ASHLAND - In addition to being its head coach, emotional leader and chief authority figure, Bob Miller is also the Elco football team's No. 1 fan.

Nothing happened on Saturday to change that. Not even a thoroughly lackluster first-half performance in what would be a 42-28 regular-season finale loss to North Schuylkill.

That's because Miller has a genuine soft spot for the first Elco football team he's guided as the head coach, having seen the Raiders rebound from a 3-7 2011 campaign to notch a 6-4 2012 record and lay the groundwork for a potentially bright future.

No, the Raiders didn't win on Saturday. Nor did they attain the longshot district playoff bid that was still mathematically up for grabs when they took the field.

But Miller saw his squad battle, compete and at times outplay the hosts after falling in a 24-0 halftime hole. He saw pride, intensity and poise in the second half as the Raiders outscored a quality North Schuylkill squad 28-18 after intermission behind a wildly impressive breakout performance from freshman quarterback Jeff Martin.

He saw a group of kids he enjoyed coaching, while noting the date - Aug. 14 - next year that he can officially begin coaching them again.

"I told them coming out (after halftime), 'I fell in love with you all season, I wasn't gonna fall out of love with you because of one half of football,'" Miller said. "The reason we fell in love with this group as coaches is because they worked so hard and invested themselves so much.


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"To finish the game like they did, and to finish the season 6-4, is a product of them. And that's a great thing going forward."

But before the Raiders took another step forward, they spent the first half getting shoved backwards. Literally and figuratively, as North Schuylkill (7-3) completely dominated the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively.

The Spartans' running back tandem of Ethan Motsney and Matt Gownley was the beneficiary of that, combining for 220 first-half yards and three touchdowns to stuff Elco into that 24-0 halftime hole.

It was the same story on the other side of the ball before intermission, as Elco's backfield duo of Cameron Strause and Adam Shoemaker found precious little running room on the way to just 31 combined yards on the ground.

"We knew going in they were really physical, they're really strong and their backs are really good," Miller said. "It's to be expected when that's what they're built to do. And look at the size of those kids. They've got a little advantage there."

The Spartans continued to control the point of attack on their first possession of the second half, allowing second-string back Matt Smarkanic to join the fun with a 51-yard TD gallop that made it 30-0 with 9:12 still to play in the third quarter.

But just when the appearance of the mercy rule appeared inevitable, the Raiders went to work behind the strong right arm of Martin. The freshman signal caller made periodic appearances in the first half, completing four of nine passes for 52 yards, but played the entire second half after Strause was sidelined by injury and made his presence felt, and then some.

With Martin completing four of five passes for 56 yards, the Raiders responded on the ensuing drive after Smarkanic's score with a two-yard touchdown blast by Shoemaker.

Martin was only getting warmed up, though, with the help of receivers Shoemaker, Jake Stager, Ryan Weirback and Derek Miller. He threw three fourth-quarter TD passes - a 22-yarder to Shoemaker and scoring strikes of 31 and 18 yards to Stager - en route to finishing a stellar 19 of 28 for 292 yards and three touchdowns.

Shoemaker and Stager also each surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark as part of Martin's big second half.

"He's got a lot of guts and he throws a great ball," Miller said of Martin. "And our line protected real well for him, and that makes a big difference. And the biggest difference was, the receivers knew where the heck they were going (in the second half). When they're where you expect them to be it makes it a heck of a lot of easier. They all did a great job with that."

Of course, it wasn't enough to change the outcome, but it did put the makings of a smile on Miller's face as he watched his squad gather for some postgame pictures.

"That whole team that came out, all of our Raiders were a bright spot in the second half," Miller said. "We played a lot differently in the second half than we did in the first.

"When they came out (after halftime) with pride after being down like they were, that says so much about where the program's headed. These guys right here have a big part in that, so that was neat. Jeff gets some credit, and he'll get the stats, but it was everybody."

NORTH SCHUYLKILL 42, ELCO 28

Elco 0-0-7-21 - 28
N. Schuylkill 16-8-12-6 - 42

First Quarter

NS - Matt Gownley 17 run (Gownley run)

NS - Gownley 2 run (Gownley run)

Second Quarter

NS - Ethan Motsney 72 run (Gownley run)

Third Quarter

NS - Matt Smarkanic 51 run (kick failed)

E - Adam Shoemaker 2 run (Clayton Bauder kick)

NS - Dan McSurdy 76 pass from Bob Grigas (kick failed)

Fourth Quarter

E - Jake Stager 31 pass from Jeff Martin (Bauder kick)

NS - Motsney 24 run (kick failed)

E - Stager 18 pass from Martin (Bauder kick)

E - Shoemaker 22 pass from Martin (Bauder kick)

Elco - NS
First downs 21 - 15
Rushes-yards 29-80 - 33-371
Passing 20-30-1 - 2-5-0
Passing yards 309 - 80
Total yards 389 - 451
Punts 3-20.7 - 2-28.0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 - 2-1
Penalties-yards 5-35 - 5-45

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing:E - Shoemaker 12-22, Strause 10-22, Keefer 5-18, Martin 1-12, Stager 1-6. NS - Gownley 17-161, Motsney 13-153, Smarkanic 2-57, Grigas 2-0.

Passing:E - Martin 19-28-0-292, Strause 1-2-1-17. NS - Grigas 2-5-0-80.

Receiving:E - Shoemaker 8-105, Stager 5-110, Weirback 3-48, Miller 3-29, Sprenkle 1-17. NS - McSurdy 1-76, Gownley 1-4.