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Tough No. Schuylkill team awaits Tigers in D-11 football final

Throughout the season, North Schuylkill and Northwestern Lehigh seemed to be on a collision course. The two teams rolled through their regular season schedules with little problem, both finishing with 8-2 records. The two teams finished seeded first and second in the District 11 4A rankings, with North Schuylkill holding the top spot.

Now, they will meet for the district championship at Lehighton High School Friday night with a trip to states on the line.

“As we met common opponents during the season, we got to see them a little,” said coach Josh Snyder. “They’re solid, well coached and have big, physical lines on both sides of the ball.”

North Schuylkill’s size is not limited to just the guys on the line of scrimmage.

The Spartans have skill players with good size and skills as well. They also bring one of the stronger QB-receiver combos around in junior quarterback Trevor Minalda and junior receiver Joey Flail.

Minalda has thrown for over 1,700 yards with 25 touchdown passes. While he has a high number of interceptions (12), most of them came early in the season.

Flail has set just about every school receiving record with over 800 yards receiving and 14 touchdown catches. On the ground, Minalda leads the way with 1,300 yards rushing on the season for the Spartans.

The two teams have had a somewhat similar path to building their successful programs, having met each other in the 2013 Eastern Conference championship and a year later battled for a district championship. While the Spartans won the first of the two meetings, Northwestern Lehigh picked up their first district championship since 2002 with a win in 2014.

“We played some very good teams with size during the season, like Blue Mountain, Jim Thorpe and Northern Lehigh,” said Snyder. “Our line has been tested and we have been able to run the ball all year. We also had a tough path in districts with Jim Thorpe, Notre Dame and now North Schuylkill, so we have definitely seen good teams along the way.”

The Tigers average 298 yards rushing per game on the season, with their defense giving up an average of 122 yards in each contest.

One player who has taken on a larger role for the Tigers as the season has gone on is Devon Hildebrand, whose season ended in last week’s game against Notre Dame when he went down with an injury.

Hildebrand will be missed, especially on offense, but other players are waiting in the wings to take on his responsibilities as the team continues to move forward.

“Devon has had a good season for us and it’s unfortunate that we won’t have him, but good teams have to battle through injuries and just keep going,” said Snyder.

After an exciting, back-and-forth win over Notre Dame last week, the players are not satisfied with just reaching the finals. They want the blue ribbons with gold medal on the end to be put around their necks after the battle with North Schuylkill.

“We were excited for the win last week, but we aren’t resting on making the championship,” said Snyder. “Our guys have practiced really well, and we all believe that we can get this done.”