Joe Tout and his Northern Lehigh coaching staff weren't happy with their team's performance last Saturday against Jim Thorpe.

Neither were the Bulldogs, despite coming away with a 34-19 win that moved them into the District 11 Class 2A championship game for a rematch with defending champion North Schuylkill.

The Spartans, also undefeated with an 11-0 record like the Bulldogs, didn't have an easy time either in their semifinal, beating Pen Argyl by a 35-23 score.

"First, Jim Thorpe came to play," said Tout about the semifinal. "They were physical, they did a real nice job of giving us multiple fronts and changed things up on us.

"Defensively, I thought we were in a funk in the first half. The second half we did a much better job of being ourselves. From an offensive line standpoint, we felt it was our worst game of the year."

Tout noticed that there weren't too many smiles in the lockerroom afterwards so the first thing he did was remind his team that it made the district final.

"Sometimes you aren't satisfied with the way you win, but we won and we wanted to get back to this position and we're there," he said. "Maybe it's a good time and we can use it as a motivator. this week."

The Spartans saw the Green Knights throw the ball for 302 yards through the air and also had three of their running backs suffer injuries during the contest.

Last year, the Spartans and Bulldogs met at Mahanoy Area in the District final with the Spartans pulling out a 33-26 win in a knock 'em, sock 'em battle.

Ed Pavalko suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter and returned, finishing up with 150 yards rushing; Kody Flail, who scored two touchdowns and rushed for 130 yards, left with a knee injury, but also returned; and Scott Houser, who left with a rib injury in the first half, returned after intermission and scored a TD.

Both teams seem to be well conditioned and use a lot of different guys to stay fresh. Against the Green Knights, North Schuylkill head coach Rick Geist shuffled seven different linemen in and out.

The Bulldogs keep a fresh hand in the game also.

"We're using a lot of different guys," said Tout. "I think it is to the point where our guys believe that they're going to wear on teams and I think we get stronger as the game goes on."

The Bulldogs will have to find a way to put some points up on the board against a Spartan defense that gave up just 22 points in nine regular season games before the Pen Argyl game.

"We need to have our best effort this week offensively, defensively and on special teams," said Tout. "They may be the best defensive team in the state on the 2A level. They'll come at out in all four quarters. They don't wear down."

Tout feels that Pavalko is the best defensive player that they've seen this year.

"If we're going to throw the ball, you don't block him one one one," Said Tout. "We have to make adjustments in our passing game to allow us to give our tackles help. Depending on what front they give us, they have a kid (Tyler Dean, 6-3, 240) that they'll put at nose guard or at tackle and we have to be on him every play.

"They don't have to blitz a lot because they get pressure from the front four or front five. The thing that jumps out to me is how fast their linebackers get to the football."

The defensive line and linebackers all return, but it is in the secondary where the Spartans lost the most to graduation.

"It's going to come down to us putting our strength against their strength," said Tout. "We have to hope that in four quarters we can wear on them."

As far as the North Schuylkill offense, Tout noticed that the Spartans don't run a lot of different plays, but what they do run they run well.

"They hand the ball off to three different backs, but our focus will be Pavalko," said Tout. "They run two plays for him and ultimately, we want to stop him and take him out of the mix. He always seems to po one in the second of third quarter for a score and it's on a basic play because their linemen are on people."

"When he came out of the game against Pen Argyl, they moved (Mike) Shinkus to fullback and they didn't lose a step. He's a stud so they didn't miss much. They're impressive. They don't really have a weakness. They're bigger and they're faster than last year."

Look for the Bulldogs to try and Cody Remaley loose a lot more this week. According to THE TIMES NEWS stats, Remaley has 1,903 yards rushing this season and 6,136 for his career.

If that fails, look for Jake Kern to step in like he did last week, along with QB Dylan Hofmann and fullback Matt Gill.

It's strength against strength and whichever team wins, it'll come out of this battle feeling pretty good about itself Saturday night.