Northern Lehigh, other ‘road’ quarterfinalists deserved better

Days before Northern Lehigh trekked 87 miles late last month to the Dauphin County borough of Steelton, head coach Joe Tout sounded off about the PIAA’s decision to give state playoff teams home games in the quarterfinal round.

“I’m disappointed because [the PIAA] did this out of convenience,” Tout said, “not what was in the best interest of the student-athletes.”

Tout believes — and I agree — that part of the reward for making the PIAA playoffs is to experience the journey while playing at some of the state’s historic football venues.

Northern Lehigh advanced to the Class A quarterfinals by beating Lackawanna Trail at Dunmore Veterans Memorial Stadium, which housed many standout teams under the direction of legendary coach Jack Henzes.

Henzes, who has the third-most victories of any state high school coach (444), is honored with a statue at one end of a stadium that hasn’t changed much since he took over generations ago.

The Bulldogs were exposed to that piece of history. Tout felt — and I agree — they should have experienced more in the next round, maybe Hersheypark Stadium — which until this season hosted the PIAA finals for more than two decades — when they played Steelton-Highspire.

Playing in the shadows of Hershey’s Chocolate World would have been a big deal to these Bulldogs, who weren’t born when the only previous Northern Lehigh team made the state final (2003).

Instead, Northern Lehigh’s bus pulled into a stadium that was woefully inadequate to host any postseason game.

Turf is required for all PIAA host sites. That is why Lackawanna Trail could not host Northern Lehigh the previous week.

Steel-High’s War Veterans’ Memorial Field’s artificial surface is in desperate need of repair. But that is only the beginning of its shortcomings.

The ‘press box’ did not have room for the press. Two spots were allotted for Blue Ridge Cable TV-13′s broadcasters and that was it. That’s not a press box.

Steel-High’s War Veterans’ Memorial Field also had no adequate spot for the visiting assistant coaches, who spent part of the first quarter at the top of home bleachers next to Steamrollers fans and their band before technical difficulties forced them to move to the visiting sideline. Meanwhile, the Steel-High coaches occupied a room in the press box.

Most importantly, however, some — not all — of Steel-High’s fans and players fell woefully short of displaying the proper sportsmanship the PIAA claims to expect.

I’m sure Tout was warned by colleagues about War Veterans’ Memorial Field’s atmosphere.

A sign of what was to come was evident more than an hour before last Saturday afternoon’s kickoff. A handful of lawn chairs were set up along the fence on the visitors’ side. No one coming to watch a football game is interested in sitting in a lawn chair at field level — because you can’t see the game.

Those people were there to verbally abuse the visiting team’s players. Acknowledging the language was inappropriate is like saying George Carlin let a four-letter word slip once or twice during a 60-minute comedy standup.

And, there was inadequate security to defuse that situation before it started.

It was disgraceful.

Similar behavior occurred on the field.

There is no debating the athletic prowess of Steel-High players, including Alex Erby, Ronald Burnette, Durrell Ceasar and Jaeion Perry. They are among the state’s most gifted Class A players, evidenced by the Steamrollers going on to win a state title.

However, all of that is lost on any objective person who watched (and listened to) the game.

For the drama and excitement that came from a 42-35 game decided in the final seconds, last month’s game had no pace because the officials spent so much time discussing the 20 penalties, 15 against Steel-High.

To be honest, the Steamrollers should have been penalized a lot more for their egregious behavior.

I watched Navy men’s basketball teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s pressure opponents for 94 feet for 40 minutes. The Midshipmen wore out foes. They also bumped and hacked at every turn with the theory that the referees wouldn’t call every foul.

But those Navy players did not cross the line. They respected the game. They respected their opponents. Their play did most of the talking.

Virtually every form of unsportsmanlike penalty was called on Steel-High. I saw for the first time two unsportsmanlike penalties on a team’s sideline because they were on the field while the play was in that vicinity.

Steel-High also was flagged for two unsportsmanlike penalties on the same play. Twice.

“They are very athletic,” Northern Lehigh senior A.J. Jimenez said. “But it’s just the discipline they lack.”

