Now, Northern Bedford coach Jeff Batzel has an idea how opposing teams feel when preparing a date with the Black Panthers.
North Star coach Stacy Schmitt also sees a lot of familiar tendencies and strengths when he looks at the video in advance of a District 5 Class A semifinal in Loysburg.
“In preparing for them this week it’s kind of like how teams prepare for us,” said Batzel, whose 9-1 Black Panthers will host the 9-2 Cougars at 7 p.m. Friday. “In many ways we’re mirror images of each other.
“We noticed they do a lot of things like we do,” he added. “Their success is based, like ours, on fundamental, sound play, good line play. Establish the running game but be able to go to the air too.”
Each team can accumulate big passing numbers by utilizing skilled quarterbacks and tall receivers.
The Cougars and Black Panthers can gain yardage on the ground.
Both squads are solid on defense, with North Star giving up only 8.9 points a game, and Northern Bedford allowing 10.2 points a game.
“Just like teams have to do when playing against us, you’ve got to be able to stop their passing game,” North Star’s Schmitt said of the Panthers. “They’ve got enough receivers. They can run the ball pretty well too. They have a balanced attack. It’s hard to concentrate on one area.”
Northern Bedford junior quarterback Blake Over has completed 117 of 203 passes for 1,745 yards, 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Kyler Diehl is a 6-foot-5 junior with 47 receptions for 751 yards and six touchdowns. Seniors Tayler Pressel (32 catches, 560 yards, three touchdowns) and Zach Pressel (29-286, three) provide a pair of 6-4 targets.
“Blake has good vision. He understands the windows of opportunity to get the football to people,” Batzel said. “He has the ability to extend the play and make things happen. He’s pretty quick. He has good instincts and knows his surroundings. He knows when to get on his horse and get out of Dodge.”
On the ground, senior tailback Conner Kagarise (135 carries, 761 yards, nine touchdowns) and senior fullback Caleb Ebersole (92-457, 10 touchdowns) have combined for most of the Black Panthers’ 1,308 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.
“Ebersole and Kagarise are our key people on the ground,” Batzel said. “They are both hard runners with good speed. Like North Star, they take advantage of a line that does a good job of getting after it at the point of attack.”
The Cougars have rushed for 1,909 yards and 25 touchdowns, with sophomore Shawn Costas gaining a team-high 716 yards on 113 carries. Junior Thomas Miller has 577 yards on 116 attempts.
Five different passers have combined to throw for 1,226 yards and 11 scores. Junior Joey Berkebile has a team-high 575 passing yards.
The 6-5 senior Tony Strasiser has 42 catches for 741 yards, a 17.64 average, and seven touchdowns.
“We’re staying pretty balanced. Our running game has been effective,” Schmitt said. “We’ve been good throwing the ball. But all year our strongpoint has been our defense. So far we’ve managed to keep the opponents under control. We’re definitely going to need another big defensive effort on Friday.”
North Star junior linebacker-captain Levi Albright has a team-best 139 tackles, including 86 solo stops, seven sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Junior Shane Supanick has eight sacks, and senior defensive end Brady Shroyer has seven sacks. Senior defensive back Brantley Rice has five interceptions.
“We’re fortunate this year that we’ve had a couple young guys step up. Levi, our middle linebacker has had a phenomenal year,” Schmitt said. “We have a real good linebacker corps. Our defensive line and ends are our strong suit. We’ve been pressuring the quarterback. Our secondary is pretty good with Brantley Rice a three-year starter and T (Strasiser) is at the other corner. Each unit on defense has just been playing great all year.”
On defense, Northern Bedford has 14 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries for 23 forced turnovers. Diehl’s six picks top the team. Zach Pressel has six sacks, and senior linebacker Drew Gartland has 87 tackles and six sacks.
“Our defense has been our most pleasant surprise this year,” Batzel said. “We’ve got a group up front that understands their roles. We’ve got an outstanding foursome of linebackers in both Pressels, Gartland and Ebersole, who are the heart and soul of our defense. We feel we have a pretty good secondary as well. They’ve played much better than we envisioned back in August.”
The Cougars take to the road with plenty of District 5 and state playoff experience. North Star won district titles four times in the past five seasons (2011, 2010, 2008, 2007).
“This time of the year you have to get used to traveling,” Schmitt said. “That’s what you do. You’re scheduling gets a little bit more difficult but I don’t think that’s going to be insurmountable.”
Batzel feels homefield advantage is important, but the veteran coach realizes North Star won’t be shaken by its role as the visitor.
“The field is the same length anywhere you go, but it’s nice to be at home,” Batzel said. “We know what to expect. We know what goes on and we know the routine at our home field. That familiarity is important as you prepare for a game. It’s a reward for an outstanding season to get a home game.”