NW to battle Beca
Bethlehem Catholic will surely be a formidable opponent for Northwestern Friday night in the Eastern Conference title game.
But there isn't a more fitting opponent for the game, the last in a great career for Northwestern head coach Bob Mitchell.
"It's exciting," said Mitchell, who announced his retirement on Tuesday. "There are so many ties between my family and Bethlehem Catholic."
Mitchell began his coaching career as an assistant with the Golden Hawks in 1972. All three of his children graduated from the school, his two boys played football there.
But even with all the hoopla surrounding his last game and the fact that it comes against the his first coaching stop, Mitchell and his team will be focused on making sure they're successful Friday night.
The Tigers have been getting better each week since an Oct. 16 loss to Northern Lehigh. They've reeled off four straight wins since then, including a shutout win over Catty that got them to the postseason and a victory over Scranton Prep last Friday night to get to the title game.
"If our season would have ended at 7-3 and we hadn't gotten into the postseason, it would have been a successful season," Mitchell said. "To get to play for a championship, to get to hang a banner, to get a trophy, for the kids to get medals...I'm thrilled."
Mitchell has enjoyed seeing this team grow over the season and he'd love to see it win a title.
"I'm very proud of them," he said. "This is one of the most unselfish teams I've had in my 28 years. They're all happy with their roles. They all play their roles very well and as a result we've been successful."
The Tigers will face a tough opponent in the Golden Hawks, which went 5-4 in the Lehigh Valley Conference and are 6-5 overall after last week's 14-6 playoff win over Wilkes-Barre Coughlin.
For Northwestern the game is an opportunity to prove teams from the Colonial League can play with teams from the Lehigh Valley Conference.
"We love being in the Colonial League," Mitchell said. "It's a great league. The only drawback is that we play a 10-game schedule and we don't get to play [teams from other leagues]. That's the cool thing about making the playoffs."
Last time the two teams met, in 2006, the Tigers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in District 11 playoff history, beating top-seeded Beca, 35-33 in a first-round game.
This year a Northwestern win would not be nearly as big an upset, although the Hawks would surely be considered a favorite.
This year Beca runs a balanced offense with quarterback Luke Petro. His two main targets are Joe Connell and John Oliver.
The Hawks run the ball with Eddie Elliot, Martin Laluz and Gedeon Rene.
"They've got a bunch of athletes," Mitchell said. "They have some big guys up front, but the things that stand out is their skill people are talented.
"Their quarterback has a real nice arm and they'll throw from anywhere on the field out of any formation."
Defensively the Hawks line up in a unique version of a 50 front.
Behind the five-man line are two middle linebackers, similar to a 5-2. But their strong safety comes up to the linebacker level, creating a 5-3 look. That safety spies an offensive player and runs to the football.
It should present a challenge against Northwestern's running-based Wing-T.
"They've got 8-men in the box and we've got to scheme it up to get them all blocked," Mitchell said.