Jimenez also referenced Steel-High’s practice of “ear-holing” Northern Lehigh defensive players. It is a blindside block to the side of a player’s head. It is not something taught or condoned by any Colonial League coach.

It is not legal. It is dangerous.

And there were attempts to intimidate with foul and abusive language and behavior. The more Steel-High realized Northern Lehigh was not going to roll over, the more it happened.

“It was very chippy,” Bulldogs quarterback Nick Frame said. “All we wanted to do was play football and they just kind of ruined the moment for all of us.”

Tout told the team near midfield moments after the heartbreaking finish to a season the Bulldogs thought for sure would end in the state final that the better team did not win.

The 17-year head coach was right because character and sportsmanship are parts of what athletes are judged on. He hopes his message resonates years later when his players become parents and maybe coaches who will not teach or tolerate any of the behavior they experienced last month.

Tout said days before that the game’s outcome would not be decided by the site.

It wasn’t.

It was decided because the inappropriate actions and behavior were accepted enough to allow a team the chance to put together a final drive in the last 30 seconds.

That athletic prowess, however, was lost because of the sportsmanship that was lacking for four quarters.

There was no PIAA representative at the game, but hopefully reports from Northern Lehigh and District 11 representatives make the state’s governing body think twice about allowing home-field advantages for playoff participants and thus allowing this type of behavior to rear its ugly head again.

“I think that’s sad,” Tout said. “Me, personally, I don’t think that [behavior] belongs in the PIAA. You should not be penalized that heavily. It’s a shame because they are such a talented team.”

It is a shame because the PIAA board created this situation by its vote that Tout and others view as lazy.

One thing is for sure: If PIAA board members were on the home and visiting sidelines or tasked with officiating a game such as last month’s, what transpired would not happen again.

But it should not have happened in the first place.

Morning Call reporter Tom Housenick can be reached at 610-820-6651 or at [email protected]

