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Title game loss doesn’t take away from historic 2021 football season

It’s the year 2041.

And Northwestern is playing a home game in September.

But before the opening kickoff, the Tigers are celebrating the 20-year anniversary of one the best seasons in school history.

The memories come flooding back of a team that posted a perfect record before eventually falling in a classic district championship game.

That scene could happen one day, because 2021 was truly a special year for the Tigers - one that will be remembered for years to come.

“I think they’re going to look back on it one day and talk about this being one of the best Northwestern teams in history,” said Tiger head coach Josh Snyder Friday night after his club dropped a heartbreaking 21-14 decision to Central Catholic in the District 11 Class 4A title game. “They have some bragging rights, being the only undefeated team during the regular season.

“It was a great season. And it wasn’t a grind coming to practice every day. It was a joy because of these kids. They worked really hard and had fun doing it. You didn’t have to push them real hard. They knew it was go time when we got up on that practice field. That’s the seniors, and that’s what they’ve been doing their whole careers here. They probably have an unbelievable record in their four years here at Northwestern.”

True to Snyder’s words, the past four seasons have produced more wins (37) than any other Tiger graduating class.

In fact, it passes the mark of 36 from 1995-98, which Snyder was a part of for three of those seasons.

“This group is special,” said Snyder. “This was a special season. It’s kind of tough now in the moment, but I knew this was a year that in a while I would look back on and be able to reminisce about and think fondly of.”

While the players will have fond memories of their season, more importantly they will have strong feelings about each other.

The group, which was forced to replace two senior linemen due to injuries before the season began, not only came together to form an outstanding football team, but they grew together as young men.

“I couldn’t have had a better team beside me,” said senior lineman Ben Dunstan. “Everyone’s like a brother here, and I think that’s what makes us so great. We all love each other like brothers.

“We knew that we had a lot of gaps to fill, and we certainly made the best of it with a lot of kids that just wanted to become part of something greater than themselves. We put a lot of new kids in a lot of new places and everyone performed. Obviously a win would have been freaking fantastic, but you can’t go better than 11-0 - unless you go 12-0. And tonight, we just couldn’t do it. But I love this team more than anything.”

One spot on the field Snyder didn’t have to worry about was quarterback.

Since Justin Holmes took over the position last year, the Division 1 player has led his team both on and off the field. Holmes ran for 96 yards and threw a touchdown pass against Central, and his toss to Taylor Wikert in the end zone with under a minute to play nearly connected for what would have set up a possible tying or go-ahead conversion.

“Our motto was 1-0 each week this year,” said Holmes, who is headed to Kent State next fall. “We did that for 11 straight weeks. Every week the coaches had a great game plan.

“I’m kind of going to sit back a little bit, and obviously cherish everything that we did at some point, but right now it’s a little tough. Definitely going undefeated during the regular season was awesome. We wanted to get this gold medal. We got silver, but I know these guys in the future can get it.”

While no one wants to settle for second place, the effort - like in every game this season - was evident.

And that’s something else that, along with the wins, will be remembered in their one defeat.

“We’re one of the smallest schools in the state of Pennsylvania in 4A, and we were oversized and overmatched tonight, but you wouldn’t know it,” said Snyder.

“Our guys weren’t going to back down. We just don’t have that in us. These kids just don’t have that in their DNA.”

Northwestern's Ben Walters blocks Griffin Patridge of Central Catholic while Justin Holmes heads upfield. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS