Saturday's District 11 semifinal match-up is starting to become a yearly rivalry game between Northern Lehigh (9-1) and North Schuylkill (10-0). This marks the third straight season where the Bulldogs and Spartans are meeting up in District play. Once again the teams are very competitively matched and once again fans, coaches, and players from both sides are in for one heck of a football game.
The Spartans and Bulldogs are similar in so many ways. Both squads are notorious for having hard-nosed players. Both squads pride themselves on playing good defense. The old adage says "defense wins championships, offense sells tickets." A statement that the 'Dawgs and Spartans have certainly thrived on over the years.
In the past five seasons Northern Lehigh or North Schuylkill have been in the District 11 AA playoffs. In 2009 and 2010 the two teams met in the championship game with the Spartans edging the Bulldogs by a touchdown 33-27 in 09' and The Bulldogs taking home the title in '10 escaping with a 25-23 victory.
This season the two will meet in the semi-finals, but the same theory prevails. The loser goes home and the winner moves on.
"That's what it comes down to," said Northern Lehigh Head Coach Joe Tout. "If we lose then we're done and of course that's not what we want to happen. We tell our kids not to leave anything out there and have no regrets. Two years ago we ended up losing to North Schuylkill in the championship, but we played well and we had no regrets about the way we played. We just don't want to leave anything out there."
The familiarity between the squads has grown over the years with the two teams recent post-season clashes.
"Our coaching staff has become familiar with what they like to do," said Tout. "This is our third straight meeting so we know it's going to be a competitive game. We're very evenly matched like we have been the last few years. We just have to play our game and limit our mistakes."
Anthracite League Champ North Schuylkill is coming into Saturday's match-up with a 10-0 record and some impressive winning streaks. The Spartans have won 27 straight AFL contests and 29 regular season games.
The Spartans have a host of players that can do some damage to the vaunted Northern Lehigh defense. Bucknell commit Ryan Henning is a physical force at the quarterback position for the Spartans. Henning has passed 1,380 yards and 14 touchdowns for North Schuylkill and will be looking to prolong his senior year against the Bulldogs.
Ethan Motsney (54-462-7td's rush, 10-279 3td's rec.) returned for North Schuylkill last week, which is big for the Spartans. The Bulldogs only let up 99.6 yards on the ground and North Schuylkill will certainly need Motsney if they want to have success running the football.
Wide receivers Jake Long (52-328-2td's rush, 18-362-5td's rec.) and Danny McSurdy (13-281-2td's rec.) are also very dangerous players for the Spartans.
The Bulldogs will look to attack the Spartans like they have attacked every opponent this season. That is run the football and run it hard.
Northern Lehigh's Trevor Yashur leads the 'Dawgs rushing attack that gains over 203.5 yards per game on the ground. Yashur ranks second in the TIMES NEWS area in rushing for 1,161 yards on 163 carries.
The Bulldog's may not have a big quarterback size wise, but Dylan Hofmann certainly plays big. The Northern Lehigh signal caller has led the Bulldogs to a 9-1 record and ranks fifth in the TIMES NEWS area in passing, throwing for 816 yards.
Saturday's match-up is sure to be a great football game. One thing is for sure, which ever team does win will have fought gallantly for the right to play for a District IX AA Championship.