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RUSHING

Player, Team: Attempts; Yards; Avg.; TDs

1. Cade Christopher, Northwestern: 245; 1,886; 7.7; 28

2. Alex Achenbach, Williams Valley: 214; 1,744; 8.2; 23

3. Dalton Clymer, Northwestern: 238; 1,447; 6.1; 17

4. Mike Pascoe, Panther Valley: 243; 1,351; 5.6; 11

5. Aiden Myers, Schuylkill Haven: 165; 1,346; 8.2; 16

6. Jared Tinari, North Schuylkill: 212; 1,346; 6.2; 15

7. Cade Sawyer, Southern Lehigh: 233; 1,346; 5.8; 20

8. Colm McGroarty, Mahanoy Area: 152; 1,224; 8.1; 21

9. Steven Lilly, Palisades: 169; 1,222; 7.2; 19

10. Matt Machalik, Palmerton: 164; 1,216; 7.4; 21

11. Luke Stevenosky, Minersville: 157; 1,206; 7.7; 16

12. Danny Darno, Notre Dame-GP: 131; 1,180; 9.0; 18

13. Nick Frame, Northern Lehigh: 142; 1,105; 7.8; 11

14. Parrish McFarland, Pottsville: 167; 1,072; 6.4; 9

15. Lane Lehman, Pine Grove: 212; 1,065; 5.0; 8

16. Eric Striba, Bangor: 179; 1,033; 5.8; 15

17. Anthonie Hunsicker, Catasauqua: 152; 1,004; 6.6; 10

18. A.J. Jimenez, Northern Lehigh: 183; 935; 5.1; 16

19. Payton Fasnacht, Blue Mountain: 128; 898; 7.0; 10

20. Sal Capria, Jim Thorpe: 131; 889; 6.8; 8

PASSING YARDS

Player, Team: Comp.; Att.; Yards; INTs; TDs

1. Danny Darno, Notre Dame-GP: 179; 266; 2,669; 7; 33

2. Matt Machalik, Palmerton: 156; 271; 2,554; 8; 31

3. Trevor Minalda, North Schuylkill: 158; 255; 2,020; 12; 27

4. Brad Rissmiller, Pen Argyl: 122; 232; 1,865; 8; 13

5. Brett Balliet, Jim Thorpe: 106; 199; 1,465; 4; 15

6. Kole Miller, Tri-Valley: 77; 183; 1,435; 10; 11

7. Isaac Whiteash, Williams Valley: 70; 147; 1,416; 11; 21

8. Brady O’Donnell, Lehighton: 113; 199; 1,282; 12; 7

9. Nick Frame, Northern Lehigh; 79; 162; 1,243; 6; 12

10. Travis Riefenstahl, Saucon Valley: 76; 144; 1,239; 8; 10

11. Ben Kreitzer, Nativity BVM; 71; 158; 1,237; 9; 11

12. Dante Carr, Minersville: 57; 127; 1,173; 8; 14

13. Avery Koser, Southern Lehigh: 65; 110; 1,169; 3; 14

14. Ben Dempster, Shenandoah Valley: 80; 147; 1,149; 13; 13

15. Teejay Allen, Pottsville: 85; 175; 1,026; 9; 7

16. Luke Kane, Tamaqua: 53; 137; 1,020; 10; 11

17. Eric Striba Bangor: 88; 152; 1,011; 3; 8

18. Christian Fye, Catasauqua: 78; 179; 943; 11; 10

19. Jeramy Cressman, Wilson: 67; 160; 823; 14; 1

20. Mason Kroh, Pine Grove: 64; 165; 822; 10; 2

RECEPTIONS

Player, Team: Catches; Yards; Avg.; TDs

1. Damian Tyminski, Pen Argyl: 65; 1,032; 15.9; 6

2. Josh Ludlow, Notre Dame-GP: 65; 925; 14.2; 9

3. Joey Flail, North Schuylkill: 54; 846; 15.7; 15

4. Daniel Lucykanish, Palmerton: 53; 893; 16.8; 11

5. Ian Rarick, Lehighton: 52; 732; 14.1; 7

6. Nick Ryan, Shenandoah Valley: 50; 879; 17.6; 10

7. David Fiorito, Jim Thorpe: 47; 619; 13.2; 5

8. Noah Dolbin, Nativity BVM: 44; 856; 19.5; 8

9. A.J. Lozano, Notre Dame-GP: 43; 770; 17.9; 14

10. Greg Campbell, Bangor: 39; 398; 10.2; 4

11. Wyatt Younes, Catasauqua: 39; 327; 9.5; 3

12. Kendall Robinson, Palmerton: 37; 563; 15.2; 7

13. Brady Evans, Williams Valley: 35; 896; 25.6; 12

14. Jared Rohn, Saucon Valley: 35; 503; 14.4; 1

15. Dalton Drake, Palmerton: 34; 616; 18.1; 6

16. Amaree Bainbridge, Pottsville: 33; 455; 13.8; 3

17. Alex Moser, Pen Argyl: 32; 450; 14.1; 5

