Tigers top Palisades
Last season, the Palisades Pirates came into Tiger Stadium and beat Northwestern Lehigh 1-0 on a goal very late in the game.
It was the second straight loss for the Tigers and caused them to do some soul searching, which put them back on the right track that saw them go 10-1-1 over the rest of the regular season and wind up with wins in both the Colonial League and District 11 championship games.
This season, both teams came in undefeated and again. Palisades recorded a late goal, but the Tigers had enough of a cushion that in the grand scheme of things made no difference as Northwestern beat the Pirates 2-1.
Fans from both teams were on the officials throughout the game and a coach from Palisades was given a red card late in the second half for arguing with an official.
The Northwestern coaches and players showed composure, which helped to keep their team together on the field.
The Pirates (6-1-0 overall, 4-1-0 Colonial) came out strong, but the Northwestern Lehigh defense fended off the early pressure. From that point on, the first half belonged to Northwestern Lehigh and just past the midway point of the first half, the Tigers (8-0-0, 5-0-0) were awarded a corner.
Cayden Fitch played a ball in to Tim Zellner, who took advantage of the feed and put it into the net for his first goal of the season, giving Northwestern a 1-0 advantage.
The score held until the first half wore down to just 3:12 left on the clock and Isaac Frey found a deflected shot heading to him and fired it past goalie Blake Reinard to put the Tigers up 2-0.
The second half of the game belonged primarily to Palisades. The offense put more pressure on Northwestern Lehigh but the strong Tiger defense, which had allowed just one goal this season coming into the game, was able to turn away the attack.
“Our back line with three nonseniors has been stepping up and they are good with communicating and possessing out of the back,” said Fitch. “The familiarity is definitely growing because we had never played with this back line, so the seniors and captains have coordinated from the midfield.”
With just 4:05 left to play in the match, Gianluca LeBlanc moved on goal and found a small opening at the top corner of the net, just above the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Damian Krapf.
The high-quality shot by LeBlanc cut the Northwestern lead in half. From there, it was just a matter of the Tigers locking down the play for the final minutes and not allowing Palisades to get penetration near the net.
Of the two goals that the Tigers have allowed this season, the first was a disputed goal on a penalty kick against Whitehall. The other one took a big play from an offensive leader from Palisades to find a goal for the Pirates.
“We only have one returning starter from the back line last season and then we have a freshman and a sophomore,” said Northwestern head coach Nate Hunsicker. “I was forthright in saying that coming in, my biggest concern was that back line, not because of their ability but because of their lack of varsity experience.
“They have performed very well. Even today when we gave up a lot of counter attacks and had a lot of one-on-one situations, they stood resolute and made the play.”
With Palisades falling from the ranks of the unbeaten, just Northwestern Lehigh and Southern Lehigh (4-3-0, 5-0-0) remain undefeated in Colonial League play. The two teams have their only meeting of the season scheduled for Saturday at Southern Lehigh.
The Tigers and Spartans have met in each of the last two Colonial League championships with the Spartans winning 2-1 on penalty kicks in 2020 and Northwestern winning last year’s rematch 2-0.
Northwestern hosts Moravian Academy (4-1-0, 4-1-0) Thursday and then will welcome in Saucon Valley (3-3-0, 2-2-0) on Monday as wrap around games for the showdown with Southern Lehigh.