Tigers ready for rematch
Tyler Lobach (44) and Tyler Slifer (7) lead Northwestern on to the field before a game earlier this season. The Tigers will face Saucon Valley in a District 11 Class 4A semifinal on Saturday. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
If one were to assemble a coaching staff that would be well-suited to play a team twice in a month and win both games, the Northwestern staff would be a good place to start.
The truth is that they love to coach what mentor Josh Snyder calls “wrinkles,” — new plays, or sets, that keep their opponents off-balance.
That is exactly what Northwestern Lehigh will need when it travels back to Saucon Valley to take on the Panthers in the District 11 4A semifinal game at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Last week against Central Catholic, Snyder pulled out the Tigers’ version of the Philly Special play made popular by the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl. Sometimes, they lean on their ground game, and other times, they lean on the arm of quarterback Deven Bollinger. They change the look of their defensive sets, and will zig when the other team expects them to zag.
“We like to change things up,” said Snyder. “Obviously, we have to set things that we’re going to do and we’ll always play to our strengths, like keeping the ball on the ground. But, we also know that we have to take what teams give us. Our guys are flexible enough to move around the field and take on different tasks, and get a little out of our comfort zone and still be successful.”
Defensively, Snyder put in what he termed their “Panther defense” for the first game between the two teams. He simply moved an extra player into the box looking to contain Saucon Valley running back Ian Csicsek, and it worked as well as could be expected, with Csicsek gaining 142 yards in the game. Considering he came into that game with over 1,500 yards rushing in just six games, Snyder was willing to give him the 142 yards.
“He’s a special running back, and we have to find ways to keep him from getting big runs against us. Last time, he ripped off one big run for a touchdown, but overall, we did pretty well against him,” recalled Snyder. “We can’t let them get those big plays, and we can’t let ourselves get down early. We’ve done well in getting out to early leads, and that’s what we have to do this time around.”
Csicsek has pumped his rushing total up to just under the 2,500-yard mark on the season, and has carried the ball nearly 300 times, while the Panthers have thrown the ball just under 10 times a game. That makes setting up a defensive scheme much easier for the Northwestern coaches, provided they can again limit the damage done by Csicsek.
In the first meeting, Northwestern went into Illick Stadium and played probably its best game of the season to beat the previously undefeated Panthers, 49-28. Saucon Valley would fall the next week to Notre Dame of Green Pond, and the Tigers and Panthers finished with identical 8-2 records. When the brackets for the district playoffs were released, Northwestern and Saucon Valley appeared set for a rematch in the semifinals. After both teams won last week, the rematch was on.
“When we looked at the brackets and saw we were the No. 3 seed, we knew it was a tough draw,” Snyder admitted. “We had Central Catholic first, and then would have to play Saucon Valley again, and it’s always tough to beat a team twice in a season, and do it both times on their field.”
While the draw may be a difficult one, Snyder and his players are confident that they can beat the Panthers for a second time. The team headed for Saucon Valley this week is in better shape than the one that traveled there almost a month ago. Back then, Tyler Lobach and Connor Snyder sat out because of injuries. This time around, they’re both healthy. In fact, the whole team is in good shape and came out of the win over Central Catholic unscathed by injuries.
One key for Northwestern is limiting turnovers. The only points that Central Catholic put up against them last week came off turnovers when the Tigers gave them short fields to work with.
“We just have to play smart and stick to what we know we have success with,” said Snyder. “We’re a game away from playing for a championship, and if that doesn’t give us a huge incentive, nothing will. Of course, they are in the same spot, so both teams will be ready and will look for any little advantage they can get.”