Tigers keep rolling to their 7th straight victory
When you have a four-year starter at quarterback who’s likely to end his career with most of the school’s offensive records, it’s easy for your defense to get overlooked.
But the Northwestern Lehigh Tigers reminded Saucon Valley and the rest of the Colonial League Friday night that they can play quality defense as well as score behind the potent Deven Bollinger-led offense.
Northwestern got its first shutout since a 49-0 blanking of Palmerton on Sept. 28, shaking off a slow start to rout the injury-plagued Panthers 36-0 in New Tripoli.
Bollinger completed 19 of 26 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
Nick Henry had one of the TD receptions along with six other catches for 91 yards and added 90 yards rushing as the Tigers won their seventh straight to remain in first place in the league. Southern Lehigh can regain a share of the lead with a win at Pen Argyl Saturday afternoon.
In handing Saucon Valley its first shutout loss since a 31-0 defeat to Southern Lehigh on Oct. 18, 2013, Northwestern’s defense intercepted two passes and had a fumble recovery.
Bollinger and sophomore Taylor Wikert had the interceptions and Robert Goldberg recovered the loose ball that stopped the Panthers best scoring chance of the night at the Tigers 18 with 2:52 left in the third quarter.
“We always focus on getting turnovers but sometimes they’re just part of the game,” said Northwestern’s first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mitchell. “Tonight was our first forced fumble in eight games. It’s going to happen eventually if you keep flying to the football.”
Mitchell, the son of former Tigers head coach Bob Mitchell, was pleased to get his first shutout in charge of the defense.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group,” he said. “They work their butts off. I’ve been in the weight room with the seniors for four years. They battle. It’s nice as a defensive coordinator when you have an offense that can score as many points as ours does. It takes a little of the load off, but we have great kids and we work well as a defensive staff.”
Joining Mitchell on the defensive side of the ball is Josh Zimmerman and Ryan Hulmes, who is in his first season with the Tigers after coaching at Parkland.
“I gave [Greg Mitchell] the game ball tonight in our postgame huddle,” Tigers head coach Josh Snyder said. “As a defensive guy, you hang your hat on getting a shutout. We were close to getting one earlier this year at Palisades but they scored against our second team. Tonight, we had the second team in there for the last two series and they got the job done.”
Saucon Valley was limited to 134 yards in total offense — 75 yards coming on the ground from running back Braydyn Lugardo — and seven first downs.
Snyder said he was concerned about a potential letdown coming off the emotional 36-34 win over previously unbeaten Southern Lehigh last week and feared it could become a trap game with rival Northern Lehigh up next.
Those fears seemed merited when Northwestern turned the ball over on downs on their first three possessions, including a drive that ended at the Saucon 4.
But once the Tigers got going, they couldn’t be stopped. They scored touchdowns on five straight possessions.
“We had a few sputters in the red zone in the first quarter, but then we picked it up,” Bollinger said. “The running game got it going and that opened up the passing game.”
Bollinger has thrown for nearly 6,600 yards in his career and 87 touchdown passes.
First-year Saucon Valley coach Brad Trembler didn’t want to make excuses, but his team wasn’t close to being at full strength with several key players sidelined.
Ty Csencsits, Chris Mann, Evan Deily, Dale Sorensen and Aiden Renninger were among the players who either didn’t play or were hurt during the game.
“Our kids played hard and we went toe-to-toe with them for almost the entire first half regardless of who was in or out,” Trembler said. “We’ve just got to clean some things up, but that’s a very good football team over there that’s going to play a long time into November.”
Northwestern Lehigh linebacker Derek Hebelka (54) combines with defensive lineman Robert Goldberg (77) to stop Saucon Valley running back Braydyn Lugardo for a loss in the first quarter Friday night. The Tigers rolled to a 36-0 win, becoming the first team to shut out Saucon Valley since 2013.
Northwestern Lehigh quarterback Deven Bollinger (13) is hit by Saucon Valley defensive lineman Eli Deily in the first quarter Friday.