Any coach will tell you that they don't like looking ahead.
However, the District 11 AA playoff picture just might have a way of doing that to a coaching staff.
Northern Lehigh is right now sitting in that fourth and final spot in the D-11 AA standings. This week the Bulldogs take on current No. 1 seed in D-11 AAA, the Bangor Slaters in a huge Colonial League match-up. Needless to say, if the Bulldogs can get a win over the Slaters it would do wonders for the District 11 playoff hopes.
The Bulldogs especially need a win with two dangerous teams behind them vying for that last spot in AA. Palisades dawns the same record as the 'Dawgs, sitting at 5-2 and the always tough Spartans from North Schuylkill sit behind the Pirates. Palisades finishes up with Notre Dame GP, Southern Lehigh, and Saucon Valley. Not a particulary tumultuous road, but Southern Lehigh has been playing well of late and Saucon Valley nearly beat the Bulldogs, losing by just two early in the season.
The Spartans look like they will almost certainly win out with Mahanoy Area (2-5), Panther Valley, who is hurting after the loss of their star running back Rich Smith, and Elco. So, it's up to Northern Lehigh, who control their own destiny moving forward. After Bangor, the Bulldogs will face off with Catasaqua, who is tops in the Colonial League, and Palmerton. It's a definite possibility Northern Lehigh could lose to the Rough Riders, once again making this clash with Bangor as important as a post season game.
"I told the guys to realistically consider ourselves a district playoff caliber type team we have to get this one vs. Bangor," said Northern Lehigh coach Joe Tout. "Our guys may have been a little inexperienced coming into the season, but presently I consider us an experienced bunch. We have played in some big games this year with some pretty nice atmospheres, so we have to go out and play disciplined football come Friday night."
The task set in front of the Bulldogs is certainly not an easy one. The Slaters boast arguably the best tailback in the Colonial League and maybe all of District 11 in Phil Vass. The Slaters' talented back has been abusing opposing defenses, rushing for over 1,200 yards on the season, which comes to about 180 yards on the ground per game. Vass has also collected 17 total scores along with leading an offense that has scored over 40 points in a game three times this season. The Slaters offense averages 28 points per game and puts out about 325 yards of offense per game.
"Our ability to stop their rushing attack is the key," said Tout. "If we can stop Vass from putting up big numbers I think we win the game. We have to play disciplined football, tackle soundly, and make sure all of our guys are flying to the football on every play."
The Northern Lehigh offense has been successful as well accumulating a little over 370 yards per game. Caleb Johnson has been a big reason for that along with quarterback Danny Marsh. Johnson has rushed for 666 yards this season, scoring 14 touchdowns and Marsh has chipped in with 448 yards of his own and seven scores.
The Bulldogs offense will need every yard and score they can muster because the Slaters' defense is aggressive and they're stingy. They are only giving up 11 points per contest and if you subtract the 35 points Catasaqua (7-0) scored on them, they're only giving up eight points per game.
"When we watched tape on them we saw that they sent a blitz almost 95 percent of the time," said Tout. "The key for us on offense will be how well we can pick up their blitzes. We know they're coming on almost every play so it's important for us to make sure we pick them up. Last week, our offense looked good. We were consistent on being able to come back and make big plays on multiple possessions. That's another key for us this week. If we can hold them in the rushing game and make a couple big plays on offense we have a good shot at coming away with a win."