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Northwestern, No. Lehigh renew rivalry

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    Northwestern’s Nick Henry tries to elude Kevin Tiedeman of Saucon Valley during last Friday’s Colonial League game. The Tigers, who have won seven straight games, face rival Northern Lehigh in their annual Mountain Road Rumble. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published October 17. 2019 12:16PM

Northwestern and Northern Lehigh will renew their rivalry in a game that has postseason implications for both teams.

Northwestern Lehigh

at Northern Lehigh

Friday Oct. 18, 7:05 p.m.

Here’s what you need to know...

PRE-GAME SALUTE ... The teams will offer a Salute to Troops, with the two teams wearing special uniforms and going through added pre-game ceremonies. The festivities will be in addition to the tribute to former Northwestern player Brett Snyder and former Northern Lehigh player Bo Tkach. This is the first meeting of the two teams since Snyder’s passing this past year. The game also celebrates the memory of Bo Tkach, who passed away at an early age after suffering from depression. Friday is also senior night, and Northern Lehigh’s football, band and cheerleading seniors will be saluted. “Northwestern has had the upper hand in the rivalry, and the last two haven’t been that close,” said Northern Lehigh head coach Joe Tout. “Our group is really excited for the opportunity to play them. We know they are an excellent team. However, we feel like we are playing our best football of the year right now and we expect to see that carry over to this week.”

PLAYOFF ATMOSPHERE ... With Northwestern (7-1) being one of just two teams in the Colonial League with one loss, every remaining game is like a playoff game. This week, the intensity goes up a notch against the Tigers’ rival, Northern Lehigh. Northwestern and Southern Lehigh are the only two teams with one loss as the season heads into Week 9. The teams will be declared co-champions if they finish with identical records even though Northwestern beat the Spartans two weeks ago in a 36-34 shootout.

The game also has District 11 playoffs implications for both teams.

The Tigers are battling for seeding position in Class 4A. They are currently seeded second, just percentage points ahead of third place Pottsville. The second place team will be guaranteed a semifinal round home game if it wins its quarterfinal round game. The third seed will more than likely be on the road in the semifinal round.

Meanwhile, Northern Lehigh is in a must-win position as it battles to keep its playoff hopes alive in Class 3A.

WHEN THE TIGERS HAVE THE BALL ... Offensively, Northwestern will throw both the ground game and passing game at Northern Lehigh. Nick Henry became as much of a force pulling in passes as he was on the ground last week against Saucon Valley. Quarterback Deven Bollinger is always a double-threat, being able to beat teams with his arm and take off and run the ball. The past few weeks, the Tigers have also added a little trickery to their offense with some gadget plays. Last week, lineman Connor Snyder ran the ball five times and scored a touchdown.

“We like to do that every season; to give a lineman or two a chance to get into the end zone,” said Snyder. “It’s also good to have that in the arsenal so that on a short-yardage situation, you have that to go to and guys are familiar with running those type of plays. I don’t think you’ll see Snyder ever be our leading rusher, but he’s there to get some carries if we need him in a particular spot.”

WHEN THE DAWGS HAVE THE BALL. .. Northern Lehigh (5-3) provides more than the one-dimensional type of opponent that the Tigers have seen in the past couple of weeks. The Bulldogs will challenge the Northwestern defense, looking to get big plays through the air. Early this season, Northwestern was prone to giving up some big plays, but has closed a couple holes in its defense and has been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks to limit their opportunities to throw the ball. “They are sound defensively. They mix fronts between a 3-5, 4-3, and 4-4 and their linemen will twist, they slant, and they will send multiple blitzes,” said Tout. “We are focusing on our assignments offensively. We need to recognize fronts, and make sure we are blocking someone on each play. We feel like if we are on people, our athletes will make plays. So, it isn’t as much about focusing on their weaknesses as we are focusing on running our plays now that we’ve settled into an identity offensively.”

Marian at Mahanoy Area

Friday, Oct. 18, 7 p.m.

Here’s what you need to know:

NUMERO UNO … It may have taken longer than head coach Pat Morgans would have liked, but last Friday night the Colts celebrated their first win of the season with a 9-8 victory over Shenandoah Valley. Morgans was happy to get the first win of the season for himself, but more so for his players. “I think the kids were relieved too,” said Morgans. “It built up some excitement from the other night. It felt good to get a win. I’m proud of them and happy for them. They went through a lot this year. So, it was good to finally be able to be on the victory side of things.”

