After an uneasy offseason, and sweating out a PIAA vote to green-light this season in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic and state-wide health and safety protocols, Lancaster-Lebanon League football teams will finally take the field on Friday night.
It will look completely different than what we’re used to; with a no-fans-in-the-stands mandate, the bleachers will be empty, meaning no student cheering sections. Some schools will have marching bands perform. Some won’t. Some teams will have cheerleaders. Some won’t. Concession stands will be closed, which means no popcorn or hot dogs.
There will also be plenty of social distancing and mask-wearing, as cleanliness and sanitizing will rule the day. It’s a whole new world, but a world — for now — that includes L-L League football, which kicks off its 49th season Friday night. And that’s a good thing.
The only idle L-L League team this week is Conestoga Valley; the Buckskins are currently in quarantine after multiple positive COVID-19 tests in the school district. CV is set to return to the practice field Sept. 22, and the Bucks are slated to play their first game Sept. 26 at Warwick.
Here’s previewing the Week 1 nonleague games, which begin at 7 p.m., unless noted:
Lampeter-Strasburg at Solanco: It’s the 11th annual Milk Jug game between these neighboring districts and former Section 2 combatants, as L-S opens defense of its District Three Class 4A title. The Pioneers lead the trophy series 7-3, and L-S is set to welcome back dual-threat QB Sean McTaggart, who missed last season with a knee injury. Plenty of beef in the trenches for both of these squads, so may the best line-of-scrimmage play win. … Key kid: Solanco LB Seth Harnish piled up a team-best 83 tackles last season — two for losses, plus a pair of sacks — and he and his D mates must keep an eye on L-S RB Alex Knapp, the Pioneers’ jack-of-all-trades performer. He’ll line up all over the place, and should garner plenty of attention from Harnish and his pals. … Milk Jug trophy remained in Lampeter over the last year compliments of the Pioneers’ 41-14 victory last season.
Elizabethtown at McCaskey: The Red Tornado is out to snap a 17-game losing skid, but returns a solid nucleus of skill kids, defenders and line talent. And McCaskey should be plenty motivated, after finding out just two weeks ago via school board voting that it was indeed getting a season. The Bears also return a nice nucleus, including QB Patrick Gilhool and run-stuffer defenders Jett Kelly and Bobby Walters. … Key kid: E-town likes to go up top; Gilhool threw for 1,302 yards with nine TD tosses last fall, and he’ll be surveying the field to see where McCaskey DB Jah’Cire Williams is lined up at all times. Williams had 27 tackles with a pair of pass breakups and a pick last fall, and he’s ticketed to be one of the top cover-corners in Section 1.
Warwick at Penn Manor: There are enormous expectations for the Warriors, who are returning a slew of talent from last year’s district semifinalist squad, including Wisconsin commit Nolan Rucci, Cincinnati pledge Caleb Schmitz, Joey McCracken and Colton Miller — to name a few. McCracken, rehabbing from knee surgery, is waiting for a final thumbs-up to return to action. Meanwhile, Comets’ QB Luke Braas has plenty of big-game experience. But it will be up to Penn Manor’s defense to tame the Warriors’ high-flying offensive attack in this tussle between former Section 1 playmates. … Key kid: Warwick D-end Thatcher Miller (29 tackles, 4 for losses, 3 sacks) is a disruptive force off the edge, and he’ll be looking to get in the backfield and make Braas as uncomfortable as possible.
Garden Spot at Cocalico, 7:30 p.m.: The Bryan Strohl Era starts now for the Eagles, as they welcome a new skipper, fresh off last year’s D3-5A championship — and with a battalion of returning talent up front and on defense. They’ll get a Spartans’ outfit jonesing to snap a 24-game losing streak in a battle of former Section 2 foes. … FYI: Garden Spot’s last win over Cocalico: 21-14 on Oct. 21, 2011 in a Section 2 tilt. … Key kid: If you’re playing Cocalico, that means one thing: Slowing down the Eagles’ triple-option attack. That also means wrapping and tackling up front, and not letting Cocalico’s speedy backs — namely Steven Flinton and Micah Ulysse — get loose. Garden Spot DT Luke Shirk (20 tackles, 1 sack) has to help clog up the line and not let the Eagles’ playmakers get their feet moving.
Columbia at Lancaster Catholic: Chris Maiorino makes his debut as the Crusaders’ new boss in this matchup of former Section 3 rivals. Two new quarterbacks on display in this clash, as Columbia’s Robert Footman and Catholic’s Mason McClair will make their signal-calling debuts. … Key kid: Columbia is certainly loaded in the pass-catching department, with multiple key receivers due back. The Tide also returns its leading rusher; Justin Elliott scooted for 425 yards and five touchdowns last fall, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He’s a weapon. If Catholic is having success limiting Columbia’s passing attack, Elliott has the skills to pick up the slack on the ground.
Manheim Central at Cedar Crest: The Barons are riding a 24-game regular-season unbeaten streak, but they’ll be breaking in 20 total new starters across the board in this dust-up against the Falcons, who also had some big holes to fill this offseason. Central’s top priority is curtailing Crest QB Chris Danz, a 1,600-yard passer last fall. … Key kid: Crest coach Rob Wildasin said this week to keep an eye on newbie flank threat Nate Brightbill. With Danz looking for some new air targets — and with Central breaking in new cover-corners on the hashes — we’ll see if Brightbill can become a go-to target for the Falcons.