18. Jack Dean, North Schuylkill: 32; 408; 12.8; 5

19. Jack Robertson, Saucon Valley: 30; 545; 18.2; 5

20. Layne Yoder, Tri-Valley: 30; 497; 16.6; 4

SCORING

Player, Team: TDs; 2-pts; PATs; FGs; Points

1. Cade Christopher, Northwestern: 30; 4; 0; 0; 194

2. Alex Achenbach, Williams Valley: 27; 2; 0; 0; 166

3. Colm McGroarty, Mahanoy Area: 21; 3; 9; 0; 141

4. Matt Machalik, Palmerton: 22; 2; 0; 0; 136

5. Dalton Clymer, Northwestern: 21; 4; 0; 0; 134

6. Cade Sawyer, Southern Lehigh; 21; 2; 0; 0; 130

7. Joey Flail, North Schuylkill: 21; 0; 0; 0; 126

8. Josh Ludlow, Notre Dame-GP: 20; 1; 0; 0; 122

9. Steven Lilly, Palisades: 20; 0; 0; 0; 120

10. Daniel Lucykanish, Palmerton: 17; 8; 0; 0; 118

11. A.J. Jimenez, Northern Lehigh: 17; 5; 0; 0; 112

12. Danny Darno, Notre Dame-GP: 18; 1; 0; 0; 110

13. Luke Stevenosky, Minersville: 17; 0; 0; 0; 102

14. Aiden Myers, Schuylkill Haven: 16; 2; 0; 0; 100

15. Eric Striba, Bangor: 15; 0; 0; 0; 90

15. Jared Tinari, North Schuylkill: 15; 0; 0; 0; 90

15. A.J. Lozano, Notre Dame-GP: 15; 0; 0; 0; 90

18. Christian Fye, Catasauqua: 7; 0; 25; 5; 82

19. Connor Dillon, Tamaqua: 12; 3; 0; 0; 78

19. Brady Evans, Williams Valley: 12; 3; 0; 0; 78

19. Kai Stiansen, Palisades: 13; 0; 0; 0; 78

TACKLES

Player, Team: Tackles

1. Chad Beller, Catasauqua: 180

2. Dainn Vassallo, Notre Dame-GP: 165

3. James Cartier, Notre Dame-GP: 130

4. Blaine Snyder, Northwestern: 128

5. Reece Huntzinger, Tri-Valley: 126

6. Aiden Myers, Schuylkill Haven: 121

7. Joey Walko, Marian Catholic: 119

8. Brock Polinsky, Minersville: 113

9. Ben Manley, Mahanoy Area: 108

9. Luke Stevenosky, Minersville 108

9. Dalton Clymer, Northwestern: 108

12. Matt Martin, Marian Catholic: 107

13. Cade Schultz, Minersville: 106

14. Gian Greggo, Pen Argyl: 98

15. Jake Scheib, Tri-Valley: 97

16. Ben Goldberg, Jim Thorpe: 96

17. Vern Kleckner, Blue Mountain: 95

17. Noah Dolbin, Nativity BVM: 95

17. Niko Carestia, Schuylkill Haven: 95

20. Toby Linn, Salisbury: 94

TACKLES FOR LOSS

Player, Team: TFL

1. Noah Rosahac, Jim Thorpe: 25

2. A.J. Jimenez, Northern Lehigh: 23

3. Luke Stevenosky, Minersville: 18

3. Steven Davis, North Schuylkill: 18

3. Michael Styka, Tamaqua: 18

3. Austin Smyth, Northern Lehigh: 18

3. Chad Beller, Catasauqua: 18

8. Bryson Heydt, Jim Thorpe: 17

8. James Rodino, Marian Catholic: 17

8. Emilio Gonzalez, Palmerton: 17

11. Jesse Rodino, Marian Catholic: 15

11. Ezi Hite, Williams Valley: 15

13. Matt Martin, Marian Catholic: 14

13. Cade Schultz, Minersville: 14

15. James Dube, Minersville: 13.5

16. Jacob Weaver, Bangor: 13

16. Trevor Kent, Notre Dame-GP: 13

16. Gian Greggo, Pen Argyl: 13

16. Michael Fluck, Southern Lehigh: 13

20. Landon Moll, Northern Lehigh: 12

20. Mason Ludlow, Notre Dame-GP: 12

20. Aiden Miller, Williams Valley: 12

SACKS

Player, Team: Sacks

1. A.J. Jimenez, Northern Lehigh: 10

2. Austin Smyth, Northern Lehigh: 9

3. Bryson Heydt, Jim Thorpe: 8.5

4. Jacob Weaver, Bangor: 8

4. Ian Donahue, Blue Mountain: 8

4. Noah Rosahac, Jim Thorpe: 8

7. Jesse Rodino, Marian Catholic: 7

8. Landon Moll, Northern Lehigh: 6

9. Austyn Fields, Blue Mountain: 5.5

9. Reece Huntzinger, Tri-Valley: 5.5

11. Neekoli Carabello, North Schuylkill: 5

