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Bulldogs, Tigers lead the way as the Times News selects area’s top football players

This past football season was a much more traditional and normal one than 2020.

The season started on time, there were fewer COVID cancellations, and fans were once again a huge part of Friday nights as attendance restrictions were lifted across the Times News coverage area.

Five area teams - Northern Lehigh (2A), Palmerton (2A), Jim Thorpe (3A), Northwestern (4A) and Pleasant Valley (6A) - qualified for the District 11 postseason.

Northern Lehigh put together a historic postseason run, winning the district title and then advancing all the way to the 2A state semis, before running into perennial power and eventual state champion Southern Columbia.

Palmerton, Jim Thorpe and Northwestern were all able to advance to district championships in their respective classes before coming up short. Pleasant Valley was defeated in the opening round.

The Times News area was once again well represented on the Pennsylvania Football Writer’s All-State team, which was fittingly led by Northern Lehigh players after the Bulldogs run to the 2A semifinal.

Dylan Smoyer (quarterback), Trevor Amorim (wide receiver), AJ Jimenez (defensive line) and Brett Misera (defensive back) were all selected to the Class 2A squad, while the Bombers’ Matt Machalik (athlete) was named to the 2A team. Times News Football Player of the Year Justin Holmes was the only other local selection as he was named to the 4A squad at the quarterback position.

Before we close the books on the 2021 season, however, we will take a look back and highlight the area’s top players by announcing our choices for the Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Players of the Year and All-Star selections.

We have selected Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, as well as the top players in eight different position groups. As usual, an individual can only be selected as a Player of the Year once, but they can be named as an All-Star at any other position.

For example, with Justin Holmes’ selection as Football Player of the Year, that eliminates him from any other Player of the Year category, but he can be named an all-star at a position. This is done to recognize as many deserving players as possible.

Offensive Player of the Year

Matt Machalik, Palmerton (So.)

Machalik’s super sophomore campaign was a historic one for the Bombers. Machalik was a dynamic dual threat at quarterback, rushing for 1,539 yards, at 10.3 yards per carry and a Bombers’ single-season record, 29 rushing scores. Machalik also threw for 1,308 yards and nine passing touchdowns for a season total of 1,811 all-purpose yards and 38 offensive scores that he was responsible for.

Coach’s quote: “Matt is the ultimate package at quarterback, and as a dual threat offensive player. He can take the ball to the house on any given play based on his explosiveness and running abilities. He is just a pure game-changer, and plays with toughness and composure. He’s everything you want in a football player.” - Palmerton head coach Chris Walkowiak.

Defensive Player of the Year

Noah Rosahac, Jim Thorpe (So.)

The sophomore was impressive in his first full campaign at defensive tackle, and was an absolute menace on the inside. At 6-6 235 pounds, Rosahac was a matchup nightmare and anchored the middle of arguably the area’s best defensive front. Rosahac finished the season with 86 total tackles (68 solo) and 27 tackles for loss for the District 11 class 3A runner-up Olympians.

Coach’s quote: “Noah is a dedicated student of the game. He’s such a smart young man, and just very coachable. It really is rare for a player to pick up a new position that fast. His ability to read blocks, and his quick get off, as well as his swim move helped him make a ton of plays. He’s an outstanding kid with a really bright future.” - Jim Thorpe head coach Mark Rosenberger.

Quarterback of the Year

Dylan Smoyer, No. Lehigh (Sr.)

Smoyer was the best pure passer in the Times News area this season, breaking all sorts of Northern Lehigh passing records. Smoyer finished the season 127-of-207 for 2,185 yards and 27 passing touchdowns. He set the following school records: single-season passing yards, career passing yards, single-season passing touchdowns, career passing touchdowns, single-season completions and career completions.

Coach’s quote: “He’s just really great at going through his progressions. He’s probably the best I’ve coached at being able to get through his progressions. He doesn’t just stare downs his number one and number two option, which is rare at the high school level. He really put the time in and came a long way over his career and then coming in this year, you could just physically and mentally he was going to have a good year.” - Northern Lehigh head coach Joe Tout

All Star Quarterbacks

Justin Holmes (Northwestern); Matt Machalik (Palmerton); Brady O’Donnell (Lehighton); Brett Balliet (Jim Thorpe).

