Tigers get ready for Bombers
It was 53 weeks ago when Northwestern downed Palmerton 50-21 on its way to a 9-1 record, a share of the Colonial League title and a District 11 Class AA championship. Ironically, the two teams almost had a rematch in the District 11 championship, but the Blue Bombers fell to North Schuylkill in the semifinals.
This season, both teams come into their regular season meeting needing wins to help their cause for a district playoff berth. Northwestern also has hopes of again sharing the Colonial League title, but with two undefeated teams – Saucon Valley and Notre Dame – the Tigers will need a lot of help.
Northwestern (5-2) enjoyed a stretch of games against struggling teams earlier in the season, but the Tigers are paying for that luxury now as they’re in the middle of five straight games against contending teams, with the game against Palmerton Friday night at Tiger Stadium being the fourth of those games. The Tigers have won two of those three key games so far and after Palmerton, they have a trip to Northern Lehigh on the schedule for next Friday.
The Blue Bombers (4-3) come in having had some of those tougher games interspersed among playing lesser opponents on their schedule. Palmerton opened with three straight wins before falling to Palisades in week four. That was followed by losses to Notre Dame and Southern Lehigh before they righted the ship last week with a 54-21 trouncing of Catasauqua.
Tigers coach Josh Snyder continues to take an approach of ‘us first’ in preparing his team as their fight for a district playoff spot, helped greatly by a win over Southern Lehigh last week, continues.
“We can’t take any game for granted at this point because we need every win we can get,” said Snyder. “Our guys prepare one week at a time and know that it all starts with controlling what they can control in the game, hanging on to the football, being smart and making plays.”
While Harry Hall continues an assault on the school’s offensive records set by Brett Snyder – he’s passed Snyder in career yards rushing, career touchdowns and career solo tackles – the rest of the offense is also in high gear. Trevor Cunningham had 120 receiving yards against Southern Lehigh, giving him back-to-back weeks of 100-plus receiving yards. No other Tigers’ receiver has had two 100-yard games in a season, let alone two weeks in a row.
The defense also continues to play well with Cunningham creating three turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble recovery last week. Interestingly, Northwestern’s defense also hasn’t allowed a point in the third quarter in any game this season.
Special teams continue to set up the Tigers with good field positions on kick returns and Brandon Miller hit a 21-yard field goal last week that proved to be the difference in the 24-21 win at Southern Lehigh.
Both coaches admit that they have to look to find a way to at least minimize the damage that the other team’s top players can inflict. For Palmerton, the task is facing Hall, who went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third straight season last week against Southern Lehigh. Northwestern needs to deal with the tandem of quarterback Garrett Pershy and running back Mike Stasko. Pershy is fifth in the league in passing, while Stasko is third in the league in rushing, presenting a one-two punch on the ground and in the air.
“With Palmerton, you can’t just settle into a pass containment or a run containment, you have to be aware of both, which is tough because they have a big, physical line on both sides of the ball and that’s going to be a key is winning the battle on the line,” said Josh Snyder.
With both teams having very similar numbers both offensively and defensively - Northwestern is better in some areas, while Palmerton holds the edge in others – things like the play of the lines and special teams, where the Tigers do hold a decided edge, will likely come into play.
Palmerton head coach Chris Walkowiak believes it’s all about the fundamentals.
“We’ll just prepare as best we can and then on Friday night, it’s just a matter of doing what we have to do and executing,” said Walkowiak. “It’s going to come down to which team can avoid mistakes and penalties and avoid turning the ball over.”