Lehigh Co. rivals meet
Usually when his team's going to be on live television, Joe Tout lets his players know that it's an opportunity to show a large audience what kind of football Northern Lehigh can play.
This Friday the Bulldogs' annual grudge match with Northwestern is going to be televised state-wide on PCN. But Tout has barely mentioned it.
"We didn't need to do that this week," said the fourth-year head coach. "It doesn't matter. Their kids and our kids want this game so badly. It's hard to describe."
The feeling is the same in New Tripoli.
"It's Northern Lehigh," said 28th-year Tiger boss Bob Mitchell. "This game could be played at four in the morning and it would be as important. It could be played in April."
With both teams contending for playoff spots and coming in on winning streaks, this year's version of the rivalry might have the makings of an instant classic.
The Bulldogs are 5-1, their only loss coming to Wilson. They have the Colonial League's top running back in junior Cody Remaley, who's already piled up 965 yards on 129 carries (7.48 per carry) with 10 touchdowns.
"He's got that uncanny ability to find a sliver and take off like a rocket," Mitchell said, adding that stopping Remaley was his team's first priority. "But we can't forget about (fullback Matt) Gill and we can't forget about (flanker Jake) Kern."
The Tigers, which play a base 4-4 defense and like to blitz, will have to be disciplined, filling all the gaps and making sure not to give Remaley that sliver.
"The key for us is going to be picking up the blitzes," Tout said. "If we do that I think we'll be successful moving the ball. We have to expect them to blitz each play."
Northern Lehigh's offense averages 298.7 yards per game. They have a season total of 1653 rushing yards to just 139 passing. But the Bulldogs have given up 286.2 yards per game, 868 yards rushing and 849 passing for the season.
Northwestern (4-2) will bring its running game first and try to use it to set up big plays in the passing game.
The Tigers use a bevy of running backs, but all-purpose threat Garrett Lerner leads the team in touchdowns with seven. He's got 17 receptions for 283 yards and four scores. He's also run the ball 12 times for 56 yards and a score. He's returned a punt for a touchdown and scored on an interception return as well.
"He's the type of player that we have to know where he is on every play," Tout said.
Lerner is listed as a wide receiver, but he can line up at tight end or running back spots. The Tigers run fullback Michael Oswald often (76 carries for 404 yards, one TD) and mix in running backs Colton Breininger (33 for 224) and Kevin Oxley (33 for 155).
Northwestern quarterback Trevor German has also been impressive recently. He went 7 for 8 last week with one touchdown while running the ball 11 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
While the skill players will get most of the attention, the play in the trenches could dictate the outcome.
Both teams bring big, strong offensive lines.
"I think it's going to be a heavyweight boxing match," Mitchell said. "Northern Lehigh is a very physical football team. It's what they're about. It's what they've been about for years."
Tout has the same respect for Northwestern's front. He said the Tigers typically have big linemen, but this year's group has mobility to go along with it's size.
"It's a pretty even match up," Tout said. "We can't let them beat us up front."
Both teams come in riding high. The Tigers are on a two-game winning streak. The Bulldogs haven't lost since Week 2. And both teams have been getting better week by week.
And both teams know they're going to get the other team's best effort this week.
"I think there's a respect factor," Tout said. "That's the biggest thing I see in this rivalry is the respect the teams have for each other."