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Raiders, Spartans meet for D-11 title

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    Tamaqua’s high-powered offense has been a huge reason for the team’s 9-2 record this season. The Raiders lead the Times News area in scoring (39.4 points per game) and are second in total offense (366.7 yards per game). The unsung heroes, who have paved the way for Tamaqua’s offensive success, have been the players upfront, including, from left, tight end Jake Barron, tackle Bronson Strouse, guard Lucas Schickram, center Sean Lavine, guard Jacob Wasserleben, tackle Jared Reed, and tight end Lucas Gregoire. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS

Published November 07. 2019 01:23PM

The Tamaqua football team didn’t complicate things last week in its 49-28 District 11 Class 3A semifinal victory over Notre Dame. The Raiders (9-2) figured out early they could dominate the Crusaders up front offensively, riding running back Nate Boyle 49 times for a school record 382 yards and five touchdowns.

Friday night, things aren’t going to be very complicated either in the District 11 3A title game when No. 2 Tamaqua faces No. 1 seed North Schuylkill. The game boasts two physical football teams with strong offensive and defensive lines that will battle in the trenches for the championship. This one will come down to physicality and who can establish it early and often.

“In our first matchup, we weren’t able to really get the run going, so being physical early and getting some push up front will be key,” said Tamaqua head coach Sam Bonner. “I think we also have to be a little more patient with our running game. If we get a negative play of just one or two yards, I think we have to still stick with it at times. We’re always going to try and stay balanced, but being physical in the run game will be really important for us.”

Boyle’s performance was indeed historic in Tamaqua’s first-ever District 11 playoff win, but the Raiders offensive line was able to grind down the Notre Dame defensive front play after play. The Crusaders knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop Tamaqua’s rushing attack. Against the Spartans (10-1) vaunted front seven that is not only big, but also fast, winning the battle up front will certainly be more challenging this week.

The big boys up front looking to get the job done against the Spartans will be Lucas Gregoire (TE), Jake Barron (TE), Jared Reed (G) Lucas Schickram (G), Jake Wasserlben (T), Bronson Strouse (T) and Sean Lavine (C).

“It all starts up front for us, that’s for sure,” added Bonner. “Those guys have done a great job for us all year and we’re going to depend on them come Friday night.”

North Schuylkill’s offense won the battle of physicality against Tamaqua in a 27-18 victory over the Raiders earlier this season. The Spartans, leading by three with 8:16 left in the fourth quarter, were able to grind out a 77-yard, time-consuming drive that resulted in a score to go up nine, leaving the Raiders with just over a minute left to go.

Quarterback Jaden Leiby rushed for 146 yards, while power running back Zack Chowansky racked up 122 yards on the ground, with the Spartans getting a significant push up front. Leiby, who was seriously injured a few weeks ago against Pottsville, has seen an overwhelming amount of support from the Pennsylvania football community. Replacing Leiby will be sophomore quarterback Jake Hall, who saw his first start last week in a 42-20 win over Pine Grove. The question with the North Schuylkill offense isn’t if it’s going to be physical, but whether it can be as dynamic without Leiby.

“North Schuylkill is going to run what they run. You’re never going to replace a great kid like Leiby. But they have great power backs and a strong offensive line,” said Bonner. “We have to do a better job of not giving up chunk plays, that really hurt us. We have to get some more pressure in the backfield and create some negative plays for them in the run game.”

Tamaqua has played in many games under Bonner in his long tenure with the Raiders. But there’s no denying this one is the biggest. And it might be the biggest game this week in all of District 11 with the most old-school feel to it.

Physicality versus physicality. Strong offensive lines versus strong defensive lines. Speedy running backs versus power running backs. It has all the matchups needed for a big time high school football game, which it certainly will be come Friday night.

“We know how big this game is, we know how important it is,” said Bonner. “But this senior group, since they were freshmen, have played in a lot of big games. I know they’re focused and ready to go.”

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