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NW’s drive continues

KUTZTOWN - It’s been a magical ride for Northwestern’s football team.

And there’s something that’s followed the Tigers at each stop along the way.

Adorned with Northwestern logos and designs, an easily recognizable representation of the program can be seen in parking lots and towns at home and on the road.

The Tiger Tank - an RV that embodies what the team is about. And showcases the support Northwestern has had on a run that continued Friday night with a 33-24 victory over Wyomissing in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals.

It belongs to junior Jackson Bailey’s dad, Derek, and is something that is as much about tradition as travel.

“He went here, he played for Coach (Bob) Mitchell, and is a good buddy of mine,” said Tigers’ head coach Josh Snyder. “He got it wrapped as the Tiger Tank and all, and he’s been a faithful follower, obviously.

“But it’s sort of symbolic of what our town is all about. It’s about community. It’s about support. He’ll take the Tank to other facilities. It’s something that we can be proud of. It’s become a fixture of the stadium at home, blowing the horn as we’re coming in and after touchdowns. It’s something that’s big for the area. They’re Tigers through and through, for obvious reasons.”

That pride is shared by those on and off the field, something that was obvious as players sprinted over to the Northwestern stands after Friday’s win.

“We’re from a small town, New Tripoli,” said senior Benjamin Walters. “We’re just a bunch of kids trying to make it. It means a lot to us, being in the state final. We knew we could get pretty far, but we could have never dreamed of doing this. This is amazing.”

Down 17-7 at halftime, the Tigers never flinched. Eli Zimmerman stopped a Wyomissing drive with a key interception on the first series of the third quarter.

Shane Leh raced 23 yards for a score on the next Northwestern possession, and the defense came up with a three-and-out before Dalton Clymer scored to make it 20-17 and give the Tigers their first lead with 2:09 left in the third.

“We’ve always been close since we were all a young age,” said Zimmerman. “We’ve been playing together for 10-plus years, and it just really helps in big games like this. At halftime our coaches were saying we needed one big play or one big turnover, and when I saw that ball go up, I was like, ‘Why not me?’

“It was our time. And that’s what we’ve been sticking with all season, ‘Why not us?’”

And why not now?

Northwestern rallied again in the fourth quarter, with senior Devon Hildebrand scoring the go-ahead six-yard touchdown with 2:57 to play to make it 27-24.

Clymer scored late in the fourth quarter to make it 33-24, and classmate Daniel Jenkins grabbed an interception in the end zone with 0:02 left to punctuate the win.

“I’m speechless,” said Hildebrand. “This is a great team win. Our defense played amazing. Our offense, we struggled in the first half, but we found our way, we found what was working, and we kept going back to that until they stopped it. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’m just speechless. Playing for a state championship is crazy to me. I never thought senior year I’d be here, and here I am.”

The Tiger Tank has seen quite a bit already this year.

“Actually, our family and their family drove that Tank to Key West, Florida, over the summer,” said Snyder. “We took turns driving it down and back, and everybody loved it, wherever we went, people were asking about, what it meant and what’s up with Northwestern, so it was really cool.”

It’s about to hit the road again, this time to see the 15-0 Tigers try to capture a state championship next Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School.

“It’s only one more,” said Hildebrand. “We’ve got a chance for a perfect season, and I can’t ask for anymore out of anybody.”

It’s been a thrilling ride for these Tigers and their fans. And it’s not over yet.