Homecoming arrives Friday, with North East alone at the top of Region 4 and hosting Girard, which is winless in four games.
It’s good to be 4-0, especially with wins over General McLane, Fairview and Harbor Creek – three of Region 4’s more formidable opponents – but North East coach Matt Shesman cautions that very good teams can easily stumble if they don’t focus sharply on their next opponent.
“We can’t think we have this thing wrapped up because we don’t. As soon as you let your guard down, bad things happen. We continue to practice hard, prepare hard and take every game one at a time. If we don’t go into every game with the attitude that it’s the most important game of the year, then we’ll get beat.”
Girard’s prolific passing attack looms as a concern of Shesman. YellowJacket signal-caller Joe Dunn completed 13 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 43-27 loss to Northwestern. His favorite target is tight-end Brian McNally.
“That seems to give us problems,” Shesman said of teams with strong quarterbacks, pointing to the ability of Harbor Creek and Greenville to move the all in the air against North East. Girard (0-2, 0-4) can also run the ball, Shesman added. Hunter Jones paces the Jackets with 438 yards.
“They are certainly capable of scoring, and have scored over 20 points in the last three games.”
At Harbor Creek last week, an electrifying 98-yard interception return by Tyler Johnson in the last minute of the second quarter put a sluggish North East back on track and set the stage for what turned into a 35-7 win.
With the score knotted at 7, Harbor Creek drove 29 yards to the North East 17 with less than a minute to play to play in the first half. The Huskies attempted a reverse pass that Johnson, playing underneath the intended receiver, pulled down at the goal line with one hand and then scampered down the sidelines to the 2-yard line.
“Harbor Creek has a very good kicker, so even if they didn’t get the touchdown, they were in a position to more than likely covert a field goal, so that was a huge play, basically a 14-point swing,” Shesman said.
From there, Alex Svetz powered the ball in from 2 yards out for the second of his three touchdowns.
Until that point, the Huskies had controlled the tempo of the game and put the game’s first score on the board on an eight-play, 45-yard drive capped by Tyler Bretz’s 17-yard touchdown run. North East tied the score on a 77-yard march that consumed nearly 7 minutes and was capped by 2-yard run by Svetz. Johnson had key runs of 12 and 21 yards in the drive.
In the third quarter, the Grapepickers stretched the lead to 21-7 on an 80-yard, 15-play campaign, with Svetz rushing in from four yards for the score. A three-yard run by Johnson lifted North East to a 28-7 edge in the fourth quarter, while an interception returned for a touchdown by Cory Bailey gave the Pickers their final score. Travis Hoyt also had an interception for North East in the closing minute.
“Those three interceptions were big plays, even though the last two came with the game in hand. Those are the kinds of big plays that we are capable of making,” Shesman said. (The school record for an interception return is 105 yards by Tony Sanfilippo in 1955.)
Svetz and Johnson combined for over 300 yards; Svetz tallied 156 yards on 27 carries, while Johnson netted 148 on 28 totes. It was the fourth consecutive game each surpassed the 100-yard mark. Bailey completed 2-of-3 passes for six yards.
“I was pleased with the way we maintained our poise, because Harbor Creek was taking it to us. We faced some adversity, especially with them scoring first and basically controlling play in the first quarter,” Shesman said. “We challenged our players to play hard, the way they’re capable of, and they owned the second half.” Of note, Shesman said, was the senior-laden offensive line that was challenged by Harbor Creek’s multiple fronts on defense.
Harbor Creek, held to 186 total yards, was led by Bretz, 69 yards on 6 carries, and Sean Kuzilla, 34 yards on 10 rushes. Austin Griffith completed 10-of-19 passes for 81 yards.
Brady Lynn and Rocky Owens, each with 10 tackles, paced the North East defense, which limited an opponent to one touchdown for the first time this season.