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Rivalry week closes out regular season

Before the playoffs begin, the final week of the regular season features several intriguing rivalry matchups across the area with bragging rights and postseason positioning on the line.

Lehighton at Jim Thorpe

When: Friday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.

Storyline of the Week

: The Tribe and the Olympians clash for the 209 trophy.

The perfect ending to a high school football regular season is a backyard rivalry, and that’s what tomorrow’s night’s contest between the Lehighton Indians and the Jim Thorpe Olympians will be. Since 2000 in the battle for the Route 209 trophy, JT holds the slightest regular season edge at 10-9. The Red, White, and Blue have won the last three times, but Lehighton’s Maroon and White have the longest win streak at five games between 2011 and 2015. This season’s game pits two teams that have been going in different directions. Thorpe has won its last two games and has qualified for the district playoffs, while the Tribe haven’t won since Sept. 3, when they defeated Tamaqua. Lehighton features all-everything Hunter Crum, who has scored 12 of his team’s 21 touchdowns this season, and a balanced ground and air attack led by quarterback Brady O’Donnell. Tribe coach Tom McCarroll points to one glaring statistic that has been his team’s bugaboo all season long. “We’ve had trouble hanging onto the ball,” he said, referencing the team’s 19 turnovers in nine games. JT coach Mark Rosenberger’s Red Swarm defense has pitched two straight shutouts, and will likely prove to be a formidable task for the Indians. “We’ve been very effective with what we do,” said Rosenberger, “and our D-line has been playing at a very high level.” Thorpe has scored 89 total points in third quarters this season, which indicates that they have played some of their best ball in the second halves of games. “Give credit to our coaching staff for making adjustments during halftime,” said Rosenberger, “and we’ve been able to exploit some matchups to our advantage.” McCarroll will have more depth against Thorpe as he gets back some players from the injured list, but is aware what his team will be up against come Friday night. “Jim Thorpe hangs their hat on their defense,” he said. “It’s tough sledding when you try to move the ball on them. This year, they don’t feature one bruising back on offense. We’ll have to be prepared for three or four dynamic threats who can break big plays, and their quarterback has been very capable with running their offense.” Rosenberger said the game could come down to special teams play. “I think getting good field position will be important. It’s a lot easier to go 40 yards rather than 80 yards for a score,” he said. “Rosenberger knows the win-loss records have no impact on this neighborhood rivalry. “This will be a hard fought game,” he said. “It will be a great atmosphere for both teams.”

Players to Watch:

Brayden Lutz, Lehighton

Lutz has become a go-to receiver for O’Donnell, and caught five passes last week. He also makes plays on defense, and has a nose for the ball as one of the Tribe’s leading tacklers.

Brendan Zimmerman, Lehighton

The four-year starter has played center and linebacker and has performed consistently all year. McCarroll calls him the “glue to the offensive line” and due to injuries, Zimmerman has been the only starter on the line to play every game this season.

Matt Stauffer, Jim Thorpe

The senior safety has had key interceptions against Palmerton and Tamaqua, and has also been a leading tackler on JT’s special teams.

Drew Wimmer, Jim Thorpe

From his safety position, Wimmer has a knack for getting into the box and making tackles. As a wide receiver, he extends drives with key third-down catches that move the chains.


at Northwestern

When: Friday Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.

Storyline of the Week

: Can Northwestern Lehigh become the first undefeated team in school history?

The last time Northwestern Lehigh came into the season finale with a 9-0 record was in 1996, and the Catasauqua Rough Riders knocked them off in their annual rivalry week game. The two teams meet again this season with the Tigers at 9-0 and Catty coming in with a 7-2 record. Both teams have guaranteed themselves spots in districts, and depending on who does the math, Northwestern likely has locked up the top seed in Class 4A. Still, the Tigers want a perfect season, while Catasauqua wants to repeat the outcome from 25 years ago. The Rough Riders come in with a balanced offensive attack, averaging 285 yards of offense per game. Senior running back Elijah Soler has rushed for 614 yards this season and can be an occasional pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Junior quarterback Christian Fye completes just over half of his pass attempts, but has still thrown for 858 yards and five touchdowns. Freshman Aiden Hess gets to throw an occasional pass with 30 attempts on the season for 241 yards. Wyatt Younes leads the receivers with a 24.5 yards per catch average. “They have some young players on offense, and they have the ability to make some plays,” said Northwestern Lehigh coach Josh Snyder. “What’s been impressive about them has been their defensive ability. They really play well defensively, and have guys that can fly to the ball and make stops.” In five of its nine games this season, Catasauqua has held opponents to eight points or less per game. Overall, they’ve allowed just 63 points in seven of its wins this season. The problem for the Roughies is when they face an offense they can’t contain. In their two losses, they’ve allowed 85 points, and without a truly explosive offense, they’re not able to compete in a shootout.

