third quarter, carrying a 22-point lead into the fourth where it would once again use the ground game to finish strong.
“The offensive line was great tonight, they got a good push and they were physical all night long. I couldn’t do what I do without those guys,” said Boyle. “Everything I’m able to do is because of them.”
Boyle and the Raiders ran wild in the fourth.
PJP made one last effort to get back in the game as a 43-yard strike from Kamal Gray to Justin Kormos cut the Tamaqua lead to 35-21 with 10 minutes to go in the game.
But Tamaqua never let up.
On the Raiders’ next two possessions they put together scoring drives capped by two Boyle rushing scores. Boyle put an exclamation point on his big night and Tamaqua’s win by rushing for a combined 97 yards on those scoring possessions and sending the Raiders into the quarterfinals of the PIAA 3A tournament.
BIG NIGHT ... Boyle has put together video game like numbers in the playoffs. After his 243-yard, five score night, he’s rushed for 722 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns in three postseason games.
NEXT UP ... The date, site, time and opponent for Tamaqua’s next game is still to be determined. The Raiders will face the winner of the Wyomissing vs. Middletown District 3 championship game, which will be played later today.
STINGY RUN D ... The Raiders run defense has been stingy in the playoffs. After only giving up 88 yards to PJP, Tamaqua is allowing an average of just 89 rushing yards per game in the playoffs.