ALL ABOUT TEAM … Due to injuries, freshman Mitch Miller stepped away from his normal position as fullback to lend a hand on the offensive line and made an impact in the win last Friday. “We had to convert him to a center last week due to injuries,” Morgans said. “I thought Mitch stepped in there and did a nice job of filling in. He kind of sacrificed for the team. He made the team better by doing that – stepping in where he was needed – and he stepped up and did a really nice job on Friday night.”

THREE YEARS TO GO … It’s not often one sees a freshman break the starting lineup on a varsity team. However, the Colts have relied heavily on some freshmen. With just 17 active players on the roster, Morgans has seen several freshmen step up, including ninth-grader Xavier Ocasio, who has filled in nicely in the Colts’ backfield with 22 carries for 140 yards last week. “Xavier the last couple of weeks really showed what he can do,” said Morgans. “And again, it’s a team effort there too. We have people blocking for him and things like that. I need to give them credit also. But he’s really doing a fantastic job.”

TRIPLE THREAT … Morgans knows what Mahanoy Area is capable of. “The first thing you think of when you think of Mahanoy Area is that triple-option offense,” Morgans said. “They’re really running it very well this season. They have nice size up front. They’ve got some great skilled kids. It all starts with the quarterback, Danny Lawrence. He’s having an incredible year. The fullback, Alexis Perez, is tough. He hits the hole quick. And once at the line, he will be through it before you know it. And (Ben) Terry has big-play capabilities as well. They have three-four skilled people that can make the big play on any play. All they need is a crease; they’re a very dangerous offensive team. It all starts with stopping that offense.”

Panther Valley

at Schuylkill Haven

Friday, Oct. 18, 7 p.m.

Here’s what you need to know:

LOOKING TO REBOUND … After winning two Schuylkill League Division II contests in a row, Panther Valley suffered its first interdivision defeat in a 46-13 setback to Mahanoy Area. It doesn’t get any easier for the Panthers, as they travel to Schuylkill Haven, who sits above the division with an unblemished 4-0 record. “After looking at the film from last week, we were kind of undisciplined on defense,” Panthers head coach Rick Jones said. “Mahanoy Area is such a good team with what they do that it hurt us. Offensively, we were inside the 20-yard line four times without scoring. We made major mistakes at key times. So, there’s things to build on.”

RIDING MOMENTUM … After four straight losses to Schuylkill League Division I schools to open the season, the Hurricanes have manhandled interdivision opponents. The Hurricanes have outscored their opposition 251-27 in the last four games. They have run away with wins over Marian (67-0), Mahanoy Area (57-19), Shenandoah Valley (55-0) and Minersville (72-8). In those four games, the Hurricanes average 62.75 points per game. “They come right at you. They’re very physical,” said Jones. “Obviously, they have a super running back in [Kobe] Brish. I don’t know whether we can or cannot slow him. We’re going to try and do some things to mix things up on him. You have to be as physical as you can, and you must tackle well. I don’t know if there’s an easy solution to it.”

STILL FOCUSED ON ONE THING … “Like I said, our objective is just to get better every week and come out and compete and see where it takes you,” Jones said. “We go one week at a time. One opponent at a time. Our goal is to focus on playing hard. We need to be a little more disciplined this week and we’ve got to be physical. It is what it is. I would be very disappointed if we went in there and backed down to them. I don’t know if we are capable of competing with them, but I expect our kids to go out and play hard.”

AT HOME IN DIVISION II … Both Panther Valley and Schuylkill Haven have winning records within the Schuylkill League Division II play. However, outside the division both the Panthers and Hurricanes are winless.

Palmerton at Salisbury

Friday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.

Here’s what you need to know...

OFFENSE TAKING OFF... After struggling offensively over a five-week span that resulted in a five-game losing streak, the Bombers offense has come alive. The result has been back-to-back wins and a 47 points-per-game scoring average. A lack of explosive plays was the issue during the Bombers offensive woes, but now they are back to playing big-play offensive football. “It’s really just executing better. We had opportunities in previous weeks to make plays and put points on the board, we just weren’t moving the football, we weren’t moving the sticks,” said Palmerton head coach Chris Walkowiak. “Up front we’ve been good; we’ve given our playmakers time to make plays, and for plays to develop and we’ve executed.”

