Joe Tout and his Northern Lehigh Bulldogs are glad to be back in the District 11 playoffs after a one-year absence.
Now, the 8-2 squad wants to take another step in returning the program to its glory days.
The No. 2 seeded Bulldogs host No. 7 seed Salisbury (4-6) on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in a Class 2A first round matchup.
The two Colonial League teams met during the regular season with Northern Lehigh rolling to a 41-14 victory. The Bulldogs rushed for 432 yards that night and used numerous big plays to send the Falcons a wakeup call.
According to Salisbury head coach Rob Sawicki, that game against the Bulldogs was his team's worst game of the year. The Falcons were just flat. The bus even got lost on the way to the game and going home afterwards, so the whole trip was a complete disaster.
Since then, the Falcons have made some personnel changes, most notably moving three-year starter Stephen Bubenko from defensive end to defensive tackle. They've also held second half leads on every team they've played except Northwestern (week 1, lost 16-0) and Northern Lehigh, including beating Wilson 13-7 in the third quarter a few weeks ago before losing.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have made the playoffs, snapped a three-year losing streak to Palmerton and now want to go one step further and win a first round district game, something they haven't done since 2003 when they played Aliquippa for the state championship.
One thing the Bulldogs must not do is look past this matchup since they had such an easy time with the Falcons earlier.
"I think they (Salisbury) have found themselves since we played them back in week five of the season," said Tout. "We kind of joked about it yesterday. It almost seems like us last year when we came on strong in the end. They're playing with momentum now.
"What I saw from the last couple of films is that the kids are buying in to what their coaches are coaching them on. I see a more confident team.
"We told our kids this is a better team than we faced in the regular season and I get a pretty good feeling from our kids that they believe that. We're coming into this game 8-2 and Salisbury just beat a team that was 7-2 going in so we're trying to make sure that our kids understand that Salisbury is going to come in here with one, having something to prove because of the first game and secondly, their record doesn't matter because they just beat a 7-2 team (Southern Lehigh)."
Sawicki echoed those remarks.
"It all started for us after the Northern Lehigh loss," said Sawicki. "That's the only team that really took it to us. We sat down, looked at our personnel and made some changes defensively. Offensively, we're starting to hit at all levels. I'm just hoping we can continue with that same intensity that we've had leading up to this point.
"After that game we kind of took step back and looked at ourselves. We said, 'If we're going to make this work, we can't have this happen again.' It's been a different attitude since then."
Sawicki gives running back Cody Remaley a lot of credit, but said his team can't overlook the Nolehi big, physical line.
This is Salisbury's fourth trip to the district playoffs without a win. The latest was in 2007 when the Falcons lost 34-14 to Lansdale Catholic.
"We expect them to show us the same defense as last time and have to avoid turnovers and mental breakdowns on offense," said Tout. "When they're on offense, Tyrell Colbert really impresses us. Southern Lehigh couldn't stop the toss play.
"And their quarterback (Justin Todora) can throw the ball well and they like to run a lot of four and five man routes. So we'll have to be cautious about that."
If the Bulldogs stay focused they're hoping to extend their season another week.