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Bulldogs meet Palisades for D-11 title

Northern Lehigh dropped its season opener to Palisades 35-27.

Fast forward to eight weeks later and the Bulldogs (5-3) get another shot at the Pirates - this time with a whole lot more on the line in the District 11 2A championship game.

Northern Lehigh, which started out the season 0-2, has won five of its last six and is a much different football team than the one Palisades (7-2) faced back on Sept. 25.

“We’re a much different football team from when we first played them and they’re also a different team as well,” said Northern Lehigh head coach Joe Tout. “I know we didn’t come away with the win in that game, but that was already their third game compared to our first, so I thought we actually played pretty well in that game, considering the circumstances.

“Right now, I just love the confidence our guys are playing with. Last week was our best week of practice I thought; we saw them doing things like being very vocal and communicating at a high level. Things are clicking right now and their play the past two weeks in the playoffs are proof of that.”

A team always wants to being playing its best when heading into the postseason and the Bulldogs have been doing just that. A dominant quarterfinal win over Schuylkill Haven (49-19), rushing for 330 yards at over 12 yards per carry, propelled them to redemption in the semifinals with a win over rival Palmerton, which defeated the Bulldogs during the regular season.

Northern Lehigh blitzed the Blue Bombers from the onset, forcing three first-quarter turnovers. It once again had a big day on the ground (317 yards) on its way to a 42-27 victory.

The Bulldogs offense has been impressive in the rushing department, led by junior Matt Frame. Frame’s blend of power and speed is not easily duplicated as he has rushed for 324 yards in the postseason (11.8 yards per carry), with a majority of those yards coming against the Bombers (264).

Frame is not the only weapon in the Northern Lehigh backfield, which makes it tough for opposing defenses to key solely on him. Mike Repsher (528 yards) and Joe Abidelli (402 yards) have made significant contributions and “x-factor” Trevor Amorim has been a dangerous threat in both the run and pass game (192 rush, 348 receiving, seven total TDs).

In the playoffs, the Bulldogs are averaging 45.5 points per game and 419.5 yards of total offense - over 100 more yards of total offense than in their first game against Palisades.

“Some people don’t realize how fast Matt Frame is,” said Tout. “He recently weighed in at 223 pounds and to move like that at that size is impressive. But we have a host of guys that run the football for us and that group works hard and is very unselfish.

“For example, last week Palmerton keyed on Mike Repsher and really wanted to take him away and he knew he was going to be a decoy for us on a lot of plays and he played unselfish football for us. That’s the kind of attitude those guys bring day in and day out.”

Northern Lehigh hopes to put its run game into high gear, while trying to slow down the Palisades run game, which has been the class of the Colonial League this season.

Pirates’ running back Mason Smeland leads the Colonial League in rushing with 1,168 yards and 21 touchdowns. Smeland had a huge game against the Bulldogs in Week 1, rushing for 237 yards and three touchdowns along with a receiving touchdown.

The Northern Lehigh defense will also need to keep track of wide receiver Kyle McGrath, who had three touchdowns and a return score last week against Catasauqua.

“Our goal will be to obviously slow down their run game, but we can’t get lulled to sleep,” said Tout. “They have a good plan offensively with their run/pass option game, where they will run it, run it, run it and then they mix in some RPO (run-pass option) and that can be dangerous. As much as we need to play well up front, we also have to play well and play smart in the secondary as well.”

Northern Lehigh last played in a district championship in 2011 and last won a district title in 2010. After a 6-4 season in 2019 and a trip back to a district championship for the first time in nine years, it’s safe to say the Bulldogs are back.

A win tonight (6:10 p.m. at Whitehall High School) could put a golden stamp on Northern Lehigh’s turnaround.

Northern Lehigh's offensive line, which has powered the Bulldogs rushing attack and helped the team gain two wins in the postseason, include (from left) Chase Misera, Josh Schaffer, Lucas Farmer, JD Hunter, Jayden Krempasky, Isiah Warner and Austin Smyth. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS