No room for error
Taking care of the football.
There might be not be a more popular subject in the game used on a weekly basis by coaches that sports aficionados would call “coach speak.”
Mostly because it is proven that if a team takes care of the football - while also being able to generate turnovers - chances are that team has a pretty good chance at being successful.
But what about a matchup between two teams that are a combined (+25) in turnover ratio?
It means that even the slightest miscue - a blocked extra point, one errant throw, or mishandling of the football in the backfield - could mean the difference in the game.
Then add into the mix two teams who are bitter rivals, and the top spot in the District 11 2A playoff ratings on the line, and what you get is the Times News Game of the Week between Northern Lehigh and Palmerton.
There’s no doubt this one could simply come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes, and then who can capitalize and put the ball in the end zone.
Palmerton, at a staggering (+17), and Northern Lehigh, at (+8) on the season in the turnover department, have both done exceptional jobs of making the opposition pay for their mistakes.
“The turnover ratio for both teams really jumps out at you, and you see why both of our teams are in this position in a big game at the end of the season,” said Northern Lehigh head coach Joe Tout. “I think that’s something to keep an eye on in this game. Who is going to take care of the football; but also if there is an opportunity after a turnover, who is going to take advantage of it.”
The Bombers’ winning recipe has been just that, turning teams over and then coming up with an explosive play on offense shortly after the other team’s miscue.
“Taking advantage, or capitalizing on turnovers this season has been big for us. Last week, there were a few times where we didn’t and it hurt us, and in our Week 2 loss to Jim Thorpe, we didn’t take advantage of some of the turnovers we created either,” said Palmerton head coach Chris Walkowiak. “We’ve talked about that at length many times this week, that if we’re given an opportunity, we have to make it count.”
Palmerton and Northern Lehigh have both had impressive seasons. Despite both teams being in the 2A classification, the Bombers (8-1) have played in the 2A heavy Colonial-Schuylkill White Division, while the Bulldogs (6-3) have been competing in the Red Division against 3A schools. The divisions were broken up according to enrollment, but it’s no secret how strong the Red Division has been this season.
Northern Lehigh is coming into its matchup with Palmerton with an impressive resume that includes a win over the No. 1 ranked team in Class 1A in the state in Muncy (40-21), and narrow losses to Northwestern Lehigh (34-33, fifth-ranked team in the state in 4A) and Notre Dame Green Pond (34-27, eighth-ranked team in the state in 3A). The Bulldogs also went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 ranked team in 3A in the state in North Schuylkill, scoring 42 points on the vaunted Spartans. In all, the combined won/loss of the three teams that Northern Lehigh has lost to this season is 25-1.
“Midway through the season, that was the message to the team; that we’re a battled-tested group, and that when it gets to playing later in the season and in the postseason, that playing against the quality of competition that we competed against, that it’s going to prepare us and help us,” said Tout. “We’re playing another talented football team this week in Palmerton, but we’ve worked hard to prepare; we’ve had one of our best practices of the season this week, so the kids are excited and both communities are excited and we expect a great atmosphere on Friday.”
The Bombers have knifed through their competition in the White Division this season with their only loss being a 17-14 defeat to Jim Thorpe in Week 2, where they actually looked like they were going to win the game in the last seconds, but a bad bounce off a long pass play sealed the win for the Olympians. There’s no denying the Bulldogs have played the tougher slate of opponents, but the Palmerton offense will pose as much of a threat as the top tier talent Northern Lehigh has faced this season.
Palmerton sophomore quarterback Matt Machalik powers a Bombers’ offense that leads the Times News area, averaging just over 43 points per game. Machalik has put together some gaudy numbers, rushing for 1,245 yards and 24 touchdowns, while throwing for 1,016 yards and seven scores. Palmerton has a host of playmakers, with five players that (WHO) have rushed for 230 yards or more on the season that are a part of a rushing attack that averages over 270 rushing yards per game, and 9.5 yards per carry.
As if this game needed any more storylines, the Bulldogs’ offense almost mirrors the Bombers’ unit, but with a little power mixed in with (IN THE FORM OF) running back Matt Frame, who has rushed for 820 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Dylan Smoyer has been great in the passing department for Northern Lehigh, throwing for close to 1,500 yards and 19 scores, but the difference-maker for the Bulldogs is Trevor Amorim, who can do a little bit of everything. Amorim has caught 38 balls for 807 yards and six touchdowns, and has also rushed for 560 yards and six scores.
Machalik and Amorim will be two fun players to watch with the football in their hands come Friday night.
“They have a ton of athletes that you need to keep track of, and so do we. There will be a lot of players on the field that can make plays in open space with the ball in their hands in this game,” said Walkowiak. “Assignment, alignment, and communication, that will be big for us defensively, and playing physical and making tackles. One missed tackle on either side in this game, and someone could take it the distance. We have to be able to block and give our playmakers room to make plays and as always, take what they give us.”