EXPLOSIVE FALCONS ... Salisbury (5-3, 5-3 CL) has shown the ability to be explosive throughout the season. To stop the Falcons, teams have to stop all-purpose player Tim Buda. Buda has 311 rushing yards on the season with four scores, and has also amassed 436 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The Bombers (3-5, 3-5 CL) will also have to stop the Falcons quarterback/wide receiver connection of Quintin Stephens and Chad Parton. Stephens has thrown for 1,333 yards and 14 scores with just four interceptions, while Parton has hauled in 38 passes for 617 yards and eight touchdowns.

DYNAMIC DUO... Jordan Nelson and Andrew Sabo were expected to be huge contributors on the offensive side of the ball for the Bombers this season, and they have recently lived up to the challenge. Nelson was a one-man offensive attack last week against Wilson, catching six balls for 104 yards and a touchdowns, throwing for 72 yards and a score and rushing for 20 yards. Sabo came through with four rushing touchdowns against the Warriors, he leads the Palmerton offense with 12 scores on the season.

North Schuylkill

at Lehighton

Friday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.

Here’s what you need to know...

TALL TASK ... Lehighton (3-5) enters the penultimate week of the regular season with possibly its toughest matchup to date in North Schuylkill (7-1). The Spartans are riding the momentum of a five-game winning streak as they head to the Tribe’s home field. The only team to defeat the visitors is Wyomissing back on Sept. 7 (31-14).

KNOW THINE ENEMY ... Lehighton head coach Tom McCarroll is aware of the imposing job that awaits his team. “We have an uphill battle,” he said. “North Schuylkill is probably the cream of the crop in our division. They’re well-rounded and well-coached, and they’ve beaten the best teams.”

SCOUTING REPORT ... McCarroll signaled out middle linebacker Tyler Eldson, a 6-2, 222-pound senior who has already given a verbal commitment to Penn State, and Jake Green, a 6-0, 278-pound senior fullback, as the top individuals to be concerned with. “They’re defending District 11 champs for a reason,” McCarroll said. “North Schuylkill presents matchup problems for us everywhere.”

ADVERSITY APLENTY ... With numerous injuries to the Indians’ lineup to deal with, McCarroll knows it’s not going to be easy this week. However, that doesn’t mean they’re about to roll over and quit. “There are some things that have happened that are out of our control,” McCarroll said about the fact that the Indians will have six or seven starters out with injuries this week. “But we’re going to take this opportunity to teach the young guys a lesson,” he said.

OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK ... The Tribe still has a reasonable shot at qualifying for the postseason, something the Indians are aware of. “We’re still in the picture to make the playoffs, and the kids know that,” he said. “There’s still a lot to play for, so we’re going to go out and give it our best effort.”

Pleasant Valley

at ES South

Friday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.

Here’s what you need to know...

BOUNCE BACK BEARS ... Still searching for their first win, head coach Blaec Saeger and the Bears (0-8) have the daunting task of coming back to the drawing board to figure things out, while continuing to give their best effort. “The kids continue to show up each week and give their best, despite the record and the previous week’s results,” Saeger said. “We’re going to keep working and giving our best effort as coaches. That’s all we can do.”

TRIPLE CAVALIER ... Against East Stroudsburg South (6-2), which is coming off a 49-0 shutout win over Dieruff, the Bears will need to bring their defensive ‘A game,’ as the Cavaliers boast a potent offense. In juniors Will Fish (QB), Christian Arrington (RB) and Christian Sapp (WR), the Cavs’ offense could be problematic for the Bears’ defense.

LOOKING BACK ... If the past is any indication, Pleasant Valley typically has trouble stopping the athletic teams with high quality players in the skill positions. “They’re an impressive team ... easily one of the most impressive that we’ve faced all season,” Saeger said. “They’ll be difficult to stop, and we’ve had trouble with athletic teams like them, but we’re still going to give it our best effort.”

STAYING ON COURSE ... Considering the difficult task that the first-year head coach has had this season since taking over the reins of the Bears, the record doesn’t quite indicate the progress the team has made, according to Saeger. “We strive to improve each week, and we think we’ve done that,” he said. “Hopefully, one of these weeks, things will come together and we can put together a great game.”

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