Tigers look for second straight big win
This week presents game two of a three-game stretch that will ultimately decide the fate of the Northwestern football team this season.
Last week the Tigers (6-1) cleared the first hurdle with a win over Southern Lehigh (6-1).
Next week comes the rivalry matchup with Northern Lehigh (4-3). This week is the one that can further entrench the Tigers in the driver’s seat in the Colonial League when they host Saucon Valley (5-2).
“I told our guys after the Southern Lehigh game that the win meant nothing if we don’t come right back and beat Saucon Valley,” said coach Josh Snyder. “We’ve had some great games with Saucon Valley over the last four or five years and we’ve won some that maybe we shouldn’t have and we’ve lost a couple that we shouldn’t have against them.”
One of the losses came when the Panthers downed Northwestern in last year’s District 11 Class 4A semifinal game. Saucon Valley has played in the last five District 11 finals in their classification.
Last week, Saucon Valley may have been looking ahead to its showdown with the Tigers when the Panthers lost to Wilson 29-26 on a late field goal by the Warriors (4-3).
Much like Southern Lehigh, Saucon Valley likes to slow down the game and grind out yards.
The Spartans were very methodical, but the Northwestern defense came up with a couple of key stops, including an interception by Dom Harding that stopped a Southern Lehigh drive and led to Northwestern reaching the end zone.
“I think we have to come out and get a couple of quick stops on them and make a play here and there like we did last week,” said Snyder. “That sort of takes them out of their game plan and gets them on their heels a little bit and will be a big part of the game for us.”
Offensively, Northwestern used the legs of quarterback Deven Bollinger to drive its offense. When Bollinger did have to put the ball in the air, he had plenty of options to go to, including running back Nick Henry, who pulled in a big catch on a fourth down play to keep a drive going.
One weapon that Bollinger didn’t have was wide receiver Justin Rodda, who is out with a shoulder injury and will be on the sidelines again this week. The Tigers have a number of other receiving options, but Rodda does fill a couple of key roles where he’s missed.
“We really miss him on that speed sweep that we use and I think he doesn’t get enough credit for the blocking that he provides for us on the edge,” said Snyder. “We have a couple other guys who can step in and catch balls, but there are a couple spots where we specifically miss Justin.”
The Tigers did come through the Southern Lehigh game without any other key injuries, leaving them in relatively good shape against Saucon Valley.
“We just have to limit their ability to get some big plays, because they have a sophomore quarterback who is pretty good and can make plays for them,” said Snyder. “Our defense has let a couple big plays go by this season, but they’ve also come up with big stops and we need them to do that again this week against Saucon Valley.”
Snyder also believes that his team has the advantage when it comes to limiting turnovers and playing a disciplined game. Against Southern Lehigh, Northwestern didn’t turn the ball over and the Tigers have been pretty stingy about hanging on to the ball this season and have worked hard to limit penalties.
“We protect the ball well and that’s always big in games like this,” said Snyder. “We’ve also worked a lot to limit penalties and have made sure our guys are keeping their hands inside when they’re blocking because we ran into a stretch where we got a little sloppy and had some penalties earlier in the year and it hurt us.”