A lot of factors contributed to Southern Lehigh's 0-3 start. In losses to three of the Colonial League's top teams, the Spartans dealt with injuries as well as mistakes and bad breaks.
Friday night in New Tripoli, the Spartans took three weeks of frustration out on the Tigers in a 46-10 win.
"It's been a rough three weeks," said Southern Lehigh head coach John Toman. "This is the first time since we scrimmaged Central that we had every kid on the field with us. This is the first time we've stepped on the field with all the pieces in place.
"It's nice to get the monkey off our back."
The Spartans (1-3) used the passing game to build a big lead. When they had the Tigers (2-2) on the ropes, however, they went back to their bread and butter as they kept the ball on the ground for all but four plays in the second half.
"We went back to basic wing-T," said Toman. "We were running trap, sweep, power and counter and they couldn't handle it."
The Spartans offensive line dominated the second half, allowing the Spartans to run for 176 yards in the after intermission. They handed the ball to eight different running backs in the game and four had 34 yards or more.
"They're a well-coached football team with a lot of skill guys and five seniors on their line," said Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder. "We have zero seniors on our line and I think they took us to school a little bit in the trenches."
Southern Lehigh jumped out to a quick lead, hitting a 41-yard Ty Edmond-to-Jacob DelPriore touchdown pass on their first play from scrimmage.
The Spartans made it 12-0 on a 7-yard Dylan Schmidt touchdown with six seconds left in the second quarter. They made it 20-0 after an interception gave them the ball at midfield early in the second quarter. A six-play drive was capped by Edmond's 39-yard touchdown pass to Schmidt with 9:06 left before halftime.
Northwestern kept it close for a while. After a 36-yard Cam Richardson kick return gave them good field position, the Tigers mounted an eight-play drive capped by Richardson's 1-yard touchdown run that made it 20-7 with 5:21 left in the first half.
The Tigers cut their deficit to 10 after a Mason Schuler interception early in the second half gave them the ball at the Southern Lehigh 7-yard line. A 26-yard field goal by John Dolonich made it 20-10 with 7:14 left in the third quarter.
The Spartans responded with their most impressive drive of the game. They kept the ball on the ground for an entire 10-play drive, going 75 yards to pay dirt and extending the lead to 26-10 with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
"We took it to a two-possession game and thought we could build on that," said Snyder. "Their next drive was really a back-breaking drive. They got behind their two big guys and took it down the field."
Southern Lehigh added three more scores. Spencer Cobb's 33-yard touchdown run with 10:16 left in the game gave the Spartans a 32-10 lead. Schmidt added a 28-yard touchdown run with 8:41 left that made it 39-10. Christian Ricci capped the scoring at 46-10 with a 1-yard run with 7:04 left.
Southern Lehigh was aided by five Northwestern turnovers as Southern Lehigh's defense played its best game of the season. Not coincidentally it came in the return of inside linebacker Collin Kendrick, who missed the first few games with an injury.
"We're a little different team when Collin Kendrick is in the middle of our defense," said Toman. "He makes it go for us defensively. He was all over the field tonight."
The Tigers expected to face a team fighting for its first win and to stay in district playoff contention. And they got what they expected.
"We knew we were going to get their best shot with their backs against the wall," said Snyder. "We didn't overlook them. We weren't overconfident or anything like that."