It’s no secret that high school football participation numbers are down across the region, the state and the nation.
That problem has hit a couple of area programs extremely hard this season.
Both Palmerton and Marian have been playing games with roster sizes in the teens for most of the past month.
This week’s Overtime column will look at how the Bombers have somehow managed to win games despite the obvious difficulties that come with their low numbers. We’ll also look at Marian’s situation, and the numbers crisis the Colts have had to deal with, especially the last few weeks.
In addition, Overtime will also feature Rod’s Heckman’s deep dive into the numbers from last week’s games. This week’s notes will feature something that had only happened a half dozen times in the last half century, while also looking at low-scoring Marian wins, and Palmerton comebacks, among other things.
Thanks in large part to some outstanding talent at the skill positions, Palmerton has actually found a way to win games the last two weeks despite the fact that it hasn’t even had enough bodies to do 11-on-11 walk throughs since fall camp broke.
According to writers at the last couple games, Palmerton has had just 17 players in uniform.
In spite of that, the Bombers are 3-5 and in contention for a District 11 Class 2A playoff berth.
The reason? Palmerton players are few, but several are mighty.
Heading that list is Jordan “Slash” Nelson. That’s “Slash” as in the nickname for former Pittsburgh Steelers star Kordell Stewart. Stewart got his nickname because of the multiple positions he could play on the field.
Nelson is flashing that same kind of versatility with the Bombers. The quarterback/running back/receiver has excelled at all three offensive positions. He leads the Bombers in passing yards (526), is second in rushing yards (302) and is second in receiving yards (198).
But Palmerton is far from a one-man team. In addition to Nelson, Andrew Sabo (453 yards rushing, 103 yards receiving); Lucas Heydt (401 yards passing, 247 yards rushing, 205 yards receiving); James Denicola (190 yards receiving, 166 yards rushing); and Ethan Recker (169 yards receiving, 138 yards rushing) have all shown the ability to excel at a number of positions.
Marian also dressed 17 players for last week’s game against Shenandoah that produced its first win of the season.
But unlike Palmerton, the Colts don’t have veteran playmakers like Nelson and Sabo who can somewhat offset the numbers crunch. To make matters worse, 11 of the 17 varsity players that dressed for Marian last week were freshmen or sophomores.
The Colts’ top runner is freshman Xavier Ocasio, and their second leading rusher is freshman Mitch Miller, who last week was moved from the backfield to center because of injuries on the offensive line. Marian’s top receiver is sophomore Luis Teron. It’s hard to win when you don’t have enough bodies to practice. It’s even harder when most of the skill people you’re counting on are freshmen and sophomores
Rumors have been running rampant for the last week that Marian has plans to forfeit its regular season finale against Tamaqua.
When contacted earlier this week, Marian Athletic Director Stan Dakosty explained the Colts’ sitiuation.
“Due to injuries and other circumstances, we’ve been handling our schedule on a week-to-week basis for about the last four games,” Dakosty said. “We’re going to be able to play Mahanoy Area on Friday night. I have also already talked to (Tamaqua Athletic Director) Mike Hromyak and let him know that we will evaluate our situation following the Mahanoy Area game and let him know our plans with respect to the game the following week at Tamaqua.”
Dakosty explained that it’s something that Marian has done the last several weeks.
“I’ve been in touch with the athletic directors of our future opponents during this entire stretch,” he said. “I’ve been letting them know that an additional injury or two could create the possibility of us not being able to play the upcoming week’s game.”
Knowing that the possibility exists that the regular season finale against Marian may not be played, Tamaqua has moved up its Senior Day festivities. Originally scheduled to be held prior to the Marian game, Senior Day will now be held this week against Jim Thorpe.
ON CLOUD NINE ... Marian only scored nine points in last Friday’s game against Shenandoah Valley, but it was enough to gain a win as the Colts pulled out a 9-8 victory.
The last time a Marian team scored under 10 points and still posted a win was Oct. 15, 2004 (171 games ago) when the Colts used a touchdown from Vito Digilio to record a 6-2 victory over Minersville.
BE LIKE MIKE ... Northern Lehigh’s Mike Repsher had quite the evening last Friday against Palisades, rushing for 207 yards while also collecting 109 receiving yards.
Repsher joined a very short list of players in the Times News area who have rushed for at least 200 yards and had at least 100 receiving yards in the same game.
Since 1988, the only others to achieve that were Tamaqua’s Tyler Hope (227 rushing, 103 receiving on Oct. 25, 2013) and Pleasant Valley’s Rob Getz (211 rushing, 140 receiving on Sept. 9, 2011).
TOUCHDOWN MACHINE ... Tamaqua’s Nate Boyle scored two touchdowns against Lehighton last Friday to become the first area player to reach 20 this season.
Boyle, who also reached the end zone 27 times a year ago, became the seventh Times News player — and first Blue Raider — over the past 50 years to record back-to-back seasons with 20 touchdowns.
The others include Lehighton’s Wyatt Clements (2015-16) and Robbie Frey (2005-06), Northern Lehigh’s Cody Remaley (2009-10) and Ryan Hluschak (2001-02), Northwestern’s Josh Snyder (1996-97) and Palmerton’s Mike Stasko (2015-16).
BOMBERS RALLY LATE ... Palmerton trailed Wilson by 10 points entering the fourth quarter of last Friday’s Colonial League game, but the Blue Bombers rallied for a 38-35 victory.
The last time a Palmerton team came back from a double-digit deficit in the final period was Sept. 25, 2009 against Saucon Valley. In that contest, the Bombers used a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Joe Weber to Christian Marcin to turn a 17-6 Panther lead into an 18-17 victory.
Over the past 33 seasons, those are the only two times Palmerton trailed by 10-or-more points in the last stanza and still won. The Bombers record in that situation (since 1987) is now 2-169.