From the first day of heat acclimatization practice on Aug. 5, until the very last Lancaster-Lebanon League football team is standing later this fall, we’ll bring you three fun L-L League pigskin facts on a daily basis to keep you updated about what’s happening around the league …
Three L-L League teams — including a pair of bitter Section 2 rivals — are still alive in the D3-5A bracket: 1-seed Cocalico, 4-seed Manheim Central and 5-seed Warwick. The Barons play the Warriors on Friday, so one of those squads will be eliminated. The winner gets the survivor of Cocalico vs. Governor Mifflin in the semifinals. So unlike last year — when Central topped Cocalico in the D3 championship game — there can’t be an all-L-L League title tilt in 5A. So three league teams are duking it out for one championship-game slot. Breaking down those two 5A quarterfinal games, which also just happen to be rematches:
1. Cocalico, thanks to a first-round bye, has had two full weeks to get healthy and prep for Friday’s clash against a familiar foe; the Eagles beat Governor Mifflin 26-14 at home back in Week 3. FYI: Mifflin hasn't lost since. Cocalico also beat the Mustangs 35-21 last fall in Shillington, so there is plenty of familiarity between these squads. The name of the game for Cocalico and Mifflin is ball-controlled rushing attacks; the Eagles have rushed for 3,012 yards in 10 games, while Mifflin has gouged out 3,251 yards in 11 games. Interestingly, both defenses did a good job in the run-stuffer department in their Week 3 clash; Mifflin held Cocalico to 126 rushing yards, while the Eagles held the Mustangs to 149 rushing yards. Mifflin did a nice job corralling Cocalico QB Noah Palm, who was held to 46 yards on 23 keepers — just 2 yards per rush. He’s a 1,000-yard rusher. However, Palm went 5-for-9 for 89 yards through the air, with a pair of TD passes to Ronald Zahm, and Cocalico came up big in special teams, getting a 76-yard kickoff return for a TD from Steven Flinton to turn the game around. Mifflin RB ace Nick Singleton — the leading rusher in Berks with 1,669 yards, plus 31 TDs — had two TD runs in the first game, and he’s a must-tackle kid for Cocalico’s D. The forecast for Friday night is for swirling winds and temperatures in the 30s, which aren’t exactly ideal for a passing attack. Safe to say neither of these teams are going to go up top much anyway, so this one should come down to who can win the trench battles at the line of scrimmage, who can establish a consistent rushing attack and, more importantly, which team defends it better. Keep an eye on the trenches — and perhaps another key special teams play — in this clash. May the best wrap-and-tackle team win.
2. While Cocalico was dispatching Governor Mifflin back in Week 3 in Denver, over in Lititz, Warwick was polishing off Manheim Central by a 37-7 count, as the Warriors put up 439 yards of total offense while holding the Barons to just 152 yards in snapping Central’s 27-game regular-season unbeaten streak. QB Joey McCracken passed for 290 yards and three scores, Colton Miller rushed for 122 yards and a TD, and Warwick took care of business on both sides of the ball for its first win over the Barons since 1983. Central went on to fall at Wilson the next week, but the Barons have righted their ship to the tune of seven wins in a row, and they’re averaging 49.9 points per game over that sizzling clip. The QB matchup in the rematch is about as good as it gets across D3: McCracken (148-of-240 for 2,510 yards, 25 TDs; 300 rushing yards) and Evan Simon (142-of-248 for 2,411 yards, 23 TDs; 828 rushing yards, 14 TD keepers) are enjoying fabulous seasons. Again, it’s going to be cold and windy on Friday night, so we’ll see what the weather does to the passing game. If this game comes down to a sustained rushing attack, moving the chains and chewing up clock, Miller (1,094 yards, 26 TDs) has been doing plenty of that for Warwick; he juked for 160 yards and three scores last week vs. Mechanicsburg, so he’s in a good groove. Two more kids to mention here, and they are two of the top interior linemen in the L-L League: Warwick’s Nolan Rucci and Central’s Troy Kolk know their way around the line of scrimmage. Fundamental blocking and tackling are a must in this matchup, so keep an eye on those guys — and their line mates. Look, we could do a deeper dive into stats and trends for this game, but the L-L League folks know what they’re getting here: A much-anticipated, win-or-go-home rematch featuring a pair of backyard rivals. Get to Elden Rettew early on Friday. And bring your blankets. This has all the makings of a real doozy.
3. PLAYOFF PICKS
Excruciatingly tough predicting this weekend’s games, so for the record: These are all gut-hunch, off-the-top-of-my-head selections. No game breakdowns or analytical mumbo-jumbo. Just an off-the-hip, rapid-fire pick.
LAST WEEK: 10-0
Harrisburg over Wilson
Manheim Township over Central Dauphin
Cocalico over Governor Mifflin
Manheim Central over Warwick
Lampeter-Strasburg over York Suburban
Middletown over Lancaster Catholic
Wyomissing over Annville-Cleona