Hempfield at Exeter: It’s the debut of Black Knights’ rookie coach George Eager, as Hempfield gets an Eagles’ squad that went to the D3-5A semifinals last fall — and returns 2,000-yard passer Gavin McCusker. Tough Week 1 assignment for the Knights’ defense right out of the chute. … Key kid: Exeter should get a steady dose of Hempfield RB Tanner Hess, a 900-yard rusher last season. So Eagles’ LB Tyler Yocum should be busy. He amassed 63 tackles last fall, with 14.5 sticks for losses and three sacks and a forced fumble. He’s a force. Hempfield must block Yocum.
Governor Mifflin at Wilson: There’s never any love lost when the Mustangs and the Bulldogs knock heads, and Wilson leads the Gurski-Linn Trophy series 7-1, including last year’s 61-14 demolition. Talent aplenty on the field for this one, including Mifflin standouts Cam’Ron Stewart (a Rutgers commit) and blue-chipper Nick Singleton, and Wilson’s Kaleb Brown and Mason Lenart — among many others. … Key kid: Singleton is the back-to-back Berks County rushing champ, so Wilson must zero-in on stopping the Mustangs’ powerful ground-gainer. Bulldogs’ vet D-tackle Jeff Colacin (26 tackles, 5 for losses, 1 forced fumble) is the ultimate run-stuffer up front. Those two should have plenty of body collisions come Friday night.
Elco at Ephrata: The Mountaineers will bring a four-game winning streak into this clash. Ephrata’s last loss? That would be against Elco, 28-20 in a Section 3 game last year. Two fleet-of-foot quarterbacks duking it out here, with Raiders’ all-state dual-threat Braden Bohannon going up against Mounts’ whirling dervish Miracle Wratto. Opposing defenses beware. … Key kid: Slowing down Bohannon is paramount for Ephrata, and the Mounts have a vet ball-hawker in LB Owen Morrongiello. He piled up a team-best 71 sticks last fall, with 8.5 stops for losses, 3.5 sacks and a couple of forced fumbles. If Ephrata is going to spy Bohannon, Morrongiello would be a perfect candidate.
Annville-Cleona at Donegal: Former longtime Section 3 foes will square off in Mount Joy, where the Little Dutchmen — with 20-plus total new starters in tow — must slow down the Indians’ vaunted Wing-T attack, with vet playmakers like QB Trent Weaver and backs Garrett Blake and Mason Ober returning. … Key kid: A-C will be trotting out a first-year QB against the Indians — Gavin Keller and Jake Mills were the top candidates to win the job — so you can bet Donegal’s defenders will try and make life miserable for the Dutchmen’s newbie signal-caller. That could mean a blitz package featuring heavy hitter D-tackle Owen Kling, who is coming off a 66-tackle season, which featured 11 stops for losses and a punishing 7.5 sacks. A-C O-line beware: Kling wants in your backfield to introduce himself to your new QB.
Lebanon at Northern Lebanon: The Vikings, who will be breaking in new skill kids across the board, must come up big defensively against the Cedars, who feature strong-armed QB Isaiah Rodriguez and all-star WR Alex Rufe. … Key kid: Northern Lebanon’s Kalani Adams was an all-star D-end last fall, and the Vikings are shifting him to middle ‘backer this season to take advantage of his ball-hawker skills. Adams has to make as many sticks as possible, while being ready to pivot and jump into coverage to help keep tabs on Rufe.
Octorara at Schuylkill Valley: Weston Stoltzfus won the Braves’ QB battle, and he’ll pilot Octorara’s new-look Wing-T scheme against the Panthers, who went 3-7 last year and then lost some key pieces to graduation, including an 1,800-yard passer. … Key kid: Yes, SV lost some key parts from its passing game. But if the Panthers go up top, they must be wary of Octorara DB Ryan Kernan. He’s stealthy in the back; Kernan had 27 tackles and three interceptions last fall.
Pequea Valley at Pottsville Nativity BVM: The Braves are looking to snap a 20-game losing streak, and they’ll get a Nativity squad fresh off a 31-21 upset win over Pottsville. In that game, Green Wave QB Cody Miller had four TD tosses to Keegan Brennan, so PV’s pass defense will be tested by a vet Nativity offense that returned 10 starters in all. ... FYI: A Class 1A program, Nativity has the lowest enrollment in all of District 11. … Key kid: With Nativity’s penchant to move the ball through the air, it might behoove the Braves to chew some clock and try to keep the sticks moving. Tony Lazar returns to handle the ball-carrying chores for PV; he rushed for 282 yards with a pair of TD romps last year, and the Braves will very likely try to establish him against the Green Wave in their opener.
La Salle College at Manheim Township: The Blue Streaks will be breaking in 21 total new starters, including QB Evan Clark, and Township gets an Explorers’ squad that is playing an independent schedule after the Philadelphia Catholic League canceled its season. Township, which is riding a 14-game regular-season unbeaten streak, must contain LC RB Sam Brown, who has 20 D-1 scholarship offers. … Key kid: Clark did some really good things in Township’s scrimmage last week vs. Manheim Central, including a couple of nifty TD passes on roll-out/waggle plays. In backup duty last fall, he went 6-for-8 for 44 yards with a TD pass, and he rushed for 282 yards — averaging a nifty 13.4 yards per keeper — with four TD runs. If the Streaks can keep getting that kind of production out of Clark, watch out.