Running Back of the Year

Matt Frame, No. Lehigh (Sr.)

Frame was a special blend of size and speed at running back for the Bulldogs at 6-0, 225 pounds. Those very attributes made Frame a handful for opposing defenses to bring down as he led the Times News area in rushing, compiling an impressive 1,713 yards and 23 touchdowns. Frame finished with the fourth most single-season rushing yards and ranks fourth all-time in rushing yards for Northern Lehigh.

Coach’s quote: “It’s rare to have a player that you believe can score any time he is handed the ball, and that is the type of player Matt has been over the past two years. He is one of those players that only comes along a couple of times in a coaching career, if you are lucky. Matt’s work ethic has been incredible, and has rubbed off on our entire team.” - Northern Lehigh head coach Joe Tout.

All Star Running Backs

Matt Martin (Marian); Cam Tinajero (Jim Thorpe).

Wide Receiver of the Year

Trevor Amorim, No. Lehigh (Sr.)

Amorim was a do-it-all receiver and runner for Northern Lehigh. Amorim finished the season with 53 catches for 989 yards, at almost 19 yards per reception and hauled in eight touchdowns. Amorim also rushed for 927 yards and 16 rushing scores, which came to an impressive 1,916 total yards and 24 total touchdowns. Amorim leaves the Bulldogs program as the single-season reception yards, career reception yards and career receptions all-time leader.

Coach’s quote: “He was just so explosive with the ball in his hands. You could see that a lot of the time in our screen game. He would take what would look like a short gain and then just break one. And because of some injuries we moved him into the backfield and he had some great success there as well. He’s just such a versatile player. He was out fastest guy and a really strong kid, and I’m just really happy for him for all his success.”

All Star Wide Receivers

Cade Christopher (Northwestern); Derryl Fisher (Jim Thorpe); Daniel Lucykanish (Palmerton); Brett Misera (No. Lehigh); Ryan Blass (Pleasant Valley); Brayden Lutz (Lehighton); Hunter Crum (Lehighton).

Offensive Lineman of the Year

Ben Walters, Northwestern (So.)

Walters was a first-team Colonial League selection at left tackle, and anchored an offensive line unit that helped produce one of the top offenses in all of District 11. The Tigers averaged 36.7 points per game and 351.3 yards per game on the season. Walters also did not surrender a sack, and led the team in pancake blocks with over 20 on the season.

Coach’s quote: “Being just a sophomore, the sky is the limit for him. He put in the time in the weight room over the offseason and got bigger and stronger, which with his work ethic he will continue to do. It was really about him just gaining confidence and getting reps and then when he was able to do that, he really showcases his ability. He has really good feet, can get to the second level, we’re just really excited about his future.” - Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder.

All Star Offensive Linemen

Jayden Krempasky (No. Lehigh); Ben Dunstan (Northwestern); Cameron Shields (Northwestern); Zack Anthony (Palmerton), Noah Rosahac (Jim Thorpe); Bryson Heydt (TE, Jim Thorpe); David Wiley (Jim Thorpe); Jackson Van Norman (No. Lehigh), Austin Smyth (TE, No. Lehigh); Brendan Zimmerman (Lehighton); Gauge Hartney (Lehighton); Austin Hadley (Panther Valley); Jacob Wasserleben (Tamaqua); Rawlin Melendez (Marian).

Defensive Lineman of the Year

Bryson Heydt, Jim Thorpe (Sr.)

If there was a defensive end factory, Heydt would’ve been one of the first models off the assembly line, with his build at 6-6 250 pounds paired with his speed and strength, Heydt, which was a first team Schuylkill League North selection, served as both an exceptional run stopper and pass rusher for the Olympians. Heydt compiled 64 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, three sacks and an impressive 21 quarterback hurries.

Coach’s quote: “You don’t see many football players with Bryson’s type of size and ability. He did a great job of both maintaining the edge for us in the run game, and creating pressure by getting after the quarterback. What impresses me the most about him is his hands. He does such a nice job of using his hands to get off offensive linemen, and with his size and timing he was able to get his hands on the ball, batting it down or deflecting it. He’s a great kid and a talented football player who had a great year for us.” - Jim Thorpe head coach Mark Rosenberger.

