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Football faces challenge against Spartans

After dropping their first three games of the season, Northwestern battled back to a 2-3 record, but had to play a tough Saucon Valley team in week six looking to even its record. The Panthers downed Northwestern, but the Tigers rebounded last week to beat Bangor, again putting them within reach of a .500 record on the season. As far as the schedule goes, history repeats itself as Northwestern now needs a win over Southern Lehigh (6-1) for its fourth win of the season.

Last week, the Tigers’ offense did just enough to get the 14-0 win over the Slaters. Special teams that carried the day, coming up with three big plays to give Northwestern’s offense consistently good starting field position. Defensively, the Tigers defense was challenged late in the game and responded well on three straight drives to turn away Bangor and seal Northwestern’s first shutout of the season.

This week, all three units are going to have to be at the top of their game to get out of Center Valley with a win.

“It’s like when we went up against Saucon Valley,” said Northwestern head coach Josh Snyder. “We had to play a clean game and make some plays if we were to win. Southern Lehigh is a good team and they’re not going to let up on anybody, so we have to be ready to play.”

Southern Lehigh’s defense has allowed just 82 yards per game passing this season while giving up 146 yards of rushing per game. The ground game has been a sore spot for Northwestern and the Tigers have had to rely on throwing the ball more than they would like to, which might be tough to do against the Spartans.

Last week, Phil Dangello rushed for 88 yards, but much of that came late in the game when he was lined up as quarterback in the Tigers ground-and-pound offense that is designed to simply eat up yards and run time off of the clock. It’s possible that the Tigers could use that set at times against Southern Lehigh, perhaps with a wrinkle or two added to Dangello’s playbook.

Logan Edmond runs the Spartans’ offense and has thrown for just over 1,000 yards this season, having completed 60 percent of his passes and connecting on 12 touchdown tosses. His favorite target is Eli Price, who has averaged 21 yards per catch this season and has pulled in eight of the 12 touchdown passes by Edmond.

The ground attack is led by Luke Strauss, who has rushed for 562 yards this season. The combination of Strauss, Edmond and Mike Sisselberger have rushed for 17 touchdowns.

“We’re very familiar with Edmond and what he can do to beat you. He’s an accurate passer and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” said Snyder. “They’ve got a good, balanced offense and they can beat you with a couple different guys, so you can’t key on any one player.”

While Southern Lehigh is fighting for positioning in districts, Northwestern is in good position to earn an Eastern Conference bid. As things stand coming into the week, the Tigers are the top team in the Class 4A rankings in the EC. After playing Southern Lehigh this week, Northwestern plays at Northern Lehigh (0-7) and finishes the season at home against Catasauqua (2-5).

“Our whole approach this season has been to mainly just worry about what we do and try to do it well,” said Snyder. “It’s the same thing with the postseason right now. If you start looking at other teams and trying to figure out what’s going to happen, you only hurt yourself. We’re just looking at winning these last three games and then we’ll see where that puts us.”