Players to Watch:

Luke Benvin, Northwestern Lehigh

High school place-kickers don’t generally get a lot of credit, but Benvin deserves some. The former soccer player is in his first year as the Tigers place-kicker and has gone 32-for-35 on extra points, and has also nailed both field goals that he has attempted, with the longest being 30 yards. He also gives his coverage team deep kicks that affords them time to get down field and prevent big run backs.

Ben Walters, Northwestern Lehigh

Sticking with the underrated players, Walters has been a major contributor to the ever-developing offensive and defensive lines for Northwestern Lehigh. “This season, we lost Devon Toth [a senior lineman] before the season even started. Ben Walters has filled in and has really done a good job for us,” said Snyder.

Elijah Soler, Catasauqua

Soler isn’t always a dazzling player, but he can make things happen. He is the Rough Riders’ leading rusher, and though he has only caught five passes out of the backfield, he averages an impressive 22.6 yards per catch, and eads the team in all-purpose yardage.

Pleasant Valley

at Stroudsburg

When: Thursday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.

Storyline of the Week

: Bears can clinch playoff spot with win over Stroudsburg

After a tough 19-0 loss to Pocono Mountain West last Saturday, Pleasant Valley is hoping to rebound against Stroudsburg tonight as the Bears face the Mountaineers for a playoff spot. The Bears haven’t beaten Stroudsburg since a playoff game in 2012, and with playoff implications on the line this time around, the winner gets in. “We know they’re a solid team, and well-coached,” coach Blaec Saeger said about Stroudsburg. “They are the premier program up here and are having a little bit of a down year, but they’re still Stroudsburg. We know they’re going to give it their best.” The Mountaineers are coming off a 49-7 loss to East Stroudsburg South in the annual Little Brown Jug game. Stroudsburg has won against Pleasant Valley 32 times since 1978, and is currently on an eight-game winning streak against the Bears. History has to change for PV in order for the Bears to snap the losing drought over the Mountaineers and get into the 6A playoffs. “Very equal teams fighting for the No. 7 or 8 spot,” Saeger said. “It seems as if it’s win and we’re in, so we’re trying to pull it off as a playoff atmosphere. We don’t really have to do much. Our kids are just excited to play the game and get a team we have a lot of history with.” Pocono Mountain West (5-4) currently holds the No. 7 seed and closes out its regular season against Pocono Mountain East.

Players to Watch:

Robert Papaleo, Pleasant Valley

Papaleo constantly carries the ball for the Bears, but only had 87 rushing yards in a loss to Pocono Mountain West. The senior quarterback snagged Times News Player of the Week honors after a four-touchdown performance against Pocono Mountain East in the Old Oaken Bucket game. Papaleo will need to have a similar game tonight in order to get PV out of a three-game losing streak and clinch a playoff berth.

Fela Olaniyan, Pleasant Valley

Olaniyan recovered a fumble against West in a game of turnovers early on. He has also seen time in the backfield with Jarod Moore and Jacob Gethen, sharing the carries among the trio. The run game will have to be top-notch against Stroudsburg if PV wants to extend its football season.

Andre Reames Jr., Stroudsburg

Pleasant Valley will have to stop the advance of Stroudsburg running back Andre Reames Jr. What has been a rocky season for the Mountaineers has come down to Stroudsburg’s last chance of getting into the playoffs. Expect Stroudsburg to hand the ball to Reames throughout the night as the team has experienced injuries throughout the season.

Pine Grove at Marian

When: Friday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.

Storyline of the Week

: Hoping results on Senior Night lead to an extension of the Colts’ current win streak.

The Colts continue to make strides, pushing their current win streak to two games thanks to a memorable 28-12 victory over backyard rival Panther Valley last week. It was another step in the right direction for Stan Dakosty’s club. “We have been making some progress over the course of the year,” he said. “As coaches, we could see that injuries have played into some things happening, and not happening, and so forth. But we really felt that we’re coming together.” One area Dakosty pinpointed was the offensive line and the youth that has stepped up when presented an opportunity. “Our offensive line has played together for the third time in a row, and that is a really big deal,” he added. “And some of the younger kids are just really maturing very well and getting to know the game.” But Dakosty was quick to look back on one important lesson that the Colts learned in last week’s win over the Panthers. “The one thing we learned from PV is we got to finish,” said Dakosty. “We came out in the second half, and we weren’t as strong as we were in the first half, but we played a lot better in the fourth quarter. The PV kids played hard, and played hard for four quarters, but that’s one thing we can improve upon from last week’s game.” Dakosty knows the Cardinals sport a sluggish 1-8 record on the season, a mark that may be misleading. “The one thing about Pine Grove is they have athletes, and they have been throwing the ball about 35 or 40 times,” Dakosty said. “I’ve been watching film on them, and they dropped some passes that probably caused them to miss out on some touchdowns. Thus, making a difference in the final score. So, if they catch three of those passes that they dropped, we could have trouble. They have a quarterback that puts the ball on the money, and they have some nice receivers. So, we’re focused in on them.” Looking forward, Dakosty noted that the rivalry with Panther Valley - a Coal Region staple - is set to be put aside for the next few seasons. “Based on scheduling, PV and Marian aren’t scheduled to play each other for the next two years,” Dakosty stressed. “And, I think, as a football coach and a football fan, I kind of feel a bit ashamed. I know there are attempts to try and work that out, but I think all area fans should be aware of that. It’s a great rivalry in the Coal Region, and playing for almost I think 50 straight years. You can see it if you’re at that game; both of us were having tough seasons, both sides came out excited, schools were excited, and I hate to see something like that come to the past.”

