SOUTHERN LEHIGH HIGH SCHOOL – Southern Lehigh’s varsity football Spartans (8-2) travel to Pottsville Friday to take on the Crimson Tide (9-1) in the first round of the District 11 playoffs. Head Coach John Toman has led the Spartans to the playoffs for the last three years. Southern Lehigh is looking for its first-ever varsity football playoff victory.
Toman said the two teams are mirror images of one another. Like the Spartans, the Crimson Tide is led by a rushing dynamic duo. According to www.MaxPreps.com, junior running back Cliff Newton has scored 8 touchdowns on the ground this year with an average of 6.2 yards per rush and an average of 103 yards of total offense per game. Fellow junior running back Derek Knight has scored a phenomenal 17 rushing touchdowns this season, averaging 7.8 yards per rush and 100 yards of total offense per game.
It’s no surprise then that Toman said his first priority Friday night would be to stop the run. Defensive coordinator Derek Bleiler’s defense may be up to the challenge. The Spartan defense held opponents to a Colonial League-low 9.8 points per game this season, including three shutouts.
Though Toman said Pottsville prefers to run the ball, when the Crimson Tide does take to the air senior wide receiver Anthony Kelly nets the squad 14.7 yards per catch, with 7 touchdowns this season. But despite Pottsville’s firepower and home field advantage, Toman said his team is not worried. “They’ve been there,” he said. “The kids know what to expect.”
Senior rushers Matt and Luke Gotzon, along with Nick Kirsch, have kept Southern Lehigh fans fired up all season. The three have averaged a combined 197 yards of rushing per game, with 19 touchdowns between them.
What’s more, Toman thinks the Spartans have an edge on Pottsville when it comes to the passing game. Junior quarterback Ty Edmond has been a go-to player out of the Wing-T formation this year. Edmond has thrown for 1,334 yards and 7 touchdowns this year. His favorite target, senior wide receiver Jeff Smillie, has netted 819 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns this season. Smillie and Edmond set new single-season school records for passing and receiving. Toman also said senior kickers Sam Terlingo and D.J. Williams give the Spartans an edge on field goals, punting, and kickoffs.
Toman looks to win by converting third downs and keeping the ball in Spartan hands. He wants the team to play an aggressive, physical game on both sides of the ball.
“The team that makes the least amount of mistakes will be successful” Friday night, Toman said. In the playoffs, “mistakes are magnified.” His staff has routinely inculcated a healthy love of ball control into the players’ minds. At practice, the entire team hits the ground for five push-ups whenever anyone puts the ball on the ground. Spartan players know, said Toman, what the two most important statistics in football are: turnovers, and the final score.
Southern Lehigh will face the Pottsville Crimson Tide at 7 p.m. on Nov. 12 in Pottsville.