Tigers fall to ACC in D-11 final
Northwestern Lehigh and Central Catholic met this year for the third straight year in the District 11 Class 4A football playoffs.
Two years ago, the Tigers lost to Central Catholic 23-22 in the District 11 semifinals. This season saw the two teams matched up in the finals and it was again a close game, but this time it was Central Catholic with the win, downing the previously undefeated Tigers 21-14.
A downfall for Northwestern Lehigh was the three turnovers it committed, one of which led to what would be the winning touchdown.
The scoring started on the second set of drives for each team when the Vikings were able to put together a sustained drive, relying primarily on hand offs to Caiden Shaffer, who capped the drive with a one-yard jaunt into the end zone. The only pass play of the drive was key when Tamlin Ferguson hit Griffin Patridge on a 41-yard strike.
The drive was a success despite the Vikings picking up a plethora of penalties for illegal motion and for their line jumping offside. The Vikings had four penalties on the drive and six penalties – all on the offense – in the first half. For the game, Central had eight penalties on offense for either offside, illegal motion or holding and two more on defense for encroachment.
Down 7-0, Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder dialed up a little misdirection on the ensuing drive. On back-to-back plays, the snap went directly to Cade Christopher, who lined up next to quarterback Justin Holmes in the backfield. Christopher took off for 16 yards on the first play and another eight on the second.
Next up was more trickery when Holmes threw to Christopher, who threw back to a wide-open Holmes on the other side of the field for a 26-yard gain. Holmes then hit Taylor Wikert in the end zone to put the Tigers on the board and tie the game with 7:19 to play early in the second quarter.
The Tigers looked to go ahead late in the first half when Holmes looked deep for Christopher, but the pass was picked off by Nasir Mclean in the end zone.
“That was my bad,” said Snyder of the play calling. “We took a shot in the end zone there with 50 seconds left and we could have hit one down the middle and maybe settled for a field goal there. I might take that play call back.”
The Tigers came out on fire to open the second half and again used direct snaps to Christopher on back-to-back plays that culminated in him taking the second snap down the left side of the field into the end zone from 26 yards out. Luke Benvin added the extra point and the Tigers were up 14-7.
Central Catholic came right back to tie the game on its next drive.
On the kick off, Christopher made the return, but the ball was stripped away and recovered by Patridge on the Northwestern 12-yard line. It took just three plays for the Vikings to cash in on the turnover to go up 21-14.
“He was fighting for extra yardage and I think it just popped out,” said Snyder of the uncharacteristic fumble.
The Tigers later worked their way down to the Central Catholic 3-yard line, but a bad snap sailed over Holmes’ head and was recovered by the Vikings. Central mounted a long, sustained drive, but Northwestern was nowhere near conceding and forced a punt.
Christopher again lined up at the QB spot starting from the Tigers own 38-yard line with 2:01 left in regulation. Christopher quickly dialed up a perfect pass to Wikert for a 43-yard play to move the Tigers into Viking territory at the 19-yard line. Christopher drove the team to the 15, but was sacked on a third and six pass attempt.
“Holmes had banged up his thumb, so we had to move him around,” said Snyder about why Christopher took over as the quarterback late in the game. “He told me he thought that he could get the ball to the end zone, so we put a play in for him.”
On fourth down, Christopher handed to Holmes, who then threw for Wikert in the end zone with the ball falling incomplete to put an end to the Tigers season.
“The good thing is that we battled right to the very end,” said Snyder. “That bad snap was a real turn of momentum, but it didn’t take us out of the game. Our guys never hung their heads and they kept pushing to get the score that we needed.”
Snyder had high praise for the seniors on the team, who he called “special.” He noted their contribution to the program and their commitment to winning. “They made this a lot of fun because they worked hard and were always willing to change things up and do whatever we asked them to do. That has rubbed off on the younger players and it keeps our program strong,” said Snyder.