Only the site changes
Venue won’t affect Notre Dame’s rivalry with Southern Lehigh
One of the Colonial League’s best football rivalries heads to unfamiliar territory Friday night.
The Notre Dame-Southern Lehigh game, a battle of two of the league’s three unbeatens, will be played at Quakertown’s Alumni Field due to Southern Lehigh’s home field being restored.
To the players and coaches involved, this one could be played in one of the parking lots of Quakertown’s numerous fastfood restaurants and it would still be well-played and competitive.
“I’m happy it’s on [synthetic] turf and I really don’t care otherwise where it’s at,” Notre Dame coach Phil Stambaugh said. “It’s good for us to get these types of games in because when you get to the end of the year they tell you where to go. You just have to show up and take care of business. The kids have bought into it. They’re probably excited just to be playing on turf.”
Southern Lehigh coach John Toman isn’t concerned about it either.
“We’re only halfway through our West Coast road trip,” kidded Toman in noting his team has yet to be on its regular field. “We have Bangor next week and we’ll be back here the next week against Palisades. At least that’s the goal.”
The more important goal for Toman and Co. is to get to 3-0. To do it they will have to slow down a Notre Dame team second in District 11 in scoring (behind Pine Grove) at 49 points per game.
Cole DeFranco’s graduation hasn’t diminished the Crusaders offense. Sophomore Collin Quintana has put up DeFrancolike numbers in his first two starts, completing two-thirds of his passes for 496 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in 60 attempts.
Matt Frauen Jr. and Christian Greggo have combined for 325 yards rushing despite sitting out a big chunk of the Crusaders’ 56-7 rout of Bangor.
“No Cole DeFranco but they do the same stuff,” Toman said. “Their defense has improved from last year, but Phil does what he does and we have to stop it.”
While summer officially has two weeks left, both coaches know the winner of this one could end up as the last Colonial League champ with a new configuration to start next year with the Schuylkill League involved.
Notre Dame doesn’t play Northern Lehigh, the only other Colonial unbeaten, and will be favored against the remainder of its seven opponents.
Southern Lehigh plays at Northern Lehigh Sept. 27 and hosts Northwestern Lehigh Oct. 4, but might not a face another team as strong as Notre Dame until the District 2-11 Class 5A sub-regional in November.
The Spartans haven’t forgotten last year’s 31-28 overtime loss at Notre Dame when Toman felt time should have been put back on the clock at the end of regulation as the Spartans tried to line up for a game-winning field goal and Notre Dame jumped offsides.
Southern Lehigh’s reaction to the officials’ decision resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that carried into the overtime and affected the Spartans’ lone possession in OT.
Instead of Southern Lehigh getting the deciding field goal, the Crusaders’ Alex Garrido kicked the game-winner.
“We had that debacle at the end of the game and that issue with the officials, but we felt like we had control of the game and let it slip away,” Toman said, noting his team had a 28-13 lead.
It was just the latest in a stretch of close finishes between the two.
Southern Lehigh won 28-27 in 2017. Notre Dame prevailed 40-35 in 2016.
“It’s going to be another good game,” Stambaugh said. “It’s good to have a game like this because our league does prepare you for the playoffs. We know Southern Lehigh has changed their approach since [Logan] Edmond graduated and they’re going heavier with the run. They’re all seniors this year, even though some of them haven’t played a lot. So, it’s a challenge.”
The biggest challenge will be slowing down Asher Smith, who had 28 carries for 216 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-12 win vs. Palmerton after rushing for 161 yards and four scores against Saucon Valley in Week 1.
“We have the whole line back and we’re leaning on them a little more with a first-year quarterback [Noah Vogeler],” Toman said. “But Noah has been very efficient in completing the passes we’ve asked him to throw. But our philosophy this year has been if we don’t have to throw it, why throw it?”
Four other games in the Colonial League figure to be close ones in addition to Notre Dame-Southern Lehigh.
Northern Lehigh-Bangor, Catasauqua-Pen Argyl, Saucon Valley-Palmerton and Wilson Salisbury could all be tight.
If Wilson’s game at Salisbury is close, the Warriors should be ready since their first two games have been decided by a total of seven points and featured gamedeciding scores in the final minute.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to put a whole game together and eliminate turnovers,” Warriors coach Chris Labatch said. “The one thing I’ve learned with this team in two games is they don’t quit. They’ll fight for 48 minutes and that’s what we’re preaching.”
In Salisbury, Labatch said he sees a team with a lot of speed.
“That’s something we haven’t seen,” he said. “We’ve seen two teams so far that would rather line up and punch you in the mouth for four quarters. Salisbury is a real good team that will test our defense.”
Southern Lehigh will battle Notre Dame-Green Pond again Friday, this time at Quakertown as Southern Lehigh’s home field is restored.