Stoked Spar­tans maul Notre Dame-GP for ti­tle

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - SPORTS - BY DAVE SEAMON SPORTS EDI­TOR

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.

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