A week ago, Northwestern coach Josh Snyder told his team that they needed two wins in their final three games to make districts. This week, Snyder is telling his team that their backs are against the wall after a 28-13 loss to Pen Argyl.
It was just last week when the Tigers (5-3) were celebrating snapping their long losing skid against rival Northern Lehigh and moved themselves ahead of Pen Argyl (5-3) in the Division 11 power rankings for the fourth and final playoff spot. Now, Pen Argyl will leap-frog Northwestern and the Tigers will need wins over Bangor and undefeated Catasauqua to reach the District 11 playoffs.
"I told the guys we needed to win two out of our next three games, but we were hoping that we could win the next two and head into Catty 7-2 and give them our best shot, but now we've really put our backs against the wall. The good thing about that is that you see what kind of football team you really have when you're coming off of a tough loss," said Snyder.
Pen Argyl's ground game eventually chewed up the Northwestern defense as they ran the ball 50 times for a total of 309 yards, led by Mike DePaolo's 147 yards and Ryan Lobb's 141 yards on the ground. DePaolo, who missed a game earlier this season with a knee injury, limped through part of the game and spent some time on the sidelines, but still got the lion's share of the work.
Northwestern came out on fire when Harry Hall returned the opening kickoff 83 yards, sprinting down the right side of the field and putting the Tigers up quickly with a 6-0 lead. The extra point attempt failed and that might have been the sign that things weren't going to go Northwestern's way the rest of the night.
After DePaolo pushed the ball over from one-yard out for Pen Argyl, the Tigers came back with a 67-yard drive to take a 13-7 advantage. The drive was capped by Hall, who scampered 16 yards for his second touchdown of the night, but that would be all the scoring that Northwestern would be able to manage against the tough Pen Argyl defense that held Northwestern to a total of 128 yards offense and sacked quarterback Frank Dangello twice.
"Pen Argyl played a bunch of different fronts," explained Snyder. "One of the things that they do is they play a wide-nine defense with their ends really smoked and it's just really difficult for a tackle to kick-step out of there and get them and it flushed Frankie [QB Frank Dangello] out of there a few times."
Northwestern had two key opportunities that they let slip by. The first came after a they partially blocked a Pen Argyl punt and took over the ball at the Knights' 46 yard line. The Tigers immediately put themselves into a fourth-and-five and Dangello threw incomplete on fourth down, turning the ball over to Pen Argyl late in the first-half. Late in the third quarter, Pen Argyl went up 21-13 and Taylor Breininger returned the ensuing kick-off 36 yards to the Green Knights' 46 yard line. Hall carried the ball twice to give Northwestern a first-and-ten at the Pen Argyl 31, but an incomplete pass, a one-yard loss by Hall and a sack forced the Tigers to punt.
"We knew from looking at films that they had a good offense. We also knew that if DePaolo got two or three yards untouched, he was going to get two, three or four more. I think they did a good job of firing off and getting at our linebackers."
Northwestern will need wins against Bangor (3-5) and Catasauqua (8-0) to make districts, but Snyder isn't ready to concede anything. He's also not buying the conventional wisdom that his team isn't really meant to contend in the Colonial League until next season.