Bulldogs off to a perfect start
After two weeks of the season, four area teams are still unbeaten.
But not all 2-0 starts are created equal.
Jim Thorpe and Tamaqua were expected to be good, and they haven’t disappointed. Both teams have a pair of shutout, blowout victories.
Northwestern was expected to be improved. Coming off a four-win campaign in 2017 and with several key players returning, the Tigers were definitely trending upward.
But this week’s Overtime column is going to focus on the other area team to start 2-0 — Northern Lehigh.
Few expected Northern Lehigh to be good.
A lot of people doubted they would be improved.
But the Bulldogs, who were winless last season, have been both good and improved.
“We talked to the kids about winning the winnable games,” said Northern Lehigh coach Joe Tout. “That’s something that we hadn’t done well the last couple of seasons.
“We had some good early-season matchups, and we’ve done some things to take advantage of that. It’s a nice reward for the kids to see their effort result in wins.”
Northern Lehigh started the season with a 34-18 victory over Wilson, and followed that up with an impressive 48-0 rout of Catasauqua.
Tout said there have been a couple keys to the Bulldogs strong start.
“One of the things that hurt us last year was that we only had six seniors on the team. That lack of experience and maturity made it tough.” he explained. “The good news is that it allowed a lot of underclassmen to get playing time.
“We have a lot of returning starters, including four kids who are now three-year starters. That’s a huge difference from a year ago.”
Another big difference is the speed of this year’s team.
“You can see it on both sides of the ball,” Tout said. “Offensively, Justin Paul (who was injured last season) has broken some big runs that a year ago were going for first downs, and this year they are going for touchdowns.”
Paul has already rushed for 328 yards on 36 carries in the opening two games, averaging 9.11 yards per carry and scoring five touchdowns.
“Defensively, we have played well,” said Tout. “We have some kids with pretty good speed, which has allowed us to be much quicker to the ball.”
Safety Cameron Kline, cornerback Mike Repsher, and linebacker Paul are three of the fastest players on the team and have been impact performers.
No one is putting the Bulldogs on the same level as projected league powers Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh or Palisades. But at the same time, the early-season success has created some excitement within the program.
“You can see the kids feel a little better about what they’ve done the first two weeks, and they are practicing a little better,” Tout said. “Wins can do wonders for a program,
“We aren’t setting goals like winning eight games or nine games. Before the season, we talked about winning the opener. This week, it’s about beating Bangor. The main goal we talk to the kids about is getting better every time they take the field. If they do that, the wins will take care of themselves.”
NO POINTS ALLOWED ... For the second straight week, both Jim Thorpe and Tamaqua posted impressive shutout wins.
This is the third time in the past 15 years that the Olympians have opened the season with back-to-back shutouts, while the Blue Raiders haven’t accomplished the feat since 1944 when they blanked Frackville (40-0) and Ashland (12-0).
Over the past 40 years, Times News area teams have started the season with two straight shutouts nine other times: Jim Thorpe in 2003 and 2014, Lehighton in 2001, Slatington in 1979, Northwestern in 1986 and 2009, Palmerton in 1985, Panther Valley in 2008, and Pleasant Valley in 1980.
Of the nine, only three (JT in 2003, Slatington, and Palmerton) extended the streak in Week 3.
WHITE NOISE ... After catching eight passes for 83 yards in the first week of the season, Panther Valley’s Blake White finished with seven receptions for 179 yards during last Friday’s contest against Hamburg.
The last time a Panther receiver caught seven-or-more passes in back-to-back games came at the end of the 1992 season when Fenton Black had seven on Nov. 6 and followed that up with eight on Nov. 12.
Over the past 30 years, White’s 179 yards is tied for the third most among PV players. He is tied with Black, who also had the most (252). Tom Rosahac is second with 237.
CRUM’S CATCHES ... Lehighton’s Zack Crum has also had a solid start to the season catching passes. The Indian senior gained 135 yards in the first week of the season and bettered that mark last Friday with 141.
The last time a player from the Times News area had back-to-back games with 130-or-more receiving yards was 2007 when Shane McEvoy had 164 on Nov. 2 and 130 on Nov. 9.
Over the past 30 years, that feat has only been done five times. Besides Crum and McEvoy, Jim Thorpe’s Josh Hontz did it earlier in the 2007 season, while Panther Valley’s Black (1992) and Rosahac (1989) also did it.
OFFENSIVE OLYMPIANS ... Jim Thorpe rolled to a 56-0 victory over Marian last Friday. While the defense posted a second-straight shutout (see above), the offense also did its part.
Behind the rushing attack of CJ Selby and the dual threat of Roberto Santiago, the Olympians totaled 571 yards of offense.
That’s the most yards in a game since Mark Rosenberger has been coaching Thorpe (a total of 214 games).
Over the past 30 years, Times News area teams have registered 571 yards of offense or more six other times. Lehighton did it twice last season (643 and 596), as did Pleasant Valley in 2016 (617 and 571). Northwestern posted 574 yards once in 2007, and Lehighton also had a 587-yard effort in 2000.