Gutsy call gives Bulldogs week 10 win
The final week of the regular season often has all the intensity and pressure of postseason football.
Some teams are battling to get into the playoffs while others are fighting for a better seed and a postseason home game.
There were six games last week that featured local teams and four of them (Jim Thorpe at Lehighton, Marian at Tamaqua, Northwestern at Catasauqua, and Stroudsburg at Pleasant Valley) had postseason implications for one or both teams.
After the dust had settled, Pleasant Valley and Lehighton had earned District 11 playoff berths and Jim Thorpe, Marian and Northwestern had qualified for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
But this week's OVERTIME feature isn't going to focus on any of the four games that had playoff implications or highlight any of the teams that will be heading into postseason play. Instead, OVERTIME will examine a gutsy coaching decision made in a rivalry game between a pair of teams that had combined for just three victories heading into week 10.
OVERTIME will also look at some interesting facts about 1,000-yard rushers, check out a Pleasant Valley receiver's huge game, and give you some other interesting facts and figures that you made not have noticed.
For the first time in 16 years, this year's Palmerton-Northern Lehigh football game didn't feature at least one District 11 playoff team.
The last time neither the Bombers nor the Bulldogs qualified for postseason play was 1997.
But both teams have struggled for victories this season. Palmerton entered the season finale with a 2-7 record and the Bulldogs came in at 1-8.
Obviously, this wasn't one of the area matchups that had playoff implications.
But don't tell either team that it was a meaningless late-season game. For players, coaches and fans, this is one of those games they look forward to all year. Backyard rivals located within a Hail Mary pass of each other, the Bombers and Bulldogs have played each other every year since 1935.
Even though the 79th consecutive game in the series didn't have the same pre-game buildup as some of the previous games, it more than made up for it with a back-and-forth struggle that produced a dramatic ending.
A couple of Tre Nelson touchdown runs gave Palmerton an early 14-0 lead. But the Bulldogs rallied to tie the game on a Nate Farber run late in the first half. The Bombers regained the lead midway through the third quarter and still held that 21-14 advantage with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
That's when the excited went up a notch.
Northern Lehigh converted a pair of fourth downs during a 13-play drive that culminated in a Farber TD with just :33 left.
It was now decision time for Bulldog coach Joe Tout.
With a kicker that had already made a pair of extra points earlier in the game, the safe and more conventional call would have been to kick.
But Tout was going to be safe or conventional.
"Once we got to about the 10-yard line is when we made the decision," said Tout. "We do everything as a staff and at that point I said to my assistants 'if we score, let's go for two.
"And I heard over my headset all of our assistants agreeing. Everyone was on board. Everyone wanted to go for two."
The play call on the two-point conversion was a power-I toss to Farber.
"We ran that same play three consecutive times," explained Tout. "We ran it for a six-yard gain the play before the touchdown and then ran it on the touchdown as well. With the success we had the two prior plays, we decided to stick with it on the conversion.
"Give our offensive coordinator Steve Hluschak a lot of credit for those calls. We were having success running left most of the game and Palmerton really started loading up on that side. So the last three plays we ran the power-I toss around the right side."
Tout was rewarded for his gutsy call when Farber plowed into the end zone for a 22-21 Bulldog lead and eventual victory.
When asked if the call was influenced at all by his team's record and if he would have made the same call with a playoff berth on the line, Tout said, "Nine out of 10 times in that situation, I think we would have made the same call.
"I think you always have to consider the circumstances at the time, but in that situation, I thought we had the momentum in our favor. In addition, we haven't scored a lot of points this year so we haven't had the opportunity to kick a lot of extra points. So even though our kicker had made two kicks earlier, I thought that was a lot of pressure to put on one player who had never had to make a kick like that in his career."
There was one other reason why Tout said he would make that call almost every time.
"I hate overtime," said Tout. "I think it's a bit of a crapshoot.
"With the possessions starting at the 10-yard line, a lot of weird things can happen. I like our chances better of gaining a couple of yards for the win than going into overtime."
DOUBLE TEAM ... Panther Valley didn't enjoy a lot of success this football season, but the Panthers might have had the best 1-2 backfield punch in the area.
Quarterback Kyle Ferryman and tailback Richard Nase but went over the 1,000-yard mark this season. Ferryman piling up 1,231 yards and Nase finishing with 1,017.
Feryman and Nase became just the third set of teammates since 1989 to both go over 1,000 yards on the ground.
They join current Northwestern coach Josh Snyder and his backfield mate Jon Suter who accomplished the feat playing for Northwestern in 1997.
The other duo actually did it twice. Palmerton's Jeff Noyes and Matt Falcone both went over 1,000 yards in the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
MAGNIFICENT SEVEN ... Speaking of 1,000-yard rushers, this year has seen the most players reach that milestone in any year since the TIMES NEWS began keeping individual statistics (1988).
Seven different players accomplished the feat so far this season. They are: Jim Thorpe's Ryan Saunders (1,475); Northwestern's Harry Hall (1,275); Panther Valley's Kyle Ferryman (1,231); Tamaqua's Tyler Hope (1,185); Pleasant Valley's Austyn Borre (1,101); Northern Lehigh's Nate Farber (1,053); and Panther Valley's Richard Nase (1,017).
In addition to that group, Lehighton's Wyatt Clements is trying to expand the group to the "Great Eight" as he needs just 77 yards heading into Saturday's playoff game against Bethlehem Catholic.
Prior to this season, the most area rushers to top the 1,000-yard mark in a single season was 1998 when six players did it Palmerton's Chris Siracuse, Northern Lehigh's Brad Walters, Marian's Justin Barrasso, Panther Valley's Brian DeGiosio, Pleasant Valley's Chris Jacobs and Lehighton's Dave Muffley.
COMEBACK KIDS ... Northern Lehigh fell behind Palmerton 14-0 before rallying for an exciting 22-21 victory on Friday night.
Since Slatington High School changed its name to Northern Lehigh in 1981, it marked the biggest deficit the Bulldogs have overcome to win a game.
During that period (1981-2013), Northern Lehigh has only recovered from a deficit of 10-or-more-points to win two other times.
The Bulldogs did that on Oct. 28, 2008 against Catasauqua when they trailed 10-0 and won 25-10 and on Aug. 31 1985 when they trailed Saucon Valley 12-0 and won 25-12.
Before Friday's big comeback, Northern Lehigh had been 0-135 in games where it trailed by 14 or more points.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT ... Northwestern defeated Catasauqua 28-27 on overtime on Friday night.
This was the third time that the Tigers and Rough Riders have played an overtime game. No TIMES NEWS area team has gone to overtime with the same opponent more than Northwestern and Catasauqua since overtime was introduced into the PIAA in 1995. The two previous times the two schools went to OT, Catasauqua won the game (3-0 in four OTs in 1997 and 28-27 in one OT in 2011).
It's also been a long time since the Tigers won an overtime game. The last time it happened was Nov. 9, 2001 when Northwestern defeated Salisbury, 10-7.
CRUZ-ING TO A RECORD ... Pleasant Valley's Kevin Cruz set a new school record last Friday when he finished the night with 210 receiving yards.
The Bears' junior, who passed the previous PV mark of 177 set by Jamie Irvine in 2004, also became just the fifth TIMES NEWS player in the past 25 seasons to top 200 receiving yards.
The others to accomplish that feat include Panther Valley's Fenton Black (252 on 11/14/92), Jim Thorpe's Don Evans (250 on 9/23/00), Lehighton's Chris Green (245 on 11/23/91) and Panther Valley's Tom Rosahac (237 on 9/8/89).