Raiders ready for Blue Mtn.
Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner has preached progress though the first four weeks of the season.
The Raiders have responded, rolling through their first four opponents with an average margin of victory of 38.5 points per game.
Tamaqua is ready to take the next step in its evolution Friday night against Blue Mountain in the Times News Game of the Week.
That begins a critical five-game stretch against Schuylkill League Division 1 opponents.
It’s arguably the stiffest test yet for the Raiders, who will look to close out the first half of the regular season 5-0.
“We’ve been mentioning it from the get-go that we know as the year goes on, that the competition gets really tough,” said Bonner. “I think this week is definitely going to be a step up from the past four. I think Blue Mountain is probably going to bring the best that we’ve seen so far this year.”
The Eagles dropped to 3-1, suffering their first loss of the season in a 35-14 setback against Wyomissing last week.
By comparison, the combined record of the Raiders’ first four opponents is 4-12, including two teams that are currently winless.
Blue Mountain senior quarterback Jason Dean has completed 37- of-56 pass attempts for 611 yards (152.8 ypg.) and seven touchdowns. Dean has thrown just two interceptions, with his leading target, Gavin Bartholomew, hauling in 13 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown.
The Eagles present a varied attack when they run the ball, with three players having amassed over 200 rushing yards this season. Emannual Parker has rushed for a team-best 269 yards and five touchdowns. Carter Thompson has added 219 yars rushing, and Dean has picked up 209 yards and four scores on the ground.
Three of Thompson’s four catches this season have been touchdowns.
“They’re well-balanced,” said Bonner. “They’re similar as far as passing and running as us; they do a bit of both. They’re quarterback is a solid kid. They don’t have any one standout kid, but they’re all very good.
“They can cause some matchup problems, and they have some big, solid kids. We have our work cut out for us. I think we’re going to have to play a good four quarters of football.”
It won’t be easy for Blue Mountain to move the ball on a Tamaqua defense that is allowing just 177.0 yards and 5.8 points per game this season, both the second-best marks in the area. The Raiders have not surrendered a point in the first half this year.
Tamaqua has also been overwhelming on the other side of the ball, as the Raiders have outscored their opponents 128-0 in the first two quarters through the first four games.
Quarterback Brayden Knoblauch has just nine incompletions this season, connecting on 38-of-47 pass attempts for 769 yards and eight touchdowns, with no interceptions. Knoblauch is flanked by the area’s leading scorer in Nate Boyle, who has 11 total touchdowns (10 rushing, one receiving).
Boyle has accounted for 417 yards rushing, averaging 12.64 yards per carry, while also adding 143 yards on six receptions.
Matt Kistler has been a big-play threat on the outside, hauling in 14 passes for an area-best 346 yards (24.71 avg.) and five scoores.
Tamaqua’s 400.5 yards of offense and 44.3 points per game both rank second in the area.
Bonner knows it’s going to take one of the Raiders best, most complete efforts of the season on both sides of the ball if they want to stay umbeaten.
“Blue Mountain can give you problems running the ball or through the air, so we’re going to see defensively where we’re at, as far as pass coverage as well as playing against the run,” said Bonner. “Offensively, they’re solid up front; they got some big boys.
“We’re trying to be as balanced as we can on both sides of the ball. We want to be tough and competitive against the pass and the run on defense, and we want to continue to try and be balanced offensively. We know that this is going to be a good test for us. Hopefully, our kids come to play, and I think they will. They’ve been working hard all year.”