Palisades is not a familiar foe
With Northwestern's win last week, the Tigers earned the No. 2 seed for the first round of the District 11 Class AA playoffs.
To open districts, Northwestern takes on Colonial League foe Palisades (7-3), who interestingly, was Northwestern's bye team this season. The two haven't played since the season opener in 2013 when the Pirates grabbed a 27-15 win over Northwestern.
"I think it's actually a perfect the way it ended up," said coach Josh Snyder. "They're a good football team and a good challenge. New opponents make for a different challenge and it should be a good game."
Palisades had a shot at knocking Saucon Valley out of their bid to share the Colonial League Championship with Southern Lehigh and Northwestern last week, but after dodging a barrage of bullets in the first half, the Pirates were cut down sharply in the second half and lost 38-14. That game and wins by the Spartans and Tigers gave the Colonial League their first-ever tri-champions.
The Pirates ground game is led by senior running back Christian Gretzinger, while junior quarterback Austin Krauss is near the top of the Colonial League rankings in passing. Krauss' favorite target is fellow junior Blake Cassalia.
"They're a good team," said Snyder. "They like to run the ball and use that to set up their passing game. They've got Gretzinger at tailback and he's got a lot of talent, so you have to be careful against him. They can also throw the ball, so you can't just key on the run."
Palisades can be tough defensively and has allowed an average of just under 17 points per game this season. In their last three games against teams with a combined record of 11-19, the Pirates defense has given up 80 points (27 per game).
"Defensively, they've been running a 50 front and they can be tough, so they present some challenges and we're going to have to be ready and we certainly can't take them lightly," said Snyder.
While the Pirates finished the season at 7-3, they were just 1-3 against teams with a record above .500 and their other six wins came against teams with a combined mark of 14-46. In their losses to teams above the .500 mark, they were outscored 71-35.
One of the things that has helped Northwestern (9-1) to be successful this season has been its depth. While the Tigers have generally avoided injury, they have relied heavily on guys who aren't exactly household names.
"Every good team is going to have its high-profile kids who get the attention, but they're also going to have the kids who just do their job week-after-week," said Snyder, who puts juniors Teagen Golden and Dylan Snyder (no relation to the coach) into that category.
"Teagen is a high-energy kid," said Josh Snyder. "Whether he's right or wrong, he goes 100 miles per hour. He's an undersized linebacker, but every week when we look back at the film, he's there making plays.
"Dylan would be getting glory as a starting running back on most other teams, but he's a fullback for us. He's the kind of kid that's always got that 'whatever you need, coach' kind of attitude."
The winner of the game will take on the winner of the North Schuylkill and Palmerton game for the District 11 Championship. North Schuylkill is the top seed. The Tigers haven't won a District 11 since 1997 and haven't played in the PIAA playoffs since 2003 when they lost to Northern Lehigh in the opening round.