It’s Week 9 of Lancaster-Lebanon League football action, and the races for section championships and District 3 playoff power points have reached a fevered pitch.
There are solo leaders across the board in section play, with Manheim Township, Manheim Central and Lancaster Catholic standing alone atop their respective chases. With wins on Friday, the Blue Streaks, Barons and Crusaders would clinch no worse than a tie for section gold, as all three teams go for section-title repeats.
Last year, Township shared the Section 1 crown with Warwick and Wilson; Central took the Section 2 title outright; and Catholic finished alone atop the Section 3 standings.
Safe to say there are plenty of scenarios and story lines swirling around the league this time around with two weeks to go. All 12 of Friday’s games begin at 7 p.m. Here’s a preview:
Manheim Township (4-0 league, 8-0 overall) at McCaskey (0-4, 0-8): The Streaks are sailing right along, sitting atop the section and D3-6A standings, owners of the league’s top-ranked defense (145 yards a game against) and top-ranked offense (409 yards a game), and angling for a perfect 10-0 regular-season ride. They’ll get a struggling Red Tornado outfit that has dropped a dizzying 15 games in a row. … Key stat: Township has allowed a league-low 424 rushing yards and 55 points. … Key kids: Keep an eye on a pair of McCaskey DB’s here; Dae-Dae Rodriguez (14 tackles, 1 pass breakup) and Davion Scarborough (14 tackles, 1 pass breakup) have to help keep tabs on Streaks’ QB Harrison Kirk (95-of-153 for 1,521 yards, 15 TDs against just 2 INT) and his merry band of deep-threat pass-catchers.
Wilson (3-1, 7-1) at Cedar Crest (3-2, 6-2): The Bulldogs have rallied nicely since their loss to Township with back-to-back wins, including last week’s nail-biter, goal-line-stand 14-7 victory over Warwick. The Falcons have hit a speed bump, losing two of three to fall two games back in the section hunt, and they’re looking to pick up the pieces after last week’s 62-0 setback against Township. It won’t be an easy chore here against a surging Bulldogs’ bunch. … Key stat: Wilson has allowed 536 rushing yards, second-fewest in the L-L League. … Key kid: Cedar Crest RB Tyler Cruz (189-1,051, 14 TDs) is second in the league in rushing, and the Falcons would love to establish a rushing attack — while chewing up some clock and moving the sticks — against the Bulldogs’ stout rush D. Keep an eye on that matchup.
Hempfield (1-3, 3-5) at Penn Manor (1-3, 3-5): The Black Knights earned their first section win last week, and the Comets have won two of their last three games, so a couple of hot teams will square off in Millersville. The crux in this clash: Can Penn Manor’s defense tame shifty Hempfield back Tanner Hess, who had a monster 181-yard, 3-TD effort last week against McCaskey. … Key stat: Penn Manor has 1,000 team passing yards on the dot; Hempfield has yielded 1,127 passing yards, most among Section 1 teams. … Key kid: PM WR Kyle Murr had four TD grabs last week in the crossover win against Elizabethtown. Hempfield’s secondary must be aware of Murr on the flanks. Keep an eye on the skies in this skirmish.
SECTION 1-2 CROSSOVER
Warwick (3-2 Section 1, 6-2 overall) at Conestoga Valley (2-3 Section 2, 2-6 overall): The Warriors have dropped two games in a row — including last week's gut-punch, goal-line-stand setback at Wilson — to fall off the pace in Section 1, and Warwick’s high-powered offensive attack has managed just 14 points in the last eight quarters. That’s a bit of a head-scratcher. The Warriors will try and reignite their jets against another pass-happy team; Buckskins’ QB Bradley Stoltzfus has thrown for 1,849 yards with 21 TD strikes. Offense will be the name of the game in this matchup. ... Fun fact: CV and Warwick will be Section 2 partners next year, when the league goes to four sections. … Key stat: CV has given up 1,271 passing yards, sixth-most in the league, and the Bucks have surrendered 2,219 rushing yards, second-most in the league. … Key kid: Warwick’s O attack is in dire need of a shot of adrenaline, so keep an eye on QB Joey McCracken (107-of-174 for 1,870 yards, 20 TDs against just 1 INT) to get back to doing what he does best: Spreading the ball around and getting his deep-threats — Conor Adams (39-701, 8 TDs), Caleb Schmitz (31-560, 8 TDs) and Justin Gerhart (18-299, 2 TDs) — involved. Beware CV DBs; Warwick is jonesing to take its frustrations out on somebody.
