MOOSIC, Pa. — They say "all roads lead back to NEPA." That was evident in this week's college football national championship game. Southern Columbia grad Stone Hollenbach was once again on the sidelines for Alabama, but there was another local tie on the field, and he wasn't even wearing a helmet.
The college football national championship. Georgia. Alabama. And the head referee for the biggest game of the year? Lehighton-native Duane Heydt. Heydt grew up in Carbon County. Moved away in the middle of high school. This year marks his 20th as a football referee. His crew works in the ACC, but this year, he got the call to make the calls in the national championship.
"The experience itself was just incredible," Heydt said. "To be out there on that field, among that environment, the electricity, some of the best players and coaches perse in college football in college football, to be given the opportunity to work a game like that is just kind of something that you dream about."
The 49-year-old has worked big games before. National Semifinals - the 2017 Rose Bowl between Penn State and USC - but this was his first national title - an honor, that comes with responsibility.
"Once we snap the football, it's just another football game," Heydt said. "Clearly it's not. We treat every single game as if it is the national championship. It just so happened on Monday night, it was the national championship."
A burden he didn't shoulder alone - a bit less visible on TV, coordinating with the replay official - the replay communicator. In this game, that was Panther Valley grad and Summit Hill-native Caz Kosciolek.
"My path was a little different than Duane's because I was a college football coach for 19 seasons,"Kosciolek explained. "When you see all the guys on the field with the mics that they're wearing, I'm the guy that they're talking to. When Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler are on there telling you what the decision is and why, that's usually coming from me."
Two Carbon County natives on the same officiating crew for the national championship. They moved away decades ago, but their NEPA roots led them to this stage.
"It's a small world," Kosciolek said. "It really is. The odds of two people who grew up ten minutes apart working together, not only in a national championship game, but in the same national championship game, it is a pretty cool thing."
"Just how some kid from Lehighton, Pennsylvania, some kid from the Summit Hill area and to say look how far we've come," Heydt added. "I was thinking about just how when you grow up, just the people that impact your life and where you've been and what you've done, and to just bring all that with me and just try to represent the area and hopefully we did everyone proud."
Heydt and Kosciolek hope their story inspires others to take up officiating in their spare time.