It isn't always who you play that counts most, but when you play them.
Pen Argyl headed into Slatington Friday night just one week removed from its first league loss in two years. The Knights weren't about to let it become a losing streak.
The defending Colonial League champs had their offense in high gear, scoring touchdowns on nearly every drive for a 41-28 win over Northern Lehigh.
"After the way we played last week, we knew we had to come out and put on a show," said Knights running back Mike Racciato, who ran for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "That's the first time I lost a league game since my sophomore year (at Northern Lehigh). It feels nice to come up with a win here."
Racciato and his team did put on a show. The Knights scored on their first four possessions. Their fifth was stopped by the first half clock.
They picked up where they left off after halftime, scoring on their first three possessions on a pair of three-play drives and one four-play march. They pounded the ball on the ground, racking up 222 rushing yards. They also mixed in a few passes as quarterback Ryan Hunt completed seven of 10 for 213 yards.
"The pass game isn't something we use a lot," said Pen Argyl head coach Paul Reduzzi. "We're more of a running team. I'm really happy with our execution offensively. I thought (the running backs) ran very hard tonight. I think it's a credit to our line. They're getting off the ball and being physical. I'm proud of the way they're playing up front. The big guys did a good job on both sides."
Pen Argyl's defense gave up a few big plays, but for the most part it kept the Bulldog offense in check. The defense came up with two turnovers – a recovered fumble on the game's first possession and an interception. Both turned into Knights touchdowns.
"It's a different loss than our first one," said Northern Lehigh head coach Joe Tout. "It wasn't a lack of effort tonight, it was just execution. We have no time to feel sorry for ourselves because Northwestern is next week and that's our game of the year."
After recovering the early fumble, Pen Argyl took over on the Bulldog 7-yard line and scored in two plays. Northern Lehigh answered with a three-play drive capped by Darien Middaugh's 68-yard touchdown reception to make it 6-6 less than three minutes into the game.
The Knights got the ball back and went on an eight-play march, all on the ground. Michael DePaolo scored his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard run for a 13-6 lead.
The Knights made it 20-6 with a 79-yard, 16-play drive that ended with Racciato's one-yard touchdown run for a 20-6 lead with 5:21 left in the first half.
No. Lehigh answered, going 80 yards in 11 plays, capped by Danny Marsh's one-yard TD run to make it 20-14 with 49 seconds left in the second quarter.
"At halftime I thought we were in good shape because our conditioning is good," said Tout. "They took it to us offensively and we were not able to get that one stop. It's hard when they're scoring and scoring and you can't get that stop."
The Knights scored in three plays on the opening possession of the second half. They quickly got the ball back on an interception and needed just three plays for another score, a 76-yard touchdown pass from Hunt to Nick Oyer. That gave Pen Argyl a 34-14 lead with 7:01 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs tried to get back into it. They closed the gap to 34-20 on Caleb Johnson's 30-yard touchdown run. But Pen Argyl came right back with a four-play drive capped by Hunt's touchdown pass to Scott Beltz for a 41-20 lead with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Northern Lehigh added a late touchdown on a four-yard Johnson run.
Pen Argyl (5-1) bounced back from last week's 28-20 loss to Southern Lehigh and now has a chance to upset Catasauqua next week and be in the mix for a share of the league title. The Bulldogs, who have yet to face Catty, are still in the hunt for a district playoff berth.
"We'll come back," said Tout. "They're workers. They're good kids."