11. Steven Davis, North Schuylkill: 5

11. Jake Scheib, Tri-Valley: 5

11. Bailey Smith, Northern Lehigh: 5

15. John Paul Pierce, Notre Dame-GP: 4.5

15. Michael Fluck, Southern Lehigh: 4.5

17. Joe Noraka, Mahanoy Area: 4

17. Rawlins Melendez, Marian Catholic: 4

17. Cade Schultz, Minersville: 4

17. Trevor Kent, Notre Dame-GP: 4

17. Dainn Vassallo, Notre Dame-GP: 4

17. Gabe Limantour, Palisades: 4

17. Emilio Gonzalez, Palmerton: 4

17. Austin Hadley, Panther Valley: 4

17. Logan Haines, Panther Valley: 4

17. Jacob Hehn, Tamaqua: 4

17. Shawn Bowman, Tri-Valley: 4

INTERCEPTIONS

Player, Team: INTs

1. Brock Polinsky, Minersville: 8

2. Colm McGroarty, Mahanoy Area: 7

2. Jolten Flory, Tri-Valley: 7

4. Nick Frame, Northern Lehigh: 6

4. Collin McGee, North Schuylkill: 6

6. Wyatt Younes, Catasauqua: 4

6. Josh James, Jim Thorpe: 4

6. Nova McGuire, Marian Catholic: 4

6. Layne Yoder, Tri-Valley: 4

10. Jyzaiah Bonilla, Catasauqua: 3

10. Carson Kerstetter, Blue Mountain: 3

10. Ian Rarick, Lehighton: 3

10. Carsyn Chambers, Marian Catholic: 3

10. Noah Dolbin, Nativity BVM: 3

10. Keegan Curry, North Schuylkill: 3

10. Eli Zimmerman, Northwestern: 3

10. Riley Sessinger, Palisades: 3

10. Kai Stiansen, Palisades: 3

10. Daniel Lucykanish, Palmerton: 3

10. Matt Machalik, Palmerton: 3

10. Kendall Robinson, Palmerton: 3

10. Mergim Bushati, Panther Valley: 3

10. Trey McAndrew, Panther Valley: 3

10. Brad Rissmiller, Pen Argyl: 3

10. Owen Hannevig, Pine Grove: 3

10. Nico Castillo, Schuylkill Haven: 3

10. Andrew Olesh, Southern Lehigh: 3

10. Jake Tietsworth, Tri-Valley: 3

10. Brady Evans, Williams Valley: 3

10. Isaac Whiteash, Williams Valley: 3

FUMBLE RECOVERIES

Player, Team: Recoveries

1. Landon Moll, Northern Lehigh: 4

1. Galen Limantour, Palisades: 4

3. Riley Stapp, Bangor: 3

3. Lucas Kauffman, Blue Mountain: 3

3. Dylan Pacheco, Catasauqua: 3

3. Mike Gelatko, Marian Catholic: 3

3. Ben Garcia, Notre Dame-GP: 3

3. Bryce Marino, Palmerton: 3

3. Joey Palko, Pottsville: 3

3. Reece Huntzinger, Tri-Valley: 3

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL

Team: Lost; Caused; Differential

1. Northern Lehigh: 13; 29; plus-18

2. Notre Dame-GP: 14; 24; plus-10

3. Tri-Valley; 16; 25; plus-9

3. Palisades; 10; 19; plus-9

5. Mahanoy Area: 10; 18; plus-8

6. Bangor: 6; 12; plus-6

6. Blue Mountain: 11; 17; plus-6

8. Catasauqua: 19; 23; plus-4

8. Palmerton: 12; 16; plus-4

10. Northwestern: 13; 16; plus-3

10. Southern Lehigh: 15; 18; plus-3

10. Williams Valley: 21; 24; plus-3

13. Jim Thorpe: 13; 15; plus-2

14. Minersville: 18; 19; plus-1

14. North Schuylkill: 20; 21; plus-1

14. Panther Valley: 14; 15; plus-1

17. Pen Argyl: 16; 16; even

17. Pottsville: 17; 17; even

19. Tamaqua: 16; 15; minus-1

20. Schuylkill Haven: 14; 11; minus-3

21. Marian Catholic: 26; 22; minus-4

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21. Pine Grove: 14; 10; minus-4

23. Shenandoah Valley: 18; 12; minus-6

24. Nativity BVM: 19; 11; minus-8

24. Salisbury: 15; 7; minus-8

26. Lehighton: 22; 13; minus-9

26. Saucon Valley: 20; 11; minus-9

28. Wilson: 22; 10; minus-12

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