Players to Watch:

Matt Martin, Marian

Martin continues to play a huge role for the Colts, as he continued to add to his team lead in rushing yards (915 yards) and touchdowns scored (seven) with 190 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns in last week’s win over backyard rival Panther Valley to earn Times News Football Player of the Week honors.

Jayden Fermin, Marian

Fermin was part of the key adjustments in the Colts’ game plan the last two weeks, and it’s a move Dakosty is glad the team made. “We moved him to nose guard, and he’s been outstanding,” Dakosty said. “He’s been giving some outstanding efforts the last two weeks, and he kind of sparks our defense in coming into that position.”

Carson Lengle, Pine Grove

Lengle didn’t start the season behind center for the Cardinals, but after stepping into the quarterback position, he has emerged and has impressed Dakosty. “I’m impressed by his poise at the position,” Dakosty said. “And, he’s only a freshman.” Lengle has completed 59 of his 152 passes on the season for 935 yards and three touchdowns, though he has thrown 11 interceptions.


at Panther Valley

When: Friday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.

Storyline of the Week

: Panther Valley and Tamaqua looking for seniors to make the most of their last chance on the gridiron this week.

Both Panther Valley and Tamaqua enter the final week of the regular season scuffling. The Panthers suffered a 28-12 setback to rival Marian last week, while the Blue Raiders had to deal with unbeaten North Schuylkill, and suffered a 55-7 loss. Blue Raiders’ mentor Sam Bonner made sure to emphasize to his seniors that this was their last chance to play varsity football, and he knows they can’t overlook the winless Panthers (0-7). “Obviously, we’re not exactly in a great place right now ourselves, so we can’t overlook, or underestimate anybody,” Bonner stressed. “It’s something we got to make sure that we get better from last week’s performance against North Schuylkill, who is obviously one of the better teams in the state right now. We did take away some good things from there, but we got to make sure we take a step forward. Not just our seniors, but our younger guys. We have a lot of younger guys playing. This is our chance for these guys to get better, and we look forward to moving onto next year, and improve every week.” Rick Jones, the Panthers’ mentor, is mindful of the same thing when it comes to the Blue Raiders, who sport a 2-6 record entering the final game of the season. However, Jones knows exactly what to expect from the Blue Raiders when they have the ball in their hands. “They’ll just run right at us,” Jones said. “There’s absolutely no doubt about that. They’re going to do what they do best. They’ll throw if they have to, but I think you’re going to see them come right at us and use their size up front.” While the Panthers are anticipating a ground attack by the Blue Raiders, the visitors are coming in focused on the first person to get their hands on the ball for the Panthers, quarterback Michael Pascoe. “He’s a big, strong kid,” Bonner said. “We have had some problems containing quarterbacks this year. So, obviously, maybe we got to keep some guys in the box to stop him. They have some other athletes on that side of the ball that are quick though.” With this the last chance for a lot of players on both sides of the ball to take the field for each program, Jones wants his guys to stay within themselves. “We continue to tell them to focus on the things they can control,” said Jones. “We haven’t been too successful; but I must give the kids credit, they showed up, and they played their hearts out. We’re just not a real good football team right now. We’re not an experienced team. But, their attitudes have been very good, and we’re going to continue to stress that you just got to play, compete, and get better.”

Players to Watch:?

Warren Stewart, Tamaqua

Stewart may be right behind Zander Coleman in a few offensive categories for the Blue Raiders. But it’s those five touchdowns, 419 yards rushing on 111 carries and four catches for 23 yards receiving that have caught Bonner’s attention. “He has had a hell of a year for us,” said Bonner. “It may not show in the numbers all of the time, but I don’t think he has had one contested yard that he wasn’t getting hit and dragging people. So, he’s a great up-and-comer for us. This is his first year that he made it through healthy wise.”

Connor Dillon, Tamaqua

Dillon made a nice play for the Blue Raiders last week with a touchdown catch against a tough North Schuylkill program. “He’s coming around, and he’s a great two-way player for us,” Bonner added.

Trey McAndrew, Panther Valley

McAndrew has caught nine passes, and has taken those catches for a total of 111 yards on the season. He averages 12.33 yards per catch, and has two touchdowns.

Austin Hadley, Panther Valley

Hadley has made his presence known on the field on the defensive side of the ball for the Panthers this season. Bonner wants his players to know where he is at all times. “Austin is a strong kid on the defensive side of the ball,” Bonner stressed. “He flies around, all over the place. He’s always all over the place. He’s a true playmaker.”

Capsules compiled by Rich Strack, TJ Engle, Kyle Magda and Chuck Hixson.