Key series kept Raiders marching toward title against North Schuylkill
That’s most likely how Tamaqua coaches, players and fans will remember the Raiders’ game-defining – and eventual championship-defining – second scoring drive from Friday night’s 20-0 win over North Schuylkill in the District 11 Class 3A title game.
Every championship game has key moments and vital momentum-swinging plays. The Raiders’ (10-2) second scoring drive served as just that – and it was the type of drive that showed the Spartans that Tamaqua’s offense was going to be tough to stop.
“At that point in the game, we were leading 6-0 and we didn’t want to lose momentum. We were in a tough spot, pinned down there inside our own 10, and that’s not where you want to be against North Schuylkill,” said Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner. “Our goal was to move the ball, give ourselves some room and not give them a short field. But then we got that key first down with a great catch by Nate Boyle and we were able to keep moving the ball and converted on key third downs.”
Tamaqua coaches, players and fans will likely refer to Boyle’s shoe string sideline fingertip grab as “the catch” for years to come. With the Raiders starting the drive at their own six after a rolling 65-yard North Schuylkill punt early in the second quarter, it looked as if the drive was going to stall.
Tamaqua was faced with a third-and-six from the 10 when Brayden Knoblauch rolled right, and with a Spartans defender in his face, threw a strike right to Boyle, who was sprinting toward the sideline. Boyle set his feet and held onto the ball for a fresh set of downs and a 17-yard hookup.
“That play was huge. I told him as we were leaving the huddle, if things broke down to work to the sideline. I knew he could find some room there,” said Knoblauch. “And then it was a tremendous catch on his part, that was all him; what a great play.”
Boyle’s catch provided a boost for the drive, as Knoblauch and the Tamaqua pass catchers were able to methodically drive down the field, converting on multiple third downs. After Boyle’s big catch, Knoblauch hit his top receiving target, Matt Kistler, for 14 yards to gain another first down.
Knoblauch continued throwing dimes on the drive, hitting Cody Hamm a few plays later for 12 yards on a crucial third-and-10 to get the Raiders to the Spartans 34. Two plays later, the connection between Knoblauch and Kistler showed why it’s been one of the best in the area this season on a 25-yard pitch-and-catch on a slant that saw Kistler hurdle a Spartan, getting down to the 8-yard line.
The previous week against Notre Dame, it was the Raiders’ rushing attack that dominated with Boyle, who rushed for 382 yards and five scores. But Friday night, Tamaqua showed its offensive diversity, with its first two touchdowns coming through the air.
“Our line and our run game got us the win last week – we were able to dominate them physically. But this week, we knew how physical North Schuylkill was up front, so we were going to have to mix it up,” said Knoblauch. “We were able to do that tonight, we mixed it up very well and executed and it got us a district championship.”
On yet another third down – a third-and-six from the Spartans eight – the Raiders converted, but this time it ended in a score. Bonner made the perfect call, which was a screen to tight end Jake Barron on the left side of the field. With a wall of blockers in front, Barron did the rest, diving into the left side of the end zone to put Tamaqua up 12-0 with a little over five minutes to go in the second quarter.
The 8-yard hookup from Knoblauch to Barron capped off a 14-play 94-yard drive, with Knoblauch throwing for 76 yards, hitting four different receivers and converting on three crucial third downs.
It was the drive that kept the Raiders momentum going after leading 6-0 – and it was the drive that helped propel them to their first-ever District 11 championship.