Tamaqua wins D-11 title
Tamaqua celebrates its first-ever District 11 title after a win over North Schuylkill. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
It’s one of the oldest cliches in sports.
And on Friday night, Tamaqua proved it to be true once again.
Defenses really do win championships.
The Blue Raiders completely shut down North Schuylkill’s powerful offense to capture the District 11 Class 3A title with a dominating 20-0 victory.
“No doubt (the defense) was the key to winning tonight,” said Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner. “As the year went on, we got a lot stronger against the run. And when you play a team like this, you know you’re going to have to stop the run. I thought our guys did a great job of that. I don’t know who our leading tackler was tonight, but everybody was making plays for us up front.
“This is awesome. It’s the first district championship here ever. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m enjoying it, but I haven’t thought about it. It’s a great feeling and I’m happy for the kids, but I’m also happy for the parents ... and the community. Everybody got behind the team, and it’s great that this team made everybody proud.”
The Blue Raiders managed to gain a 12-0 halfime advantage, scoring once after a shanked North Schuylkill punt and again on an impressive 94-yard drive, but it was the defense that stole the show over the first two quarters.
Tamaqua (10-2) limited the Spartans to just one first down and 30 yards in the half. It also didn’t allow them to cross midfield.
“We put in a five-man front because we knew they were run heavy ... and we were able to stop them,” said senior Bronson Strouse, one of the leaders on defense. “In the third quarter, I knew we had taken control. They were tired. Their hands were on their hips ... Our defense really stepped up this year. We got better and better each week.”
“We practiced all week, just making sure we were stopping the run, stopping the run, stopping the run because they are an I-formation team and they’re going to run the ball right down your throat until they can’t anymore,” added fellow senior Jake Barron. “I think we all played the game of our lives tonight, shutting them down the way we did. It was truly amazing.”
The Spartans ended the contest with just four first downs and 105 yards of total offense, and never threatened to score. They failed to reach Tamaqua territory the entire evening and only had four plays over six yards.
“We just couldn’t find our way,” said North Schuylkill mentor Wally Hall. “And they added more pressure against us. We just couldn’t get it clicking.
“We tried some things, but we just couldn’t get in rhythm. If you can’t get in a rhythm offensively, you’re going to be in a hole.”
Hall’s team found itself in a 6-0 hole near the end of the first quarter. A 6-yard punt set Tamaqua up at the Spartans’ 33-yard line and it took just four plays for the Raiders to reach the end zone. Brayden Knoblauch’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Kistler completed the short drive.
Bonner’s defense forced a three-and-out the next time North Schuylkill (10-2) had the ball, something they did six times in the game, but Tamaqua failed to field the ensuing punt and it rolled deep into Raider territory.
“Me and Matt (Kistler) had a little miscommunication on the punt, and the ball rolled down to the six,” said Tamaqua’s Nate Boyle.
“I told the team in the huddle that we’re a team and we need to help each other through these mistakes. And we did. We had a great drive and we scored.”
The Raiders marched 94 yards in 13 plays, five of them passes by Knoblauch, to extend their advantage to 12-0. The Raiders converted on two third downs and also had a 25-yard pass to Kistler. The final play was an 8-yard TD toss to Barron.
“They pinned us down there and we had that drive,” said Bonner. “It was only 6-0 at the time. It was a good mix of pass and run. Brayden made some great plays. Nate made some great plays. Kistler and Jake made some plays. Everybody was contributing, which is a great thing. It was just a great team effort because everybody was involved.”
Any hope North Schuylkill had to get back in the game when the second half started was stymied on the kickoff. Boyle purposely squibbed the kick, but the ball hit a Spartan and Tamaqua recovered.
From there, the Raiders drove 44 yards in six plays to push the margin to 20-0. Boyle had a 14-yard gain during the march and Kistler added a 10-yard run. Boyle capped it with a 3-yard tally.
“It hit the kid, he tried to recover it, but we got it,” said Boyle. “It was big for us that they didn’t get a first crack on offense to start the second half. When we got the third score, we felt like we had a lot of confidence. We kept pounding the ball and kept the pressure on them.”
JUST PUNT ... Even when the Raiders had to give up the ball, Kistler helped keep North Schuylkill in a hole. The team’s punter had four punts of over 40 yards. He also had an interception on defense.
WHAT’S NEXT ... Tamaqua moves into the state playoffs where it will face District 1’s Pope John Paul at a site and time to be determined.
OFFENSIVELY ... Boyle had 97 yards rushing in the contest, while Knoblauch threw for 125 yards.