The Lehighton football team is no stranger to big games this season.
In fact, one could argue their game last week against rival Jim Thorpe had the same allure as a playoff game. It was a packed house at Lehighton Area Stadium and the pressure was on both teams, especially the Olympians who needed to beat the Tribe in order to qualify for the district playoffs.
However, the Indians (6-4) played spoiler and held on to thwart an Olympians comeback, defeating Thorpe 28-24.
This week there is no "playoff type atmosphere," it's the real deal and the Tribe (No. 3 seed) will be faced with yet another tough challenge as they are set to take on Bethlehem Central Catholic (No. 2 seed) in the District 11 AAA semi final. The Indians will travel to Frank Banko Field on Saturday night at 7 p.m., making their first postseason appearance since 2007.
The Hawks are also appearing in their first postseason game since 2008, making this one a battle of two programs on the rise.
"We're just really proud of what we were able to do this season," said Lehighton coach Tom McCarroll. "Our guys and our coaching staff have worked extremely hard to get to this point. Last week, was a testament to how hard this kids have worked. It was a playoff type atmosphere and our kids had to fight off a team that was trying with all their might to get into districts. We were able to do that, which shows a lot about the character of this team."
There is no denying the toughness of this Lehighton squad and that is because defensively they've been tough. It's no secret that tough guys play defense and the Indians "D" ranks first in the TIMES NEWS area, allowing just 241 yards of total offense per game. The Tribe also lead the TN area in perhaps the most important stat in football, which is turnover differential, with an impressive plus eight.
It's a good thing Lehighton has been playing good defense this season, because they're certainly going to have their hands full on Saturday night. The Hawks boast a very athletic offensive attack led by a host of players.
Quarterback Julian Spigner has shown versatility this season, throwing for 1,142 yards and 14 touchdowns, while rushing for 591 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Michael McDaniel serves as a very nice weapon for Becahi amassing 861 totals yards of offense and 19 total touchdowns. Wide receiver Freddie Simmons is Spigner's top target as he has hauled in eight receiving scores and back-up running back Antwon Keenan is capable as well, rushing for 235 yards.
"This team presents a really big challenge for us," said McCarroll. "They're in the same class as Pleasant Valley, Stroudsburg, and East Stroudsburg South, which are all teams that we have faced this season. They're big up front and they're athletic and they have a lot of weapons that we need to contain. Our gameplan doesn't change though. We've been able to hang our hat on our defense all season long and we need to continue to play hard, fast, and aggressive football on that end."
Becahi certainly has the advantage up front in terms of size, which is something most head coaches would be concerned about. McCarroll on the other hand isn't worried about the Hawks size, he instead believes that his squad can use the Indians' size and discipline to their advantage.
"Watching film on them, they don't get off the ball as quickly as the other teams we've faced with their kind-of size up front," said McCarroll. "I also think we're a more disciplined team up front. I think we can use our quickness to our advantage, we just need to make sure we don't leave any plays out there on the field. It's important for us to continue to fly to the football."
Offensively, the Indians have been a pure ground and pound team throughout the season.
They will undoubtedly go to their workhorse back Wyatt Clements (923 rush, 15 TDs) in order to try and control the football. The Hawks play a 3-3 stack defense (3-3-5 alignment), which McCarroll believes can give the Indians some openings in the running game.
"With the type of defense they play, I believe it will give our team some opportunities to gain some yards in the run game," said McCarroll. "Offensively, our gameplan isn't going to change and I know I say this every week, but we need to control the clock, sustain long drives, and then finish those drives."
The winner of the Lehighton-Becahi match-up will face the winner of the Southern Lehigh-Pottsville contest next week.