Sep. 23—FOUNTAIN SPRINGS — It was one of the most exciting games of the 2021 high school football season.
North Schuylkill and Northern Lehigh traded points like boxers exchanging blows in an offensive-filled Week 6 clash at Ghosh Orthodontics Field at Spartan Stadium.
When the dust settled, the Spartans scored the most points, outlasting the Bulldogs 56-42. Both teams would go on to win their respective District 11 titles and compete in the PIAA playoffs.
Tonight, the two squads meet again on the turf at Bulldog Stadium in Slatington. Although some of the names have changed, the prospects for another shootout remain.
North Schuylkill (3-1) is averaging 33.8 points per game, scoring 48 and 49 in the last two weeks. Northern Lehigh (4-0) is averaging 42.8 points per game and is coming off a 61-0 rout of Pine Grove last Friday.
"The ability of both offenses to score," North Schuylkill coach Wally Hall said, when asked what he remembered of last year's game.
"(Tonight) it comes down to players getting aligned and doing their job. To be successful defensively, we will need to create turnovers and win on third down."
The Spartans opened their season with a hard-fought, 25-17 loss to unbeaten Mount Carmel, then rebounded with shutout wins over Blue Mountain (21-0) and Pine Grove (48-0). Last Friday, North Schuylkill outgunned Tamaqua 49-24.
Junior quarterback Trevor Minalda has gotten better and better as the weeks have progressed, completing 50-of-88 passes for 623 yards and nine TDs. Junior wideout Joey Flail (16-238, 5 TDs) and senior tight end Jack Dean (16-213, 3 TDs) have been his top targets, while senior tailback Jared Tinari leads the rushing attack with 396 yards and five scores.
"Trevor has progressed each week," Hall said. "He is seeing the field better and making good decisions. Each week as an offensive unit we have improved."
Northern Lehigh has notched wins over Catasauqua (32-12), Northwestern Lehigh (34-27), Pen Argyl (44-14) and Pine Grove (61-0). Quarterback Nick Frame leads the attack, passing for 430 yards and four scores while rushing for 182 yards and another TD.
Seniors Alexander Jimenez-Wittong (41-221, 3 TDs), Isaiah Ramos (27-170, 5 TDs) and John Abidelli (14-143, 4 TDs) and freshman Grady Newhard (15-134, 3 TDs) all see substantial carries in the run game, while Austin Smyth (8-212) is the top receiver.
Tonight marks the first of two key Red Division road trips for North Schuylkill, which ventures to Notre Dame-Green Pond (3-1) next week.
"We go about our business no differently," Hall said of the tough games back-to-back. "Most importantly, we focus on ourselves and the players doing their job."
The Spartans and Bulldogs are the marquee matchup in a Week 5 schedule that includes the first round of Schuylkill/Colonial league games in the White and Gold divisions and Pine Grove's annual Homecoming festival that culminates with a Saturday night football game. This year, the Cardinals entertain Jim Thorpe in a Schuylkill/Colonial Red Division game at 7 p.m.
Here's a look at the rest of the Week 5 schedule involving local teams:
Saucon Valley (2-2)
at Pottsville (1-3)
Radio/TV: WPPA 1360 AM, 105.9 FM; www.wpparadio.com
Players to Watch: Saucon Valley — QB Travis Riefenstahl. Pottsville — QB Tejay Allen
Breakdown: The Tide look to bounce back from last week's loss to Blue Mountain when they return home to face Saucon Valley in a Gold Division contest. Pottsville needs to be better offensively and that starts with Allen, who has thrown for just 257 yards in four games. Defensively, Pottsville will be challenged by a Panthers' squad that averages 199 yards rushing and 193 yards passing per game. Riefenstahl has thrown for 773 yards and seven TDs while running for five more scores. The Tide won last year's meeting 35-7.
Blue Mountain (2-2)
at Southern Lehigh (3-1)
Players to Watch: Blue Mountain — RB Payton Fasnacht. Southern Lehigh — RB Cade Sawyer
Breakdown: The Eagles hope to ride the momentum of last Friday's big win over Pottsville when they trek to Center Valley to take on a Spartans squad that has won three straight games after a season-opening loss to Quakertown. Eagles will need to tackle well, as Spartans gain lots of yards after contact. This was a close game last year, with Southern winning 16-13.
Northwestern Lehigh (3-1) at Lehighton (1-3)
Players to Watch: Northwestern Lehigh — QB/CB Cade Christopher. Lehighton — RB Ethan Buchert
Breakdown: Fresh off their first win of the season Saturday over Wilson, the Indians tangle with the Tigers in a Gold Division contest. Christopher does it all for Northwestern, scoring 10 times already. Buchert, who rushed for three TDs in the win, will need to be productive to keep the heat off freshman QB Jayse Lawrence.
Salisbury (0-4) at Tamaqua (1-3)
Radio/TV: WMGH 105.5 FM
Players to Watch: Salisbury — QB Nick Beck. Tamaqua — WR/LB Connor Dillon
Breakdown: The Blue Raiders have a favorable matchup with the Falcons, who have been outscored 143-38 so far. Dillon, a junior, continues to have a breakout season, leading the area in receiving yards with 16 receptions for 441 yards and seven TDs.
Palisades (2-2) at Schuylkill Haven (1-3)
Players to Watch: Palisades — RB Steven Lilly. Schuylkill Haven — RB Aiden Myers
Breakdown: The Hurricanes didn't play that badly against Tri-Valley, but they didn't make any plays. Controlling the line of scrimmage and getting the ground game going will be important against the Pirates, whose losses were to Bangor and Southern Lehigh. Lilly rushed for 161 yards and four TDs in a Week 3 win over Palmerton.
