Tigers reach 3A State final Northwestern rallies in second half to beat Wyomissing
KUTZTOWN - It wasn’t the first half Northwestern had hoped for.
Trailing by double digits and facing their first halftime deficit of the season, the Tigers’ season was on the verge of extinction.
And then it wasn’t.
Northwestern put together an incredible second half - capped by a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes - as it rallied for a 33-24 victory over Wyomissing in the PIAA Class 3A state semifinals on Friday night.
The Tigers’ come-from-behind victory sends them to the first state championship in school history.
“I told them at halftime that if our offense played like they did in the first half, they would be taking off their gear for the last time this season and for the seniors, it would be for the last time forever,” said Northwestern coach Josh Snyder. “Dalton Clymer said ‘There’s no way this is the last time.’ I think that kind of spurred the rest of the guys.”
The Northwestern defense spurred the second-half comeback. It began on the opening drive of the third quarter when Bryer Reichard sacked Wyomissing quarterback Logan Hyde, forcing the Spartans into a third-and-long play call. Hyde tried a long pass, but Northwestern safety Eli Zimmerman stepped in front of the pass and made the interception to give the Tigers the ball at their own 27.
Northwestern quickly converted the turnover into points as quarterback Shane Leh ripped off two bigs runs, including a 23-yarder for a touchdown that cut the Wyomissing lead to 17-14.
After forcing a three-and-out on the Spartans’ next possession, Northwestern marched down field and took its first lead of the game when Clymer powered in from three yards out to make it 21-17.
Wyomissing regained the lead on its next drive - taking advantage of a roughing the kicker penalty on which it took the game-tying field goal off the board - before eventually scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a fourth-down from a yard out.
Trailing 24-20 with 5:46 potentially left in its season, Northwestern put together its biggest drive of the season.
“We weren’t down at all,” said the Tigers’ Devon Hildebrand. “We just knew what we had to do and even though they were a big, physical team, we knew we had to go at them.”
That’s exactly what they did.
Northwestern marched down the field with powerful run after powerful run eventually setting up a six-yard TD run by Hildebrand off a wildcat set. Seth Kern’s kick made it 27-24 with 2:57 left to play.
Wyomissing was forced to go for a first down on a fourth-and-eight play from deep in its own territory on the ensuing possession and the Tiger defense made the stop.
Clymer needed two carries to turn the Tiger possession into the clinching touchdown.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” said Leh. “Our offense wasn’t really good in the first half, and we came out and the defense really gave us a lot of motivation and energy and I really have to thank them. Eli (Zimmerman) did a great job tonight and the defense gave us a great run.”
After a slow start for both teams, Wyomissing started to settle in with their ground game. On their second drive of the first quarter, Chase Eisenhower had two carries for a total of 37 yards with the second going the final 23 yards of the drive as he went off left tackle and into the end zone. Keegan Maher added the extra point, and the Spartans had a 7-0 lead.
Northwestern came up with good field position on the ensuing kickoff when Hildebrand went 43 yards to start the Tigers drive at the Wyomissing 45-yard line. Just when it appeared the drive would stall on a fourth-and-seven, Leh hit Clymer on a right-side screen that Clymer took 25 yards into the end zone and Kern added the extra point to tie the game.
To start the second quarter, both teams struggled again to get going before Wyomissing finally put things together when it started a drive at the deep in Northwestern territory after short punt by the Tigers. It took the Spartans six plays to get into the end zone as Hyde hit Ryker Jones with a three-yard TD pass. Maher added the kick to make it 14-7 with just over five minutes left in the second quarter. Maher capped the first half scoring with a 39-yard field goal that gave Wyomissing a 17-7 lead at the half.
COMEBACK ... The last time a Northwestern team trailed by double digits in a game and came back to win was Oct. 18, 2019. The Tigers trailed Northern Lehigh by a 17-0 score but rallied to win 28-24.
STREAK CONTINUES ... Zimmerman’s interception not only gave him 10 on the season, but it also allowed Northwestern to keep its streak alive of at least one interception in every game this season. Daniel Jenkins sealed the win with a pick in the end zone in the final seconds - a fitting conclusion to a strong second-half defensive effort. The two interceptions upped the Tigers’ total to 26.
SPEAKING OF TURNOVERS ... Northwestern has now forced 40 turnovers this season, giving them a turnover ratio of plus-26. The Tigers have gone four straight games now without turning the ball over.
WIN TOTAL ... The 15 wins by Northwestern is the most ever by a Times News area team in one season. The Tigers had been tied with Northern Lehigh’s 2003 team that posted 14 victories.
CLYMER SETS RECORD ... Clymer upped his touchdown total to 35 this season. That broke the Tigers’ single-season record of 33, which was held by Brett Snyder.