Written by: Guy Smith on Wednesday, January 4th, 2023
Around District 11: The Travels of Guy & Pam
Week Sixteen: Epiblog
2022.19. We had hoped to get in one more football game before the end of the season, but it didn’t work out and the six state championship games at Cumberland Valley turned out to be the last football games of the year for Guy and Pam.
The targeted game was the NCAA D3 National Championship game on Friday, December 16, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD between the North Central (IL) Cardinals and the University of Mount Union (OH) Purple Raiders. We had never seen an NCAA football national championship game before, although we did see a national championship in another sport in 2021, the D2 Field Hockey championship at Millersville University where Shippensburg defeated West Chester. The closest we had been in football was the D3 semi final in 2019 when Muhlenberg College (where Executive Education Academy Charter School plays their home games) hosted North Central.
But the best laid plans…On game day at 2:30 a.m. we got a call that Guy’s 95-year-old mother was being rushed to the emergency room and we spent the rest of the night at the hospital. Even down a half night’s sleep, we still hoped to be able to make the game that evening, but learned that a decision would be made regarding her need for surgery that afternoon so we had to return to the hospital to be part of the process and thus no game.
We did have a backup plan and that was to go to the Fenway Bowl the following day. Pam had nixed Guy’s idea to attend the previous year, but agreed this time. But we were told that mom did not need surgery and would be released Saturday, so Fenway was out. On Saturday they decided not to release her that day anyway, so we could have gone to the game. Win some, lose some.
There were still two more possibilities, the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium or the Military Bowl at the Naval Academy. We had already been to both of those bowls, in fact the Military Bowl twice, once at RFK Stadium and once at the Naval Academy. In a case of “been there, done that,” our interest level for either of those bowls was low. Mediocre teams playing backups with high-ticket prices and costly parking. Neither seemed worth the hassle, so we ended up passing on both.
Guy ended the season with 58 football games attended, just one short of 2021, when COVID resulted in rescheduled games on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and even Sundays. Pam attended all but four of the 58, missing two when she was in New Orleans presenting and being honored at the American Speech and Hearing Association national convention, then two more the following week when she brought home a positive COVID test from the conference and was in home quarantine.
The 2022 football total was 58 (-4 Pam). Breakdown: 24 D11 HS Varsity, 11 D11 HS JV, 7 NCAA college PSAC (or related), 7 Non D11 State Playoff, 6 HS All-Star Games with D11 players, 1 NCAA D1 College, 1 Non D11 HS, 1 NFL.
For comparison, 2021 total was 59 (-5 Pam). Breakdown: 37 D11 HS Varsity, 12 D11 HS JV, 6 State Finals, 3 College (one D1, one D2, one D3), 1 HS All-Star Game.
We completed our goal of seeing all 47 PIAA District 11 teams play a home varsity game in just two seasons.
Started were new targets of seeing every D11 JV team that plays at a different site than the school’s varsity, and every NCAA D2 PSAC team play a home game.
On Friday, December 30 we went to a Kutztown University Women’s/Men’s basketball doubleheader which ended our sports attending year.
Overall sports events for 2022 were 82 races, 58 football games, 19 Kutztown University All-Sports (football double counted), 16 ice hockey (excluding KU), 15 baseball, 12 basketball (excluding KU), 10 soccer (excluding KU/BU), 11 Bloomsburg University All-Sports, 8 Other for a total of 231.
Guy finished the Bloomsburg University All-Sports Challenge, seeing all 41 teams play. Pam is still missing Women’s Spring Rugby Sevens, as she was at a conference when Guy went to see that team. NCAA D2 Golf was a new sport for us to see in person.
In September, we started another All Sports Challenge, this time at Kutztown and saw 16 different sports teams play by the end of the year. NCAA D2 Bowling was a new sport for us.
In the “Other Sports” category, Minor League Cricket (The Philadelphians vs. Manhattan Yorkers) and Harness Racing were new sports to us this year. And now, back to Football.