Nativity (2-2) at Marian (2-2)
Live updates: Follow Republican Herald sports editor Leroy Boyer on Twitter @pubsportsboss
Players to Watch: Nativity — QB Ben Kreitzer. Marian — FB/LB Joey Walko
Breakdown: The Colts won this game in dramatic fashion a year ago, pulling out a Week 8, 19-13 overtime win that snapped a seven-game losing streak. This year's meeting figures to be just as close. Nativity has an advantage in the skilled department, but Marian is better up front. Kreitzer leads the area in passing yards with 664.
Panther Valley (2-2) at Minersville (3-1)
Live updates: Follow Republican Herald correspondent Chuck Curley on Twitter @ChuckCurley
Radio/TV: WLSH 1450 AM
Players to Watch: Panther Valley — QB/LB Michael Pascoe. Minersville — RB Luke Stevenosky
Breakdown: The Miners can't rest on their laurels after last Friday's big win over Williams Valley and must continue to improve week-to-week. Remember, last year's win over Vikes was followed by a loss to Mahanoy. Improving week-to-week is the same goal for the Panthers, who rushed for 388 yards in rout of Shenandoah Valley. Expect a lot of carries by Pascoe and Stevenosky.
Riverside (2-2) at Mahanoy Area (3-1)
Players to Watch: Riverside — WR Reese Gaughan. Mahanoy Area — RB/LB Ben Manley
Breakdown: Key game for the Bears, who will look to bounce back after shutout loss to Catasauqua last week. Containing the do-everything Gaughan, who has 19 catches for 320 yards and 3 TDs, is a major objective. Riverside QB Chase Taddonio has thrown for 671 yards and six TDs. Gaughan had eight catches for 169 yards and a TD in last week loss to Dunmore.
Executive Education (3-1) at Tri-Valley (4-0)
Players to Watch: Executive Education — WR Jyhmiek Roman. Tri-Valley — WR/DB Layne Yoder
Breakdown: The area's Class AA teams will be rooting for the Dawgs as they entertain the Raptors, who lead the Class AA power ratings. Executive Education opened the season with wins over Athens, Berks Catholic and Archbishop Carroll before falling to Upper Moreland last week. The Raptors like to throw it, with QB Darmel Lopez (771 yards, 7 TDs) usually looking for Roman or Emery Plummer (15-187).
Loyalsock (3-1) at Williams Valley (3-1)
Players to Watch: Loyalsock — QB Tyler Gee. Williams Valley — RB Alex Achenbach
Breakdown: Vikings need to flush last week's performance and come out ready to fight against a Lancers' squad that is ranked No. 6 in the state in Class 3A and knocked off Southern Columbia two weeks ago. The trio of Gee, RB Davion Hill and WR Rian Glunk gives Loyalsock various weapons to utilize. Being able to run the ball with Achenbach will be a big key for Vikings.
Mount Carmel (4-0) at Bloomsburg (3-1)
Players to Watch: Mount Carmel — WR/DB Garrett Varano. Bloomsburg — RB Madden Locke
Breakdown: A matchup of the only two unbeatens in Heartland Section III play, this contest has been heavily lopsided in its history with the Red Tornadoes owning an 18-2 advantage. Mount Carmel beat the Panthers twice last season, including 54-13 in the District 4 AA playoffs.
Central Mountain (0-4) at Shamokin (1-3)
Players to Watch: Central Mountain — WR/DE Connor Foltz. Shamokin — QB Brad Latsha
Breakdown: The Indians have struggled to score points, netting just 41 so far. That number should go up this week against a club that has been outscored 114-38. Latsha stepped in at QB for the injured Brett Nye last week and did OK, throwing for 121 yards and a score.
Kutztown (1-3) at Hamburg (4-0)
Players to Watch: Kutztown — QB Jacob Lafferty. Hamburg — OL/DL Charles Sheppard
Breakdown: High-flying Hawks look to keep things rolling against Cougars, whose only win came over Nativity in Week 3. Sheppard clears the way on offense and has 10.5 tackles for loss on defense.
Upper Dauphin (2-2) at Newport (0-4)
Players to Watch: Upper Dauphin — RB/DB Konner Walker. Newport — QB Mason Messick
Breakdown: The Trojans venture north to take on old Tri-Valley League rival Newport, which has had a rough season so far. Buffaloes have given up 181 points in four games while reaching end zone just twice. Walker rushed for 110 yards, scored twice and had two interceptions in last week's win over Susquenita.
Shenandoah Valley (0-4) at Hancock, Md. (0-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Players to Watch: Shenandoah Valley — WR/DB Nick Ryan
Breakdown: Here it is ... the chance for the Blue Devils to grab their first win. It's a 2 1/2 -hour road trip to western Maryland, west of Hagerstown. Hancock has been outscored 171-14 in three games, one of which was a 53-0 loss to Halifax.
Jim Thorpe (1-3) at Pine Grove (1-3)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Radio/TV: WAVT 101.9 FM
Live updates: Follow Republican Herald sports writer Eli Doyle on Twitter @iamelidoyle
Players to Watch: Jim Thorpe — FB/DE William Newton. Pine Grove — RB/LB Lane Lehman
Breakdown: Cardinals cap a weekend full of Homecoming activities with the traditional Saturday night football game vs. the Olympians. Both teams are coming off games where they allowed more than 50 points. Newton and Lehman lead their respective teams in tackles.
Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026; @pubsportsboss on Twitter