All Star Defensive Linemen

Drew Sabo (Northwestern); AJ Jimenez (No. Lehigh); Noah Rosahac (Jim Thorpe); Brian Bowen (Jim Thorpe); Austin Hadley (Panther Valley); Shade Klotz (Palmerton); Austin Smyth (No. Lehigh); Gauge Hartney (Lehighton).

Linebacker of the Year

Ethan Karpowich, No. Lehigh (Jr.)

Karpowich, a first team Colonial League selection at outside linebacker made a ton of plays throughout the season for Northern Lehigh. Karpowich finished third on the team with 80 tackles and second on the team with sacks, collecting three. He also had two fumble recoveries and forced a fumble.

Coach’s quote: “We pride ourselves on having a blue collar mentality when we practice and play. Ethan fits our blue collar mentality perfectly. He is a smart football player, who kept improving throughout the year. By the end of the year, he was consistently one of our top tacklers and top defensive playmakers.” Northern Lehigh head coach Joe Tout.

All Star Linebackers

Matt Frame (No. Lehigh); Justin Holmes (Northwestern); Cade Christopher (Northwestern); Lucas Heydt (Palmerton); James Denicola (Palmerton); Austin Hadley (Panther Valley); Cameron Tinajero (Jim Thorpe); Brendan Zimmerman (Lehighton) Joey Walko (Marian); James Syracuse (Pleasant Valley).

Defensive Back of the Year

Taylor Wikert, Northwestern (Sr.)

Wikert, a first team Colonial League selection at defensive back, was the quarterback of the Northwestern secondary, which was a big reason for the Tigers stingy defensive performance this season. At safety, Wikert collected 69 tackles (third best on the team), led the team in pass deflections (7) and came through with two interceptions. Northwestern gave up just four passing touchdowns throughout the entire season and gave up just 66 yards passing per game.

Coach’s quote: “Tyler was a three-year starter in the secondary, and it was his second at safety and honestly a lot of our defensive success this season had to do with him. He always had us in the right looks back there, and that allowed us to play a lot of man-to-man. He was good in coverage, but he’s also a physical player that could come up and be an extra run stopper. He’s a coach’s dream back there.” - Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder.

All Star Defensive Backs

Matt Machalik (Palmerton); Daniel Lucykanish (Palmerton); Trevor Amorim (No. Lehigh; Nick Frame (No. Lehigh); Derryl Fisher (Jim Thorpe); Matt Stauffer (Jim Thorpe); Ethan Buchert (Lehighton); Michael Pascoe (Panther Valley); Ryan Blass (Pleasant Valley) Robert Papaleo (Pleasant Valley).

Athlete of the Year (Jr.)

Cade Christopher, Northwestern

It seems like all Cade Christopher has done since coming onto the scene at Northwestern is score touchdowns, and he didn’t disappoint this season in that department yet again. Christopher was once again dynamic as a pass catcher, hauling in 35 receptions for 664 yards and 11 scores, while also rushing for 526 yards and seven touchdowns on just 50 carries, for a ridiculous 10.52 yards per carry. Christopher was a first team Colonial League selection at slot receiver.

Coach’s quote: “He came into the season with big expectations after his breakout sophomore campaign, and he surely delivered. He’s a guy that you honestly just can’t get the ball in his hand enough. He’s just pure lightning in a bottle. I think he had a punt return touchdown, interception return touchdown, he threw for three touchdowns and then he caught a bunch and ran for a bunch. The most impressive thing about all of that though is he knows exactly what he’s doing, and where he needs to be all those different positions.” - Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder.

All Star Athletes

Robert Papaleo (Pleasant Valley, QB); Zander Coleman (Tamaqua. RB/WR); Nick Frame (Northern Lehigh); Izaiah Ramos (Northern Lehigh); David Fiorito (Jim Thorpe); Lucas Heydt (Palmerton).

All Star Specialists

Brett Misera (K, No. Lehigh); Harrison Dailey (P, Palmerton); Travis Benson (P, Jim Thorpe); Keiran Mele (K, Jim Thorpe); Michael Pascoe (P, Panther Valley).