Creative way to avoid a mismatch
The feature part of the Overtime column almost always deals with one or more of our area teams. This week, however, the column isn’t going to specifically talk about any of our nine area football teams — or even any teams in District 11 for that matter. Instead, it will be about a creative scheduling change involving teams from District 4 and District 2.
In addition to that, Rod Heckman has some interesting facts and figures dealing with last week’s action. He’ll look at both kickoff returns and interception returns that went for touchdowns, as well as a couple of 100-yard rushers in the Pleasant Valley game.
In last week’s Overtime column, I mentioned the high number of mismatches in the area so far this season. Through the first four weeks, 17 of the 32 games played involving area teams had gone to mercy rule and several others had been 30-plus point spreads that came very close to using a running clock. That pattern continued last week as half of the eight games went to mercy rule.
Area teams aren’t alone when it comes to blowouts, however.
I want to thank former Palmerton football coach Paul McArdle for sending me a link to a story by Todd Hummel that appeared in the Sunbury Daily Item last week. The story talked about legendary Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth’s creative approach to finding his team a more competitive game.
Southern Columbia is currently riding a 37-game winning streak that includes a pair of state championships. It’s regular-season winning streak is a daunting 76 consecutive games. So finding an opponent that can give them a good game, is a much tougher task for the Tigers than just about anyone else in the state.
But that didn’t deter Roth.
Southern Columbia (5-0) and Shikellamy (0-5) were scheduled to play a game on Oct. 11. It was a game that obviously would not have been good for either team.
“We had already made a switch in our schedule (Southern Columbia will play Montoursville on Oct. 18 in place of Hughesville) long after the schedules were made,” Roth explained to the Daily Item’s Hummel. “I figured Shikellamy might not mind playing a different opponent, and I wanted to find us a good competitive game.”
Roth looked around through different districts’ schedules and saw Wyoming Area (5-0) and Holy Redeemer (0-4) matched up that same weekend — and thought something could be worked out.
Roth made some calls and everyone agreed it made too much sense not to make the switch.
So on Oct. 11, Southern Columbia — the No. 1 ranked team in the state in Class 2A — will travel to Wyoming Area — the No. 4 ranked team in the state in Class 3A — and Shikellamy and Holy Redeemer will meet in a battle of teams who are currently still searching for their first win.
Both districts and the PIAA had to approve it, and they did almost immediately.
The change will mean a little extra travel since the matchups for the original games were shorter, regional trips. But since both of those games would have almost assuredly been noncompetitive, colossal mismatches, the little extra travel time is well worth it for all teams involved.
Roth’s idea might not be practical for most potential mismatches. If the matchup is a league game, switching opponents wouldn’t work. In addition, in District 11, where playoff seedings are based on victories and strength of schedule, a midseason switch of opponents could impact the postseason race — something that will have to be taken into consideration.
With the Schuylkill League now almost entirely into its division play, and the Colonial League in its final season of playing an enclosed schedule, the options are limited for the rest of this season. But the idea is something to keep in mind for area coaches and athletic directors in the future.
That said, there is one potential spot where this could actually be considered this season.
In week No. 10, Tamaqua and Marian meet in a non-league game. The Raiders are currently unbeaten and have a mercy rule victory over Schuylkill Haven among their wins. The Colts are winless and have a mercy rule loss at the hands of that same Schuylkill Haven team. Granted, Tamaqua versus Marian is a rivalry game for both teams, but I don’t think I’m being too presumptive when I say chances are the game will be competitive aren’t very good.
That same week, currently unbeaten Fleetwood takes on currently winless Kutztown. Like Tamaqua-Marian, that game is a rivalry between regional schools.
No coach wants to admit that his team can’t compete with a future opponent, nor does any coach want to say his upcoming opponent won’t be competitive.
While it may be thinking outside the box, but Tamaqua versus Fleetwood and Marian versus Kutztown sound like games that will be a lot more beneficial to the players, and a lot more appealing to the fans.
KISTLER’S RETURN ... Tamaqua’s Matt Kistler contributed to his team’s big win over Blue Mountain last week when he returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
That snapped a string of 36 straight games without a kickoff return for a touchdown for the Blue Raiders. Their last return was Aug. 26, 2016 when Nick Breiner went 81 yards for a score against Minersville.
Kistler’s 94-yarder was Tamaqua’s longest since Dalton Nunemacher’s 95-yard return on Sept. 14, 2012. Since 1992, the Raiders have only had two other kickoff returns for scores over 90 yards. They came from Josh Zukus (2006) and John Boyer (1994).
SPEAKING OF RETURNS ... Kistler’s kickoff return for a touchdown was the first this season among Times News area teams.
In fact, none of the nine squads took one to the house a year ago. The year before that (2017), however, the teams combined for 10 kickoff returns for TDs. Jim Thorpe and Marian each had three of them.
Since 1986, there has been at least one kickoff return for a touchdown by an area team every year except last season.
PICK SIX ... Panther Valley’s Shawn Hoben intercepted a pass last Thursday against Lehighton and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown.
That pick six is the sixth longest in the area over the past 25 years.
The only ones longer than that came from Tamaqua’s Ricky Cipko (102 on Oct. 5, 2001), Northern Lehigh’s Matt Sutjak (100 on Sept. 17, 2004), Tamaqua’s Dalton Nunemacher (97 on Aug. 31, 2012), Pleasant Valley’s Charlie Mertz (97 on Sept. 3, 1999) and Palmerton’s Aaron Schweibinz (96 on Oct. 28, 2005).
CENTURY MARK ... Pleasant Valley lost a thriller to Dieruff last week, falling by a point when the Bears failed to convert a two-point conversion.
In the contest, both Jared Salazar (151 yards) and Robert Papaleo (107 yards) rushed for over 100 yards.
In PV’s last 150 games, this was only the second time it had a pair of players top 100 yards for the second time. The other occurrence came on Oct. 10, 2014, when Austyn Borre (227) and Eric Marbury (117) both rushed for over 100 yards.
TIGER TOUCHDOWNS ... Nick Henry rushed for four touchdowns during Northwestern’s victory over Bangor last Friday.
Over the last 25 years, Henry is just one of four Tiger players to rush for at least four TDs in a game.
The others to reach the end zone four times on the ground include Harry Hall, who did it twice (Sept. 26, 2015 and Nov. 8, 2013), Chris Schmoyer (Nov. 5, 2004) and Brett Snyder, who scored five times (Sept. 29, 1995).