D11 TEAM OF THE YEAR. Allentown Central Catholic Vikings. The Vikes are a 4A school playing in a mostly 6A division, the EPC South. They went through the regular season gauntlet at 5-5, losing to 6A powerhouses Emmaus, Freedom, and Nazareth as well as to 5A district champ Whitehall. They also suffered a tough one-point loss to rival Bethlehem Catholic. However, they beat eventual 6A district champ Parkland.
Once the playoffs began and they played schools of similar size, the Vikes went on a tear, eliminating Bangor, Bethlehem Catholic in a rematch, undefeated Jersey Shore, and putting up 50 unanswered against one-loss Meadville before finally losing to state runner-up Aliquippa. As the only D11 team to make it to Week 15, they are our Team of the Year.
D11 TEAM OF THE YEAR RUNNERUP. Northern Lehigh Bulldogs. NorLehi dropped to 1A for the first time and almost went all the way. They played mostly larger schools during the regular season, going 9-1 and losing only to 3A district runner-up North Schuylkill.
In the playoffs, they beat Mahanoy Area, Tri-Valley, and Lackawanna Trail before losing in the final minute to eventual state champion Steelton-Highspire. We think if they could have held on against the Rollers, they would have gone all the way.
D11 SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD. Executive Education Academy Charter School. We saw Exec play three times, once a home game at Muhlenberg, once on the road at Tri-Valley, and in the district championship against Catasauqua at Whitehall. We sat with their fans for the first two of those games. The Raptor supporters were among the friendliest we sat with, cheering for their team while not disparaging the other team’s players, fans, or the referees. After they beat Catty for the 2A district title, they didn’t head home, but hung around to see the 4A championship that followed. The players proudly and rightfully wore the gold medals they had earned earlier in the day, but were both humble and polite to well wishers who congratulated them. The players we saw acted without arrogance or braggadocio, the way we wished all champions would act. Then to top it off, a number of the players showed up in Northampton on Thanksgiving morning, sitting on the Catasauqua side, supporting the team they had recently eliminated. And again, as people wished them well in their state playoff game the next evening, they were gracious and thanked everyone for the well wishes assuring they were going to do their best.
D11 GAME OF THE YEAR. We didn’t see as many barnburners this year as last, but our favorite was the D11 2A championship game pitting Catasauqua vs. Executive Education Academy at Whitehall. Catty was coming off a number of very lean seasons while Exec was only in their second year of fielding a football team. The two teams had completely different styles of play: Catty a grind-it-out smash-mouth running game, Exec a wide open passing game and sweep-style runs. Yet they were evenly matched. The Roughies took the lead with two minutes to go, only to lose it and district gold on a long pass with just three ticks left on the clock.
GAME OF THE YEAR OUTSIDE D11. The best high school game we saw outside D11 was the state 3A final with Belle Vernon defeating Neumann Goretti by a single point. Belle Vernon scored at the end of the third quarter, missed the conversion, and took a 9-8 lead. In the last few minutes, the Saints picked off an errant throw, and advanced all the way to the one. A fumble was ruled “simultaneous possession” and the offense got to keep the ball. Unbelievably, NG fumbled again and this time, there was nothing simultaneous about the recovery possession. However, the ball was still on the one-yard line, and with a 9-8 score, any loss of yardage for a safety could win the game for NG. They jumped offside and that was all she wrote.
COLLEGE GAME OF THE YEAR. After an afternoon game at Millersville that had also come down to the final play, we completed a rare PSAC double as East Stroudsburg had an evening game, hosting nationally ranked IUP. ESU fell behind, but came roaring back to tie the game at 35 with just over four minutes remaining. IUP moved the ball downfield and kicked the tiebreaking field goal with no time left on the clock. IUP would end the season 10-2 and finish with a 10th place national ranking in NCAA D2, the best of any Pennsylvania team this year.
PROFESSIONAL GAME OF THE YEAR. Guy and Pam are not huge fans of Major League sports, calling them Corporate Sports, and not as a compliment. But we do go to games now and then. Our first 2022 game happened to be an NFL game where the New York Jets hosted the Tampa Bay Bucs. The reason for attending was two-fold. One was to see a football game at the Meadowlands. Guy had been to one previous Jets game, but that was at Shea Stadium and was such a long, long time ago that the Jets didn’t suck (Joe Namath was the Jet’s QB – that’s how long ago it was). The other reason was because we had never seen Tom Brady play in person, and wanted to be able to say we saw The G.O.A.T. Brady did not disappoint. The upset minded Jets folded in the 4th as usual, getting outscored by the Buccaneers 11-0, including a pinpoint TD pass from Brady with just 15 seconds left to secure a 28-24 comeback win on the road. Fire the cannons.
