JT holds off Tamaqua
Mark Rosenberger wasn’t the least bit worried.
In the Jim Thorpe stands and on the sidelines, however, he may have been the only one to feel that way.
His Olympians had watched a two-touchdown lead cut in half with two minutes to play Friday night, and Tamaqua got the ball back and was driving for a tying score.
But the longtime head coach didn’t seem fazed.
“I was not panicked whatsoever,” said Rosenberger. “I have faith in our defense. I had faith that they were going to get the job done. I don’t think the heart was beating faster. We have total confidence in our defense to make a play, and fortunately we did.”
The Blue Raiders drove to the JT eight-yard line with just over 30 seconds left in regulation. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, Tamaqua misfired on three straight passes as the Olympians preserved a 21-14 Schuylkill League victory.
The loss was the Raiders’ first of the season and denied them from claiming the outright Division 2 title.
“(Quarterback Brayden Knoblauch), in the two-minute drill, took us right down and we had a couple shots there at the end,” said Tamaqua mentor Sam Bonner. “I wish we would have had a timeout or two left, but we had to use those to give us that chance. We did a great job of getting back in the game and having a chance to tie it up at the end.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, it seemed very unlikely that the game was going to come down to the wire.
The Olympians, who can earn a share of the division championship with a win next week against Lehighton, had been dominating the line of scrimmage and having plenty of success running the ball — especially in the second half.
A 10-play, 54-yard drive (all on the ground) by the Olympians in the second quarter provided the only scoring in the first half. Big runs from Jarrin Geisinger, CJ Selby, and Roberto Santiago set up Selby’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Tamaqua (8-1; 4-1) gained the equalizer early in the third frame when Johnny Franko scooped up a fumble and went 12 yards to end zone. And it looked like the Raiders were going to take the lead moments later, but a touchdown pass was wiped out by a holding penalty, leaving the score tied.
“Unfortunately, we made some mistakes earlier in the game that were uncharacteristic of us this year,” said Bonner. “We had a touchdown called back on a holding call. That was a big play. Against teams like Jim Thorpe, you can’t make those kind of mistakes.”
The Olympians (8-1; 3-1) seemed to get their bearings after that, relying on their ground game.
With Derrick Beckham running the speed sweep and Santiago finding room inside, the home team moved the ball at will.
The two combined for nine carries during a 10-play scoring drive that ended in Santiago’s 7-yard touchdown run and a 14-7 advantage.
The next time they had the ball, the duo accounted for all eight plays in a 72-yard march that upped the score to 21-7 with 7:11 left to play. Santiago, again, finished things off with a 4-yard tally.
“Derrick ran very hard, and we just kept running the two plays back-to-back, said Santiago. “We kept hitting them for five yards, 10 yards, and we kept driving down the field and scored. Our line is amazing ... It was our Senior Night, and a lot of the guys on that line are seniors and they really wanted it ... But that last drive was scary. I’m not going to lie. I was really scared there.”
“I thought our offensive line did a wonderful job tonight,” said Rosenberger. “We came down on them pretty hard last week. We didn’t play really well upfront against Pottsville. We worked really hard this week on different drills and leg drives. To me, the offensive line is what won the game for us tonight.”
That, and the defensive stand at the end.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s about our defense making the play at the end of the game,” said Rosenberger. “That’s what we wanted. We want our defense on the field when it comes down to the last second.
RED SWARM ... Jim Thorpe’s defense held Tamaqua scoreless in the first half. The fewest points the Raiders had in first half prior to Friday night was 13.
2K STRONG ... There was a big crowd on hand for the Schuylkill League showdown, as the paid attendance was announced at 2,117.
THE COMEBACK TRAIL ... Knoblauch threw for 107 of his 187 yards on Tamaqua’s final two drives. He pulled the Raiders within 21-14 with 2:29 to play on a 13-yard scoring strike to Matt Kistler.