Garden Spot (0-5, 0-8) at Manheim Central (4-0, 6-2): A win here gives the Barons at least a tie for their 26th section championship, and would give Central — which has won 22 section games in a row, dating back to 2016 — five section crowns in a row. They’ll get a snake-bit Spartans’ outfit that has given everyone fits, but has lost 22 hair-pulling games in a row. And a potential milestone moment on tap for this game: Barons’ QB Evan Simon needs 201 passing yards to become the third-leading passer in league history. … Key stat: Central’s opportunistic defense has 16.5 sacks, seven picks and nine fumble recoveries. … Key kid: If Garden Spot wants to keep this one close against the rampaging Barons, QB Jesse Martin needs to be efficient, move the chains and finish drives. He passed for 167 yards last week vs. Cocalico, and he’s been a solid dual-threat (777 passing yards, 7 TDs; 533 rushing yards, 4 TDs) behind center.
Cocalico (3-1, 6-2) at Solanco (2-2, 5-3): There should be plenty of running in this clash, with the Eagles and Golden Mules both employing ground-and-pound Veer/triple-option schemes. In fact, Solanco (2,685 yards) is first and Cocalico (2,354 yards) is second in the league in rushing yardage, so may the best rush defense win this showdown. We’ll set the over/under on total pass attempts in this game at 10. … Key stat: How committed to the run is Solanco? The Mules have just 207 passing yards, fewest in the league. … Key kids: A pair of Cocalico D-line stalwarts are under the spotlight to fill gaps and keep Solanco’s running attack under wraps in this showdown: D-tackle Brock Gingrich (42 tackles, 5 for losses, 5 sacks) and D-end Shawn Fester (30 tackles, 6 for losses, 6 sacks) must keep the league’s leading rusher, Mules’ thumper FB Nick Yannutz (185-1,260, 14 TDs), in their cross-hairs.
Lampeter-Strasburg (3-1, 6-2) at Elizabethtown (1-3, 3-5): The Pioneers, fresh off a 41-14 Milk Jug trophy game win over Solanco, will bring the league’s second-ranked defense (207 yards a game against) and second-ranked offense (403 yards a game) to E-town to face a Bears’ bunch that has lost four out of five, and is looking for some firm footing. E-town must keep tabs on L-S QB Connor Nolt, who torched Solanco for 286 air yards and four TD strikes last week, when the Pioneers dropped the Mules. … Key stat: E-town is averaging 214 yards a game, third-fewest in the league. Injuries haven’t helped; Patrick Gilhool and Josh Rudy have both taken ample snaps at QB, and the Bears, who went playoff dancing last season, just haven’t been able to find their groove. … Key kid: L-S LB Michael Del Grande (71 tackles, 6 for losses, 2 sacks, 5 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery) has been a force on D for the Pioneers. He’ll try and make life miserable for E-town’s movers and shakers in the backfield.
Donegal (5-2, 5-3) at Lancaster Catholic (6-1, 7-1): The Indians have hiccuped, losing two in a row to fall out of sole possession of first place, and they’ll need a victory here to tie the Crusaders atop the race. Two solid rushing attacks on display in this clash, as Donegal’s Joe Fox (129-812, 8 TDs) and Catholic’s Jeff Harley (98-734, 12 TDs) have both been major breakaway threats. ... Fun fact: Catholic has won the last 12 meetings in a row vs. Donegal, but the last four games have been slim, one-score margins, including a 2-OT game two years ago in Lancaster. The last time the Indians beat the Crusaders was in 2001, in OT, and the last time Donegal won at Catholic was back in 1996. … Key stat: Catholic has allowed 577 rushing yards, third-fewest in the league. That could spell trouble for Donegal’s multi-purpose Wing-T offense, which is averaging 338 yards a game, with 1,800-plus rushing yards. … Key kid: Donegal D-end Gavin Hawk (36 tackles, 2 INT) has to help pinch and not let Harley or backfield mate Alex Cruz (63-567, 7 TDs) find open spaces. Those two are averaging a snazzy 8.1 yards per carry between them.
