Tigers host Tribe in first round
A streak of nine consecutive wins for the Northwestern Lehigh football team sends it to the District 11 Class 4A playoffs as the top-seeded team. The Tigers open their quest for a district championship Saturday night when they host Lehighton (3-7) in the district quarterfinal game at Tiger Stadium.
While the Indians record doesn’t indicate they deserve a spot in districts, when you realize that they play a difficult independent schedule, they appear much more deserving of a shot at a district title. Over the final five weeks of the season, Lehighton went 0-5, but played teams with a combined record of 37-13, all of which are in the district playoffs.
“You can’t take this team lightly, that’s for sure,” said Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder. “They faced some good teams and played them tough, so we told the kids to just forget about their record because they’ve been tested.”
Snyder’s team had its own stretch of tough games coming down the stretch, but was able to rest some starters last week against Catasauqua (0-10) and came away with a 47-0 win. The breather not only served to keep players healthy, but gave them just a little time away from the grind before things got more intense starting this week.
“It’s good when you can get some guys a rest and have that week where you can do some different things like we did against Catty,” said Snyder. “We let our linemen get some carries to get that out of their system and had a good celebration after the game, but it’s definitely right back to work this week.”
One thing that Northwestern can look to exploit is that Lehighton will sometimes turn the ball over and hurt themselves in the process, primarily with fumbles. The Tigers have done well with forcing fumbles this season, having knocked the ball free nine times with four of those becoming turnovers. Meanwhile, Northwestern has fumbled the ball just four times this season.
The Indian defense can also be torched at times, which Tamaqua was able to take advantage of a couple weeks ago when they stacked up 529 yards of offense against Lehighton in a 54-6 win. Over the course of the season, opponents have averaged just under 35 points per game against the Tribe.
“We really only focus on what we can control, so we just game plan with what works well for us, but obviously, if there’s something we see that we can use to our advantage, we’ll focus there,” said Snyder.
Northwestern’s defense will also look to have a big night, since the Indians have averaged just over 15 points per game this season. The Tigers numbers are almost the reverse of Lehighton’s, with an average of over 38 points per game scored and just over 17 per game allowed by Northwestern.
“We need to minimize our mistakes and try to sustain some drives,” said Lehighton coach Tom McCarroll. “We’ve learned that when we play with heart and emotion, we can be very competitive.”
A win by Northwestern would advance the Tigers to the District 11 semifinals, which is where they finished their season in 2018. That would set up either a rematch with Saucon Valley, who the Tigers beat this season, or with the Allentown Central Catholic, who Northwestern beat in last year’s quarterfinal before they were knocked out by Saucon Valley in the semis.
“That’s all down the road and we just focus on who we’re playing in any given week,” said Snyder. “No matter whether we’re playing an undefeated team or a winless team, we just take that game and focus on it and then start with the next one. That’s especially important in a win or go home type of situation like we’re in.”