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Tigers top Wilson in return to field

The more games that Northwestern Lehigh plays, the better the team is likely to be. Players are fitting into their roles with the team and players who are being exposed to the varsity level of football are getting more comfortable with the game. An offense that wasn’t set up to run the option over the past few seasons is now revamped and seems to be comfortable with the new scheme.

That level of comfort started to show Friday night when the Tigers rolled to a 42-16 win over the Wilson Warriors, a team that came in with a head of steam after a big come-from-behind victory the previous week.

Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder is used to coaching the option and his teams that featured Frank D’Angelo at quarterback had success with the scheme thanks to D’Angelo’s skill set.

Devon Bollinger brought a different skill set to the team and Northwestern got away from the option but reinstalled it this season when Justin Holmes took over under center.

Holmes put on somewhat of a clinic on how to execute the game plan Friday night and helped his team to put points on the board after a bit of a slow start. Early on, it looked like Wilson put the momentum that they came in with to good use to take it to the Tigers.

After Northwestern went three-and-out on their opening drive, the Warriors moved the ball methodically down the field and quarterback Caden Stem capped the drive with a five-yard run to give Wilson a 7-0 early lead.

“They kind of punched us in the mouth with that first drive,” said Snyder. “That put us on our heels a little bit, but as we went on the defense seemed to start picking up more steam and we shut down some things. The biggest thing was shutting down number seven [wide receiver Damon Simpson] and that made a big difference.”

Simpson found himself double-teamed all night, which forced the Warriors to run the ball a little more than they might have liked or look for alternate receivers to get the ball to.

Simpson had just two catches for 40 yards, with the big one coming on the opening drive when he pulled in a perfectly placed pass from Stem for 33 yards.

All season, Nick Henry has made his presence known on both offense and defense and Friday he added special teams.

Henry pinned the Warriors at their own four-yard line with a 50-yard punt. From there, the defense forced Wilson to punt and left the Tigers with just 39 yards between them and the end zone. The drive took just four plays and Holmes capped it with a 10-yard run to tie the game 7-7.

Holmes is starting to really enjoy his first varsity season at quarterback and rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns on the ground while throwing for 146 yards and two more touchdowns.

“It’s definitely not a true quarterback position, but we always like to run the ball,” said Holmes. “Our line is new this year so we’re getting used to it and I think getting into week three here we’re really getting used to it and the ground game really worked today.”

Cade Christopher has become a primary option for Holmes through the air, especially when the team needs a big play. Christopher kept his streak alive, pulling in his fourth catch of the season - all of which have been for touchdowns. His 58-yard catch-and-run put Northwestern up 20-7. Much of the yardage was picked up after the catch, with Christopher dancing around a couple of defenders and having to avoid a referee who was in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

By halftime, Northwestern held a 28-14 lead, but weren’t leaving anything to chance. The Tigers shut down Wilson’s first drive of the second half and then used five straight option plays with Holmes keeping the ball on every one of them. The five runs resulted in 47 yards and finished in the end zone to put Northwestern up 35-14.

From there, it was primarily the Tiger defense that turned the tide. It forced a turnover on downs and notched a big sack to stall the Wilson offense. The Tigers would again have a short field because of a punt, but this time it was because of a 41-yard return by Holmes. Again, the Tigers made short work of the drive and Holmes hit Justin Rodda for a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it 42-14.

“I think we’re all getting used to our roles with the offense and getting much better,” said Rodda, who also recovered a fumble in the win. “Each week we get more comfortable and we’ve been able to make some big plays when we needed them.”

Wilson picked up its only second half score when back-to-back snaps wound up with Wilson recording a safety.

On defense, Taylor Wikert found himself in the right spot to pick up his fourth interception of the season after a pass from Stem deflected off a receiver’s hands and into his at midfield.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Justin Rodda (2) caught a touchdown pass in last week's win over Wilson.