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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Schuylkill League News and Notes: Tri-Valley’s Jeff Sampson notches win No. 100 as the Bulldogs prep to battle Northern Lehigh for the District 11 Class A title

Although the pending arrival of a tropical storm may have cut into the pre-game prep work – and pushed the District 11 Class A championship game up 24 hours – here’s a guess that Tri-Valley and Northern Lehigh will be ready any way.

Ready to decide an 11-A championship on the rug at Lehighton between the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the four-team field. The way it’s supposed to be, right?

In other words, chalk rules.

Yet for a Tri-Valley program that’s returning to the 11-A title game – the Bulldogs dropped a 28-13 decision to backyard rival Williams Valley in last season’s final – squaring off against Northern Lehigh will be no easy task.

Joe Tout’s Bulldogs (10-1) claimed last season’s Class 2A championship by popping Palmerton 64-34, then won a pair of games in the state playoffs before running into a Southern Columbia side that eventually won its fifth in a row.

Of course, this is the same Northern Lehigh program that, some 19 years back, spent a Sunday afternoon frantically chasing Aliquippa’s Darrelle Revis all over a Hersheypark Stadium playpen lined with snowbanks. And rarely caught him.

Long before he was blanketing National Football League receivers, Revis had Northern Lehigh stranded on an island as he racked up five touchdowns in the Quips’ 32-27 victory in the 2A championship game.

In addition to returning a kickoff 89 yards for one score, Revis scooped up a blocked field goal attempt and wheeled 69 yards for a second. His other three TDs came on running plays as the Quips rallied for the win.

Fast forward to 2022 and Tout’s Bulldogs – now part of the Class A fraternity – will head into their dustup with another set of Bulldogs on a six-game winning streak that began one week after their 31-0 loss to North Schuylkill.

Nearly a week ago, Northern Lehigh opened a 23-0 lead that would be more than enough to carry the Bulldogs past Mahanoy Area (30-7) and into the 11-A title game. Quarterback Nick Frame was Northern Lehigh’s main protagonist, rushing 12 times for 78 yards and three touchdowns while completing 9 of his 16 pass attempts for 105 yards and a 26-yard TD to Austyn Smyth.

Northern Lehigh’s ball-control attack – since Jeff Sampson’s squad prefers that approach, this game could be over in a hurry – also resulted in a 63-yard outing (10 carries) by Izaiah Ramos. Ramos also caught four balls for 26 yards.

Frame, Ramos and Grady Newhard also posted interceptions for Northern Lehigh, while A.J. Jimenez-Wittong and Bailey Smith each recorded seven stops.

While Tri-Valley (10-1) dusted Mahanoy Area 21-6 in a Week 2 encounter that doubled as a Colonial-Schuylkill League Blue Division scrap, Sampson’s Bulldogs spent last weekend hammering out a 24-13 win over Minersville.

The victory was the 100th of Sampson’s coaching career.

Kameron Wetzel rushed for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns – Wetzel’s scores covered eight and five yards – but he also caught a 53-yard pass from Kole Miller as the Bulldogs opened a 17-0 lead in the third quarter.

Ordinarily limited to handling the kicking chores, Chase Stephen showed his overall athleticism by reeling in a 39-yard pass for Tri-Valley’s first score, adding the PAT and then booting a 33-yard field goal. Wetzel took over from there.

Miller wound up completing six of his 10 throws for 159 yards and his scoring heave to Stephen, while Jake Scheib backed Wetzel in the running game with eight carries for 51 yards. For the game, Tri-Valley totaled 380 offensive yards.

While Tri-Valley was nicked up by Minersville feature back Luke Stevenosky (19 carries-126 yards) and freshman QB Dante Carr (8-61, TD) in the run game, Carr added 132 yards through the air by completing 8 of his 26 pass attempts.

Carr was intercepted twice – Jolten Flory got him both times – but he did hook up with classmate Paiten Lapoint for an 86-yard score that pulled the Miners within four points (17-13) with 10 minutes to play.

Wetzel’s five-yard TD run restored Tri-Valley’s lead to double digits.

Sophomore linebacker Noah Porter posted a team-high 13 tackles for Tri-Valley, while inside backer Reece Huntzinger added nine stops (one quarterback sack) and defensive lineman Justis Troutman finished with eight.

And while only the victor will land in the PIAA’s Class A tournament bracket, the losing team will head for home with 10 wins in its hip pockets.

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