More than a rivalry
There will be much more on the line than just the '209 Trophy' when Lehighton and Jim Thorpe hook up for their regular season finales Friday night.
While it is the two teams' rivalry game and they will be playing for the right to hoist the 209 Trophy, the Indians and the Olympians will also be fighting for a respective playoff bid. That means the game is no longer about bragging rights. It's about keeping their seasons going.
Lehighton, which has won back-to-back games to push its overall record to 4-5, will need to win and get some help in order to qualify for the Eastern Conference III playoffs.
First, Blue Mountain (6-3) must beat Wyomissing Area (AA, 7-2) in order to qualify for District 11 play and open up an Eastern Conference spot. Second, either Bangor or Southern Lehigh has to lose. The Slaters face Pen Argyl (8-1) while the Spartans take on 0-9 Salisbury. Lastly, ES South will have to beat ES North (4-5).
It may seem like a lot of things have to fall Lehighton's way, but there is still a chance. Either way, head coach George Ebbert is happy to be playing a meaningful game this late in the year.
"It would be awesome if we could make our way into the playoffs," said Ebbert. "That is what we have been shooting for all season long. To have a chance right now is all we can ask for. It just feels good to be playing a meaningful game in Week 10."
Meanwhile, Jim Thorpe's scenario is a little easier. All the Olympians (7-2) need to do in order to get back to the AA district playoffs is beat Lehighton and hope that Pine Grove loses to Line Mountain (A, 8-1).
"It is always a huge game versus Lehighton," said Jim Thorpe head coach Mark Rosenberger, whose team last made districts in 2007. "It has really grown into something special over the last few years. It is always a hard fought game. It's a game where the records go right out the window.
"At the same time, we are both playing to get into the playoffs. In my eyes that means the playoffs have started a week early. Both teams have playoff implications, so a win becomes even bigger for each team."
JT has taken the last two meetings between the two teams. The Olympians won last year by a score of 48-27. Lehighton last won in 2007.
The Indians have scored 66 points in their last two games and quarterback Josh Agosto has been the key. Agosto has thrown 21 TDs and only five interceptions this year. He also leads the team with 359 rushing yards.
"He is a special player," said Rosenberger. "He makes plays. He extends plays and will find his open receivers for touchdowns. We will definitely have to keep an eye on him this weekend."
On the flip side, the Indians will be looking to hold down the Olympians' running game. Shane Edwards is averaging over five-and-a-half yards-per-rush and currently has 1,192 rushing yards and 15 TDs.
Quarterback Terry Moll and wingman PJ Johnson are also capable of running the ball. Moll has 388 yards and three scores, while Johnson is averaging 7.3 yards-per-carry on 38 attempts.
"We will have to shut down the run," said Ebbert. "Their line is huge and their running backs are very fast and athletic. It is going to be a challenge to stop them.
"We just want to play better every week. We have been able to do that the last two weeks and hopefully we can keep it going for another one. If we can continue to play like the way we have been, then I think we should be okay."
Rosenberger, meanwhile, has made sure that his team hasn't gotten ahead of themselves.
"We talked on Monday about what needs to be done," said Rosenberger. "We can't control what Pine Grove does. We can only control what Jim Thorpe does. We have to prepare every day and go out and handle our business."