Tigers, Spartans collide Friday Unbeaten Northwestern, perennial power Wyomissing meet in PIAA Class 3A semifinals
They’ve been on a collision course for the last several weeks.
Now, it’s almost time for impact.
When the PIAA Class 3A football bracket started to take shape, Times News area football fans and media members throughout the region glanced a few rounds ahead and saw that both District 3 champion Wyomissing and District 11 champion Northwestern could potentially see each other in the state semifinals.
Like two high-speed meteors destroying everything in their path, the Tigers (14-0) and Spartans (12-1) are scheduled to collide Friday night at 7 p.m. at Kutztown University’s Andre Reed Stadium.
Let’s get physical
One word comes to mind when describing this match-up and that is physicality.
Both squads like to line up and run the ball - relying heavily on their offensive fronts. Whoever controls the line of scrimmage in this one will most likely be punching their tickets to Cumberland Valley High School for the state championship.
Northwestern’s rushing attack was formidable once again last week against a very good Scranton Prep defense. The Tigers piled up 245 yards on the ground, with hard-running tailback Dalton Clymer leading the way with 101 yards and three rushing touchdowns in a 27-6 win over the Cavaliers.
On the season, Clymer has rushed for 1,707 yards and 29 touchdowns, while the Northwestern rushing attack is averaging 244 rushing yards per game.
“We have a very experienced offensive line, and at this point in the season your guys up front have obviously gained a ton of experience in big games as well,” said Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder. “What I think makes us really good in the run game is we have a really smart group up front. We may run the same play two or three different ways, and it’s up to our linemen to make the decision on what option to use, and how to block it based off what they see the defense is doing.
“Smart, big and physical is a good combination to have, and then you add in a hammer like Clymer, who needs a seam to get good yardage or positive yardage. But it all starts up front and our line is executing really well.”
Wyomissing’s rushing attack has been one of the best in the eastern half of the state this season. The Spartans average 312.92 rushing yards per game. Last week, they destroyed the Danville defense to the tune of 470 rushing yards in a 48-27 victory. Ryker Jones led the way for Wyomissing with 156 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries, while Chase Eisenhower rushed for 93 yards and scored scored four touchdowns.
Eisenhower leads the Spartans in rushing on the season with 1,019 yards and 15 touchdowns. Five other players have rushed for 285 yards or more in Wyomissing’s Wing-T system.
“They run the Wing-T, and they obviously run it really well,” said Snyder. “It takes me back to when I played in the Bob Mitchell days here at Northwestern, because that’s the offense that we ran. They’re going to look to run it, but they try to confuse you. They throw a lot of different formations at you, and they’re going to go misdirection and then counter off that. They just do a lot of different things out of it.
“They’re going to try and ground and pound you. They also share the football with a lot of different kids running it. Their program has been built by playing physical and running the ball, so our challenge is to try and slow their run game down.”
Tigers force turnovers
Winning the turnover battle is always an important detail in determining who comes out on top in games that have so much at stake. Northwestern has forced 39 miscues this season, intercepting 24 passes and recovering 15 fumbles. Ball-hawking safety Eli Zimmerman is responsible for nine of those interceptions.
“We just honestly have a group of kids that have a nose for the football. Year-in and year-out, I’m sure every coach preaches to protect the ball on offense and to create turnovers on defense, but this season we have guys like Eli that are just always around the ball,” said Snyder. “I will say that we do a drill every day at practice where we practice forcing fumbles. That has helped, and you can see that it’s just second nature now for our guys. Whoever gets there first secures the tackle, and then whoever gets there next is punching or ripping at the ball.
“Forcing turnovers has been big for us, and has flipped momentum for us in a lot of games, especially recently.”
Wyomissing is no slouch on the defensive side of the ball either. The Spartans’ defense has been stingy as well, giving up an average of just 188.9 yards per game.
Friday night’s clash will also feature two programs that have been winning a lot of football games of late, meaning the moment won’t be too big for any of these players when they step onto the field. Northwestern has been to four straight District 11 championships, winning the last two. Meanwhile, perennial power Wyomissing is playing in its fourth consecutive PIAA state semifinal. The Spartans have also won an impressive 11 District 3 championships in their history.
“Playing in these big games never gets old for us. But we know that this one coming up isn’t just another game. This is the biggest game I have coached in, and that these guys have played in. We’re excited for the challenge, and our guys have really worked so hard to get here,” said Snyder. “We’re approaching this game like it’s the biggest game we have ever played. You win this one, and you get to the state championship game, and that is the top of the mountain.”