It's been a few years, but that winning feeling and playoff fever has hit the Northern Lehigh football program again.
The Bulldogs return to the District 11 Class AA championship game when they take on unbeaten North Schuylkill (12-0) Saturday night at 7 o'clock at Mahanoy Area High School.
Both teams won thrillers, with the Bulldogs holding off Catasauqua (20-17) and the Spartans beating Panther Valley in three overtimes, 35-28.
The last time Northern Lehigh played for the district title was back in 2003 when it brought home the gold by beating Northwestern Lehigh 20-3. That was also the year that the Bulldogs reached the state championship game in Hershey and lost to Aliquippa.
"We're going to have to play well and not have turnovers," said Nolehi head coach Joe Tout when asked about the Spartans. "They're big, they're physical and they're well coached."
The Spartans have 10 players on defense that started at least one game last year.
"Defensively, they fly to the ball." Tout said. "They really don't have a weakness. There is no player that you could say 'we can pick on this kid'.
"They get a lot of pressure from their front four or five. I think we'll see five up front from them. With all of the pressure they get, they don't have to blitz. They're also very athletic in the secondary."
The Spartans will have to stop the Bulldogs running game, led by junior Cody Remaley, who went over the 4,000 yard mark in his career last week against Catasauqua. According to TIMES NEWS stats, Remaley has rushed 324 times this year for 2,014 yards. He is also the leading scorer in the TIMES NEWS area with 178 points on 25 touchdowns, 10 extra point kicks and nine two-point conversions.
"Offensively, I don't know if they have one standout back, but they have three or four kids who can run the ball," said Tout. "Their fullback (Ed Pavalko, 6-0 219) is bigger than (Matt) Gill. He might not be as quick, but he's bigger. He's a load to tackle, you have to hit him low."
Other running backs are senior Scott House (5-8, 151), junior Kody Flail (5-10, 178) and sophomore Mike Shinkus (6-1, 195).
"For being a one-year starter, their quarterback (senior Tom Ferrari, 6-1, 178) is very good," added Tout.
"Everyone told me that they run the Power-I and they don't throw. I think they're pretty balanced. They throw mostly play action passes, but they're not afraid to throw on first down. A lot of their big plays are passing plays. They run the option well, too."
Last week against the Panthers, the Spartans ran two vertical routes for touchdowns right before halftime.
Tout knows at this point in the year, no team you face will be a "cupcake".
"I think we mirror each other," said Tout. "I think they're content that they could go Power-I and just run right at you. If you stop that, they're going to diversify so when they have the ball, we're going to have to scout them well.
"For us offensively, we can't have three-and-outs. We're going to have to manage the clock. Defensively, we're going to have to take away the trap. A real big key is that our defensive ends have to be disciplined. When they're unblocked, they have to break down immediately."
The Bulldogs must also watch that they don't let North Schuylkill tight end Derek Hughes get down to their inside linebackers.
Now, after a year's absence from the playoff scene, the bark seems to be back in the Bulldogs.
"I think it was one of those things that everyone was so used to the playoffs here, we knew last year was going to be a coaching and teaching year," said Tout. "At 4-6 last year, we knew we had a good group of kids coming back.
"One of the things we don't do here is talk about playoffs. In the back of our minds as coaches, we knew we had a special team and we told our kids when we headed into the first playoff game against Salisbury, we expect to be in the district final."
They're back in the playoffs. But the Bulldogs aren't satisfied with just that. They want to keep playing.
With a good performance against the Spartans, that will definitely be a possibility.