FOUNTAIN SPRINGS – In 2007, VH-1 canceled the reality series "Hogan Knows Best."
During that same year, the North Schuylkill football team seemed to be on the verge of being blacklisted after suffering through a miserable 0-10 season.
Last night in Fountain Springs, a new episode of "Hogan Knows Best" debuted.
...only this time, the reality is that the undefeated North Schuylkill Spartans are your 2009 Anthracite Football League Champions!
Senior Zach Hogan stole the show with two clutch interceptions deep in North Schuylkill territory and punctuated the game with a 44-yard touchdown reception with 6:39 remaining to give North Schyulkill (9-0) the 12-8 victory.
By virtue of Catasauqua defeating Northern Lehigh last night, next week's trip to the Silver Bowl will carry high stakes for the Spartans. A win against rival Mount Carmel will not only give them their first undefeated regular season in school history, it will also clinch the top-seed for the District 11, Class AA Tournament.
"The kids on this team have heart and desire and that's why they were able to win this game tonight," stated North Schuylkill head coach Rick Geist. "When things weren't going good for us, we had a program full of quitters, but the kids out on this field tonight are winners. They're the kids that stuck with it and believed in themselves. Our team is full of tough kids with heart and that's how you win championships."
Defense also wins championships and North Schuylkill is the best of the best.
Allowing just 94.8 yards per game, the Spartans made their presence felt on Panther Valley's opening possession. Following Kyle McAvoy's 24-yard run on the first play of the game, the Spartans stuffed McAvoy on a fourth-and-one carry on the Spartans 29-yard line.
North Schuylkill then engineered a 14-play, 70 yard drive that chewed almost nine minutes off the clock. The Spartans drove all the way down to the Panthers goal line, but coughed up the ball on a fumbled quarterback-center exchange on a third-and-goal from the one yard line.
The Panthers then drove the ball to midfield, but Hogan thwarted the drive with his first of two interceptions on the night.
North Schuylkill capitalized on the turnover and drove 76 yards in 12 plays for the first score of the game. With 1:17 remaining until halftime, Kody Flail converted a fourth-and-three on an option pitch to the right. Thirty-four yards later, Flail was in the end zone for a 6-0 Spartans lead, a lead they would take into halftime as Hogan picked off his second Casey Lawrence pass with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter to stop another Panther Valley scoring opportunity.
Field conditions were horrible all night and the muddy quagmire seemed more fit for horse racing than a football game. While both teams had to deal with the deplorable conditions equally, it was evident that Panther Valley's style of offense suffered the most.
"Their style of offense (smashmouth football) was clearly better suited to play in those tough conditions out there," said Panther Valley head coach Frank Damian. "Field position played a huge factor because it seemed like we were stuck in the muddy side of the field the whole night and we just couldn't get out of it. However, I'm not going to use that as an excuse, we were just beaten by a better team tonight."
The Panthers (7-2) did cash in midway through the third quarter when Ryan Poeldnurk hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence. Lawrence then converted the two-point conversion with a diving lunge into the end zone for an 8-6 Panthers lead.
Panther Valley held a two-point lead until midway through the fourth quarter, but the Spartans defense once again answered the call. After forcing Panther Valley to punt on its next two possessions with two three-and-outs, the Spartans set up shop at the Panthers 44-yard line with 6:51 left on the clock. On the first play of the drive, quarterback Tom Ferrari scrambled in the pocket, eluded several defenders and let loose a 44-yard bomb that found Hogan streaking in front of his defender in the end zone. The conversion run failed and North Schuylkill found themselves back on top 12-8.
"Ferrari scrambled around and bought himself some time and Hogan just snuck by our coverage and made a great catch," stated Damian.
The Panthers final drive of the night also stalled, thanks to Kody Flail's sack on Lawrence for a 12-yard loss deep in their own territory. Panther Valley managed just 53 yards of offense in the second half.
"We hung with a good team tonight but a play here and a play there ended up being the difference in the game," added Damian. "We're obviously disappointed but this isn't the end of our season. We have to refocus and regroup for Minersville next week and be ready for the playoffs the week after that."