EVENT OF THE YEAR. Although we were somewhat familiar with the game, we had never been to the Big 33 game until legendary Billy Splain invited us this season. With a pair of games on Sunday and the Big 33 on Monday, all at Bishop McDevitt High School where we had also never been before, this event had an electric atmosphere seldom found at any sort of all-star game. An amazing event program book, a jaw-dropping halftime performance by the all-star cheerleaders, and a great array of food trucks brought in for the weekend all added to the big event feel. We really enjoyed the weekend from start to finish.
WORST WEATHER GAME. We had far fewer weather issues this season than last. The worst weather game for 2022 was a rare home night game for Bloomsburg University (Only 6th ever), where it rained moderately for most of the game. The fact that our Huskies upset West Chester 21-16 made it feel a bit dryer. It’s not that the rain was so bad at that particular game, but it was part of a wet weekend where it poured for most of the Kutztown Women’s Rugby game that afternoon, rained for most of the Bloomsburg University football game in the evening, then after a dry morning the next day, started raining again just as the Bloomsburg Women’s Club Soccer game got underway. For runner up, we would have to say the May 21 Schuylkill vs. Colonial All-Star Game at Schuylkill Haven, not because of wet weather, but because of a brutally hot and sunny day with temperatures in the 90s and little shade.
SNACKBAR OF THE YEAR. Our most popular blogs last year was our D11 First-Team All Snack Bar blog. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit most of the best of the best refreshment stands this season, the majority of which are Schuylkill County schools. Not only did we not get to return to our Grand Champion Shenandoah Valley, we missed out on other Skook refreshment stand powerhouses Nativity, Marion, Minersville, Panther Valley, Tamaqua, Pine Grove, and Blue Mountain.
With far fewer D11 schools visited this year, including missing many with the best eats, we decided to limit our categories this season. In the overall “Snack Bar of the Year” category, of the schools we visited, it’s 1) Lehighton, 2) Schuylkill Haven, and 3) Easton. Best soup was Schuylkill Haven, but it was not available for the All-Star game. In the “Most Unique Great Tasting Individual Food Item,” the winner was the city chicken at Pottsville, but again, it was not available for the playoff game. The NJ Jets game at MetLife had the best popcorn, although lines and stadium-wide cashless policy made it a hassle to get.
In Guy’s “King of the Fresh Cuts” rankings, he has Tri-Valley (Williams) as overall champions with Jim Thorpe on top in the non-fry truck category. Outside of D11, was Fleetwood (Sammy’s), and for college it was Millersville (Bricker’s). Best fry truck variety by far was Whitehall (Island Expressions). Pam decided to try all the Mac and Cheese offerings this year, and her “Final Four” were 1) Pottsville, 2) Cumberland Valley, 3) Catasauqua, and 4) Tri-Valley.
D11 STATE RANKED BY PA FOOTBALL NEWS
4) 4A Allentown Central Catholic Vikings
6) 1A Northern Lehigh Bulldogs
7) 6A Emmaus Hornets
8) 3A Northwestern Lehigh Tigers
10) 6A Parkland Trojans
10) 3A North Schuylkill Spartans
HM) 6A Freedom Patriots
HM) 5A Southern Lehigh Spartans
HM 5A Whitehall Zephyrs
HM) 2A Executive Education Academy Raptors
HM) 1A Tri-Valley Bulldogs
Congrats to all of the above for being recognized for their successful seasons.
That about wraps it up for the season. Our greatest compliment is that we have inspired two other couples to follow our lead and attempt similar activities in their areas. Our plan is to continue to contribute to PA Football News next year, as long as they will still have us. Sincere thanks to everyone who takes the time to read our blog. We enjoy the feedback at [email protected].
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