Stoked Spartans maul Notre Dame-GP for title
LEHIGHTON — Excuse North Schuylkill’s pent-up energy Saturday.
And the top-seeded Spartans’ ultimate releasing of that angst in a joyous celebration after their 36-0 mauling of Notre DameGreen Pond in the District 11 Class 3A football championship game at Lehighton’s wind-swept Multi-Purpose Stadium.
“It was personal this year,’’ acknowledged senior running back/safety Mitch Wagner, who was one of two Spartans to rush for more than 100 yards and run for two touchdowns. He also blocked a punt that led to his first score as North Schuylkill dominated every facet of the game.
“This is what our kids have worked extremely hard for,’’ winning coach Wally Hall said. “They were very focused . ... This was one of the goals they wanted to accomplish.’’
To get there, the Spartans (11-1) needed to overcome a formidable postseason nemesis supposedly operating at peak efficiency.
They entered the contest as the losers of three straight to the Crusaders in the district playoffs, each loss more lopsided than the previous one.
“We owed them,’’ Wagner said. “They’ve had our number the last couple of years. This means everything.’’
North Schuylkill also had heard all about Notre Dame’s high-powered offense that scored more than 30 points in all but one of its first 11 games this season and Crusader senior quarterback Cole DeFranco’s well-earned status he of the staggering passing numbers (43 touchdown passes, only three interceptions, 199 completions, 3,382 yards before Saturday) as one of district’s top signal callers ever.
But by the time the Spartans got done turning their angst into action, they had thumped the Crusaders (10-2) in a game that was every bit decisive as the final score indicates.
“We haven’t been under that kind of duress all season,’’ said Notre Dame coach Phil Stambaugh, whose team was seeking its third consecutive district crown.
“I’m sure the wind was a little bit of a factor, but I’m not going to make excuses. The bottom line is they played well enough to win and we didn’t.’’
How dominant was North Schuylkill?
The Spartans didn’t attempt a single pass, but they rushed for a total of 319 on 58 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per tote. Quarterback Jaden Leiby ran 21 times for 143 yards, Wagner carried 24 times for 121 yards, Tyler Elsdon scored on two 1-yard plunges and Jake Green plowed six yards for a TD.
With the win, North Schuylkill advances to the state playoffs to meet District 1 champ Conwell-Egan, a 42-13 winner over New HopeSolebury, next weekend at a time and site to be announced.
Defensively, North Schuylkill limited the Crusaders to 57 yards from scrimmage, with only one on the ground.
Constantly hurried, chased from the pocket and eventually sacked four times, DeFranco completed just 9-of-30 passes for 56 yards, including a 30-yard sideline toss to David Sanders Jr. on his very first pass. That meant DeFranco had only 26 yards passing after the game’s second play from scrimmage.
“It was difficult for him (DeFranco) to make his reads,’’ Leiby said. “But I’m definitely proud of our defense for playing the way that it did. We had the right game plan and we followed it. It was our men against their men, and our men won.’’
That the Spartans did convincingly.
Notre Dame seldom advanced into North Schuylkill territory after the DeFranco-to-Sanders Jr. connection got them to the NS 45 early in the game. However, Green and Jesse White combined to deck DeFranco for a 4-yard loss on the next play, pushing the Crusaders backward and ultimately forcing a punt.
North Schuylkill then bloodied its opponents’ nose on its opening possession, methodically marching 71 yards in 11 plays for the only score it needed.
Leiby had the biggest run in the drive, a 30-yard keeper to the ND 1. Eldon bulldozed into end zone on the next play and Wagner ran for two points to give the Spartans an 8-0 lead with 6:04 left in the first quarter.
“That was very important,’’ Hall said of the early lead. “We made a statement that we’re gonna run the football, that ‘This is our game and this is what want to do.’ ’’
Notre Dame’s Isaiah DeJesus returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the Spartan 34, but the Crusaders offense fizzled after picking up one first down. North Schuylkill got the ball back after sure tackles stopped screen passes on consecutive plays and Notre Dame was forced to turn the ball over on downs.
Midway through the second quarter, Wagner crashed through the line and blocked a Notre Dame punt that he recovered at the ND 16.
Two plays later, Wagner found a huge hole up the middle and darted 15 yards to paydirt, extending his team’s lead to 14-0 at halftime.
“Give a lot of credit to those guys,’’ Stambaugh said. “Their game plan was to come after us and they were successful with that on both sides of the ball. They came after us.’’
While poor field position plagued the Crusaders most of the afternoon, North Schuylkill’s offense was in point-blank range throughout the second half.
The Spartans finally took advantage of a short field late in the third quarter as Leiby sped 29 yards to the Notre Dame 17 and later went 12 more on fourth-and-6. That set up Elsdon’s second 1-yard TD dive, making it 20-0.
With DeFranco and the Crusaders forced to throw on almost every down, aggressive Spartan defenders were able to tee off in a bid to preserve their shutout and exorcise their demons from the past three seasons.
“A shutout is always the goal,’’ Wagner said. “I didn’t think we’d get one today because they have a pretty solid offense. But we did want one today.’’
Offensively, Wagner raced untouched 31 yards for his second TD and Green capped the scoring with a 6-yard run to paydirt. Leiby and Zack Chowansky tacked on twopoint conversions to account for the final margin.
“I knew we were gonna beat this team, but I didn’t think we’d beat them like this,’’ Leiby said. “Just in the two weeks prior to this game, on the bus ride here and in the locker room, I knew we were hungry. We really wanted this and now we got this.
“And we’re not done yet.’’
North Schuylkill's Mitch Wagner runs for a touchdown as Notre Dame Green Pond's Ben Carlin gives chase during Saturday’s District 11 Class 3A championship game.
North Schuylkill coach Wally Hall hoists the District 11 championship trophy after the Spartans defeated Notre Dame Green-Pond 36-0 on Saturday. Players at front include D.J. Zaleski, Nathan Griffin, Danny Tomtishen, Jack Kempsey, Avery Roberts (9), Hall and Ryan Weitz.