For many years, opponents of Notre Dame - Green Pond checked them off as a win on the schedule, but this season, that would be a foolish move. The Crusaders (3-1) are not only playing better, but they're playing a dominant brand of football, including a 38-2 win over Bangor last week and wins of 25-13 over Palmerton and 31-22 over Northern Lehigh earlier in the year.
In their only loss of the season, the Crusaders didn't go quietly when they scored 12 unanswered points against Pen Argyl and cut the Green Knights lead to 21-18, which wound up being the final score. Their impressive performance against the defending District 11 AA Champions has opened some eyes, especially since they held the Pen Argyl ground game to just 118 yards on 45 carries.
Northwestern (2-2) has to travel to Notre Dame Friday night and coach Josh Snyder is well aware of how good the Crusaders are even though he won't have any games against common opponents to compare them to.
"We haven't played any of the same teams, so we just have to go with what we've been able to find out about them and we know they're a good team," said Snyder. "They've become a very good, physical team and we have to play well if we're going to beat them."
The fact that Notre Dame is tough against the run will make for an interesting battle as Harry Hall and Cameron Richardson are used to grinding out yards against their opponents. The upside is that Richardson is also a big part of the passing game as one of quarterback Frank Dangello's favorite targets through the air.
"When people ask what position Cam plays, I just say 'athlete', because he's so versatile and can do so many things well," said Snyder.
Both teams have solid ground games, with Notre Dame averaging 5.3 yards per carry and the Tigers averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The passing game will likely turn into a key for Northwestern with Dangello completing 62% of his passes compared to just 45% by Notre Dame's Kordell Theadford. The Northwestern defense has been pretty stingy on giving up yards through the air, allowing just an average of 85 yards per game, which will make things particularly tough on Theadford.
Two obstacles that have plagued both teams at times have been turnovers and penalties. For Northwestern, the problem has been spotty. In the season opener, some key turnovers hurt Northwestern, but against Wilson, they protected the ball very well. Last week against Southern Lehigh, they again turned the ball over five times. The Crusaders made a lot of mistakes against Pen Argyl, but still were almost able to pull out the game down the stretch after getting themselves straightened out in the second half.
"We have to protect the ball. It's as simple as that," said Snyder. "Especially against a team like Notre Dame, if you give them more opportunities than they deserve, they'll beat you, so we have to play better than we did tonight [against Southern Lehigh] or we won't be able to get very far."
The matchup will have the Crusaders looking for their fourth win of the season, which would match their total from last season. As for the Tigers, they're looking to stay on the top side of the .500 mark and avoid losing their second straight game.
"We know we're a better team than we were last season. Mentally, physically, we're better, but we have to keep proving that each week," stressed Snyder.