By 4th Down Staff:
NORTHERN (5-2, 2-1) at SHIPPENSBURG (6-1, 3-1)
7 p.m. Friday, Veterans Stadium, Shippensburg
ABOUT THE POLAR BEARS: Northern had erased the memory of its week 2 setback to a strong Middletown side and were on an uptick before hosting West Perry two weeks ago. It could have been worse. Most believed the leg injury top RB-LB Kyle Swartz suffered against the Mustangs was the type that ends seasons. It was not as Swartz put up 240 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns a week ago vs. Susquehannock. QB Chris Barrett certainly has options outside, like Tyler Yohn (15 catches, 216 yards, 3 TDs) and Aidan Wenger (8-133), but Swartz delivers the most punch on Bill Miller’s O. A unified approach on defense also is paramount here. The Hounds might not be flashy, but they force defenses to play at their pace. Pay attention to DE Donovan Bair (45 tackles) and LBs Joe Samsei (57) and Bay Blaschak (3.5 sacks). Finding Shippensburg’s No. 8 is tough but getting him down is something else.
ABOUT THE GREYHOUNDS: Unlike Northern, which is hanging out near the District 3 Class 5A fence line, Shippensburg is sitting nicely in the Colonial and district 3 picture. However, nothing is guaranteed in the MPC and coach Eric Foust & Co. must remain sharp down the stretch. Currently tied with Mifflin County, which tripped the Hounds a few weeks back, atop the division, Shippensburg will again lean on all-purpose back Adam Houser. The senior has turned 141 carries into 1,135 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns to date. QB Zack Manning has thrown more than 10 passes in a game just once all season, so you can translate that nugget into how successful Shipp’s O-line has been in the run game. The Hounds have been mostly successful on defense, too, allowing 20 points per game. The group even shutout West Perry in the second half in last week’s 34-21 come-from-behind scalp.
THE SERIES: Northern, winning 14-7 a year ago, has claimed the last three games in the series and owns a 6-4 edge in the last 10. Plus, division rivalries don’t show better than this one. Only once in the last 10 meetings -- Northern won 14-3 in 2008 -- has the game been decided by more than a touchdown. In fact, the last five meetings have been decided by a combined 21 points.
KEY STAT: 8.1. Yards per carry by Shippensburg’s Adam Houser. The standout has been a guiding force for the Hounds since his sophomore season
THE PICK: This one really does feel like a coin flip, although Veterans Stadium is a difficult atmosphere for the opposition. What we can predict is healthy doses of Swartz and Houser, two of the most gritty and reliable rushers in the conference. It may take an extraordinary defense to swing momentum for good. And it might take 40-plus minutes to make it happen. That wouldn’t be a surprise.
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