CATASAUQUA It was supposed to be a rebuilding season for Northern Lehigh.
Instead, the 2012 Bulldogs just added to the program's mansion of success.
Unfortunately for Northern Lehigh, it ran into a bulldozer in the opening round of the District 11 Class AA playoffs.
Unbeaten Catasauqua ended the Bulldogs' expansion plans and their season with a 45-13 mercy-rule rout on Friday night.
"Our kids really overachieved this season," said Northern Lehigh coach Joe Tout. "I hope that doesn't sound like a negative, because it's meant to be a very positive compliment to our kids. We lost eight starters on defense from last year's team and a number of key offensive players as well.
"When we got together back in June, we really didn't know how this season would turn out. We had a very inexperienced team and we thought there was a chance that we could struggle this season. But the kids wouldn't accept that. They worked hard and got the most out of their ability. I'm really proud of how we competed all season."
As well as the Bulldogs have played during the course of the season, however, it was obvious that Catasauqua was on another level. Just two weeks after losing by 33 points to the Rough Riders during the regular season, not much changed last night.
"Catasauqua is a very good team," said Tout. "They have so many great athletes.
"[Ra'Von] Burton is such a strong runner and they have a number of outstanding receivers. But I think the key to their offense is their quarterback [Zack Bradley]. He makes great decisions and puts the ball right on the money. The balance they have with their running and passing is very hard to defend."
The Rough Riders (11-0) showed that balance early.
On their second possession of the game, facing a 4th-and-one call deep in No. Lehigh territory, Burton took a handoff, bounced it outside and raced 19 yards for a score.
A huge hit by Catasauqua's Devin Flores on the ensuing kickoff produced a Darien Middaugh fumble and Catty recovered on the NL 26-yard line. On the first play after the turnover, Bradley tossed a perfect fade pass to Alex Parker in the corner of the end zone and the Rough Riders had a 14-0 lead with 4:51 still left in the first quarter.
The TD toss was part of 9-for-15, 157-yard, three touchdown performance by first-year starter Bradley.
"Zack was our JV quarterback last season," said Catasauqua coach Tom Falzone. "We knew he had a great arm, but we didn't know how he would handle the mental aspect of running our offense. We run a no-huddle, spread offense so that puts a lot on the quarterback.
"But Zack worked extremely hard in the offseason. He knew his time was coming so he spent a lot of time working with our receivers and getting more comfortable with the offense. I'm really happy with how he has handled the position."
Another 26-yard Bradley to Parker touchdown pass gave the Rough Riders a 21-0 halftime lead.
When Burton scored from six yards out on Catty's opening possession of the third quarter, the lead was 28-0 and the Bulldogs looked finished.
But Northern Lehigh never quit as Danny Marsh and Caleb Johnson hooked up on a 65-yard TD pass with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
When Burton fumbled on Catty's first play from scrimmage following the score, the Bulldogs had new life.
But on a fourth-and-one call from the Rough Rider 29-yard line, Johnson came up inches short on a play where Northern Lehigh players and coaches thought he got a poor spot.
"If we had a chance, that was it," said Tout. "That was a big call. If we can get a score on that drive it's 28-14 and you never know. But that just killed our momentum."
Catasauqua answered with a 71-yard touchdown drive to end any comeback hopes the Bulldogs had. Parker caught his third TD pass of the night, a 17-yard strike from Bradley, to cap the march.
"I'm happy with how our kids played tonight," said Falzone. "We have the utmost respect for coach Tout and their program. They do a heck of a job. They've made districts 14 of the last 15 years. That's an amazing accomplishment.
"That's why, despite the score of the game a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't worried at all about our kids taking Northern Lehigh lightly. We watched the film of that game and Northern Lehigh was able to do some really nice things against us. We knew we would have to play a very well to beat them again."