Nov. 19—LEHIGHTON — When it's not your night, it's not your night.
That was the case for North Schuylkill in Friday's District 11 Class 3A championship game against Northwestern Lehigh.
The Spartans were hurt by two costly fumbles, committed several key penalties in the first half and couldn't stop the Tigers' rushing attack in a 34-14 loss at the Lehighton Multi-Purpose Stadium.
The victory gives Northwestern Lehigh (11-2) its first District 11 title since 2014 and advances the Tigers to next weekend's PIAA quarterfinals against Neumann-Goretti, a 22-14 winner over Scranton Prep.
North Schuylkill's season ends at 10-3.
"It seems like every time we gained momentum, we lost that momentum," North Schuylkill coach Wally Hall said. "That's a tough part of the game."
"I'm proud of our kids. They fought every play. They continually tried to put us in a good position, we just lost grips a little bit. We knew the guys that we had to slow down for them, and we had a tough time tackling them."
For the first couple minutes of the game, the Spartans appeared in good shape.
Two plays into the game, Trevor Minalda found Joey Flail on a fly pattern down the middle for an 83-yard touchdown that put the Spartans up 6-0 just 45 seconds into the game.
"The second he called the play I knew it was going to be a touchdown," said Flail, who finished with six catches for 118 yards. "We've been working on that throw all year. It was a perfect play."
From that point forward, however, Northwestern Lehigh controlled things.
The Tigers rode the back of senior quarterback Cade Christopher, who rushed for 215 yards on 27 carries. Christopher engineered an eight-play, 44-yard drive midway through the first quarter that ended with a 26-yard TD pass to Dalton Clymer on a screen pass that tied the game at 6-6.
In the second quarter, his 23-yard punt return set up the Tigers at the Spartans' 29-yard line. On the next play, Christopher went 28 yards to the 6, and Clymer plunged in from the 1 two plays after that to put Northwestern Lehigh up 14-6.
That lead expanded to 21-6 late in the second quarter when Christopher faked a handoff, headed left and ran virtually untouched 58 yards for the score.
For the game, Northwestern Lehigh rushed the ball 50 times for 318 yards.
"They ran some of the schemes they ran throughout the year," Hall said. "But you could tell that their goal was to spread us out and attack our perimeters with their quarterback read plays and their jet action. They took advantage of us on the perimeter."
North Schuylkill hurt itself with costly penalties on early downs that hampered drives in the first half. The Spartans showed life at the end of the first half, slicing the margin to 21-14 on a trick play. Flail lined up in the shotgun and rolled right, pulled up and hit Collin McGee with a 44-yard pass for the score.
"We've been practicing that play all week," Flail said with a chuckle. "Some throws have been good, some throws have been bad, but it worked out in our favor and I'm glad it did."
The touchdown, which came with 53 seconds left in the half, gave North Schuylkill momentum heading into the intermission. Northwestern, however, regained it on its opening possession of the second half.
The Tigers took the second-half kickoff and took nearly 7 minutes to go 65 yards in 12 plays, the first 11 being running plays. On third-and-4 from the 10, Mason Bollinger hit Clymer on a halfback-option pass for the touchdown that made it 28-14.
North Schuylkill tried to answer, using a pair of big runs by Jaxson Chowansky to move the ball to the Tigers' 1-yard line late in the frame. On a first-and-goal play, however, the ball squirted loose and Eli Zimmerman pounced on it for the Tigers.
Two plays later, Christopher broke off a 53-yard run to get Northwestern Lehigh out of danger.
"When you get to the 1-yard line, you have to score," Hall said. "Games like this, especially when it's back and forth. Then we had them pinned down and on third down the quarterback made a big run."
North Schuylkill mounted two drives into Northwestern Lehigh territory in the fourth quarter and each time came up empty. On the first, Ty Meck stripped McGee of the ball after a short pass completion — McGee looked down on the play — and raced 72 yards for a touchdown that made it 34-14.
The last one ended on downs at the Tigers' 7 in the final seconds.
In their post-game huddle, Hall and his staff praised the effort of their seniors, who were playing in their fourth straight district final. The Spartans will graduate 12 seniors, including two-way starters Jack Dean, Steven Davis and Robbie Weitz, center Brady Salukas, tailback Jared Tinari and defensive end Chris Long.
"I've been playing with those kids for so many years, some for more than a decade," Flail, a junior, said of his senior teammates. "It's real sad to see them go. They were a big inspiration and I loved playing with them."
Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026; @Pubsportsboss on Twitter