FOUNTAIN SPRINGS - Tamaqua's visit to North Schuylkill should be one of the better opening week matchups on the scholastic football schedule, because both teams are coming off solid seasons with some veteran lineups, particularly in the trenches.

The Blue Raiders have seven starters returning on each side of the ball from a team that went 7-3 but failed to qualify for either the District 11 or Eastern Conference AA playoffs. North Schuylkill has nine starters back each way from a team that went 8-4 and was the EC AA runnerup.

Tamaqua lost its leading rusher and receiver in Tyler Hope, but has a pair of seasoned backups returning in Ernie Shilko and Tyler Skripko, who ran for 257 and 286 yards, respectively, in 2013. The Blue Raiders will also be working in a sophomore quarterback Thaddeus Zuber.

The relative inexperience in the backfield will be offset by veterans on the offensive line. Seniors Devin Murphy (5-10, 270), Nate Bastanzi (5-8, 270) and junior Tyler Andrews (6-0, 273) are all returning starters.

Defensively, Tamaqua coach Sam Bonner thinks his team will be much better than the one that gave up 21.4 points per game. Defensive lineman Kyle Oliphant, linebacker Trevor Skripko and defensive back Dylan Baddick are returning leaders defensively.

North Schuylkil counters with a front line that includes Nathan Gadinski (6-2, 260), C.J. Steinhilber (5-11, 203), Brett Budwash (5-9, 225), Joe Costa (6-4, 275), Paul Dean (5-10, 280), Jordan Dzizcek (6-2, 280) and Dane Tarantelli (6-3, 232).

Quarterback Bobby Grigas is back to run the offense after throwing for 1,281 yards and 10 touchdowns, and adding 265 yards on the ground, but the Spartans are a little green at running back, where several players are battling for playing time.

"It's running back by committee and it depends on what packages we're in," Spartan head coach Wally Hall said in a preseason preview.

Like Bonner, Hall thinks the strength of the team will be defense, at least early on, because injuries forced the Spartans into playing a lot of people last season. Consequently, they have a lot of experienced players back, and will likely be able to platoon a lot given the opposing team's tendencies and situations.

Gadinski, Dean, Steinhilber, Tarantelli and Tyler Briel (5-10, 245) will lead up front, and Alek Hummel (6-3, 205) and Major Jordan (6-1, 200) are experienced linebackers.

North Schuylkill was a 21-14 winner last year, and this year's game should be as close or closer.