Bears head to Zephyr country
Pleasant Valley coach Jim Terwilliger wants his teams to be playing in significant games in November, and the Bears will do just that this Friday night.
Pleasant Valley will travel to Whitehall for the opening round of the District 11 Class AAAA playoffs in the TIMES NEWS Game of the Week.
"It's a great honor to be in the District 11 tournament and to make the playoffs," saidTerwilliger. "To be able to play meaningful games in November is a step for our program that we want to take.
"We've been here three out of the last five years (with our football program). That's a great thing to be able to make the dance."
But the challenge that awaits No. 7 Pleasant Valley (7-3) is not lost on the coach.
"We know Whitehall is a very good football team," Terwilliger said of the second-seeded Zephyrs. "They're ranked No. 2 in the district for a reason; they have a tremendous offense; defense; and they're well coached.
"But we're looking forward to the challenge of going down there. In playoff football, I think you put your records aside and everyone starts 0-0."
In its most recent game, Whitehall (9-1) was certainly firing on all cylinders. The Zephyrs dominated Northampton in last week's regular season finale, building a 41-6 lead at halftime and cruising to a 41-20 win.
Whitehall featured its multi-dimensional offense in the victory over the Konkrete Kids. Tailbacks Ryan Bonshak (two touchdowns) and Saquon Barkley (three scores) keyed the offense.
Quarterback Jeffrey Charles also threw two touchdowns, one of which was to Barkley, who committed to Rutgers in September to continue his football career.
The Bears struggled in their loss to Stroudsburg a week ago, allowing running back Gerald Douglas to pile up 194 yards on the ground and three scores as the Mounties rolled to a 42-15 win.
Terwilliger knows that shoring up those holes on defense will be key against a balanced Whitehall attack.
"We have to play great team defense," Terwilliger said. "I thought what really hindered us last week (when we played Stroudsburg) was the fact that we didn't win the battles up front. I didn't think we were as aggressive as we could have been with our defensive front.
"This week, we've really focused on winning individual battles and playing great team defense. I don't think you can key on one guy for Whitehall because they have a number of athletes all over the field. We need to have 11 guys playing as one and 11 guys with a great collective effort."
Offensively, Pleasant Valley has had no trouble moving the ball this season. That trend continued last week, as quarterback Brandon Leap threw for 268 yards and two scores, both to wide receiver Kevin Cruz, who had 11 catches for 211 yards, which was a school record.
Turnovers, however, have plagued the Bears this year, something that also continued last week. Leap was intercepted four times, one of which was returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Mounties.
A sound offensive effort will be critical against a Whitehall defense that is allowing 15.8 points per game this season.
"Priority number one is making sure we don't turn the ball over," said Terwilliger. "We've only played one game this year where we didn't turn the ball over and it's hindered us in big games. In our three losses, we've turned the ball over several times.
"We have to take care of our possessions and take care of the football. We have athletes that can play and do some damage. But we have to keep the ball in our hands and play great offensively so we don't give our defense short fields to defend."
A win Friday night would mean a potential rematch with No. 6 Stroudsburg (8-2) or a date with No. 3 Parkland (9-1), the team that ended Pleasant Valley's run a year ago.
But Terwilliger knows the Bears have to take care of business against Whitehall before thinking about next week.
"All that matters is that this is the first game of the postseason," he said. "We get to play (Whitehall) Friday night. A lot of teams had their season end last Friday night and we still have the opportunity to play.
"I'm very excited about the chance we have this week and I think our kids have taken this as a championship caliber week. As we approach Friday night, I think it will be a lot of fun."