Annville-Cleona (5-2, 5-3) at Elco (5-2, 5-3): The Dutchmen and the Raiders are part of a four-team logjam for second place — and they’re both angling for D3 playoff bids — so the section standings will get a facelift on Friday. Both of these teams are scorching; A-C has won two games in a row — piling up 90 points and 752 yards in the last eight quarters — and Elco is riding a five-game winning streak. Keep an eye on a pair of shifty QB’s in this matchup, with A-C’s Junior Bours (662 passing yards, 7 TDs; 562 rushing yards, 15 TDs) and Elco’s Braden Bohannon (379 passing yards, 5 TDs; 1,046 rushing yards, 13 TDs) directing traffic. … Key stat: A-C features the top-ranked offense (371 yards a game) among Section 3 teams, and the Dutchmen have gouged out 2,269 rushing yards, third-most in the L-L League. … Key kid: Elco RB-LB Erik Williams will need a big tackle night, as the Raiders try and limit A-C plow-horse RB Trevor Porche (175-1,026, 11 TDs). Williams has also chipped in with 391 rushing yards and four TD runs, so he should be a busy body vs. the Dutchmen in this key matchup.
Octorara (2-5, 2-6) at Lebanon (5-2, 5-3): The Cedars, who lost grip on a first-place tie last week after suffering a 24-22 loss at Ephrata, need a win to remain in the thick of the race, and Lebanon still has playoff aspirations. The Cedars’ Air Raid — keyed by QB Isaiah Rodriguez (129-of-223 for 1,609 yards, 12 TDs) and home-run threat WR Alex Rufe (56-804, 6 TDs) — will be tested by the Braves’ secondary, which has yielded the third-fewest passing yards in the league (657). … Key stat: Here’s a cool one — Lebanon is allowing 281.1 yards a game; Octorara is giving up 281.4 yards a game. … Key player: With Lebanon sure to wing the ball all over the lot, Octorara DB Ryan Kernan (24 tackles, 3 INT) should/could draw the assignment of marking Rufe, who has 36 catches in the last four games for the Cedars.
Pequea Valley (0-7, 0-8) at Ephrata (4-3, 4-4): The Mountaineers haven’t had a winning season since a 7-3 campaign in 2003, and a victory here would inch Ephrata closer to finally pulling off that feat for the first time in 16 years. And the Mounts are feeling fine after knocking off Lebanon last week. They’ll get a Braves’ squad looking to snap a maddening 18-game losing skid. … Key stat: PV is sixth out of 10 teams in Section 3 in total team defense (347 yards a game against); Ephrata is ninth (362). … Key kid: Ephrata freshman LB Andre Weidman (60 tackles, 11.5 for losses, 3 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 3 fumble recoveries) had a monster game last week vs. Lebanon, piling up 14 tackles, three for losses, and a sack.
Northern Lebanon (1-6, 1-7) at Columbia (2-5, 3-5): Two teams that aren’t shy about going up top are set to collide in this scuffle; Crimson Tide QB Matt McCleary leads the league in passing yards (2,160) and TD throws (25), and Vikings’ QB Ethan Borcky (1,484 yards, 10 TDs) spearheads NL’s offensive attack. The defensive backs might need oxygen masks after this game. … Key stat: NL has rushed for a league-low 263 yards, and allowed a league-high 2,220 rushing yards, one more stripe than Conestoga Valley. … Key kid: Columbia RB Justin Elliott (36-249, 4 TDs) is averaging 7.0 yards a carry, and he’s done a pretty good job in the rushing department when the Tide has given its air attack a breather. NL hasn’t had much success stopping the run this season, so keep an eye on Elliott to perhaps get more touches in this clash.