Cocalico vs Cheltenham-PIAA 5A Football Semifinal

Cocalico players huddle up one last time after falling to Cheltenham in a PIAA 5A football semifinal at Hersheypark Stadium Friday November 29, 2019. Cheltenham won 56-49.

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

From Aug. 5 until Nov. 30 … it’s been quite an L-L League football season, yes? Manheim Township, Manheim Central and Lancaster Catholic won section championships. And Section 2 rivals Cocalico (5A) and Lampeter-Strasburg (4A) won District 3 crowns and advanced to the PIAA state semifinals. The Eagles and Pioneers both saw their seasons come to a close on Friday — in completely different fashions. It’s never easy ending your season with a loss, especially in the PIAA Final Four. But Cocalico and L-S both have a ton to be proud of. More here in the final daily "3 L-L League football facts" post for the 2019 season:

1. Lampeter-Strasburg’s pregame huddle on Friday, before the Pioneers took on Thomas Jefferson in Hollidaysburg’s Tiger Stadium, was very businesslike. Skipper John Manion delivered a clear-cut message to his troops: He was proud as heck of everyone’s efforts, and that the Pioneers very much belonged where they were standing, and one more big, team-wide effort would punch their tickets to Hershey for a shot at state supremacy. It didn’t happen. TJ won 44-2, and was very much as-advertised: Physical in the trenches. Tenacious on defense, chasing L-S QB Conner Nolt silly all afternoon. The Jaguars’ air-tight defense was unrelenting, stuffing Pioneers’ ball-carriers in their tracks. I had L-S for 6 rushing yards on 19 carries. TJ also picked off four passes, and despite a couple of backward drives — thanks to some inspired L-S defense — the Jaguars still did their thing, to the tune of 44 points and 396 total yards. And that defense? Good luck. QB Shane Stump? Legit. RB Dylan Mallozzi? Hard runner and constantly found daylight running behind a gigantic O-line. Dan Deabner and Ian Hansen on the flanks? Deabner had two TD grabs. Hansen had two picks and a TD catch. ‘Nuff said. Manion and Jacob Kopelman both said on the field after Friday’s game that TJ was the best team they’ve faced, and the best 4A team out there, in their humble opinions. The Jaguars will go for their fourth PIAA title next Thursday at 7 p.m. in Hersheypark Stadium vs. undefeated District 2 champ Dallas. As for L-S … what a ride for those guys, eh? Four D3 wins in a row, including a trio of road games, against the top three seeds, in succession, to win that championship. Eleven victories in all. And a slew of resiliency and moxie after losing some major players to injury. Take a bow, Pioneers. You earned it.

2. Meanwhile, Cocalico suffered perhaps a crueler fate: Cheltenham scored with 45 seconds left in the game for a 56-49, scoreboard-popping, thrill-a-minute, instant-classic win over the shell-shocked Eagles, who took one in the solar plexus. In a game with more twists and turns than the Conestoga River, the Panthers outlasted the Eagles in a contest filled to the brim with big plays and wild comebacks. It ended with Cocalico trying some trickeration on a kickoff return with time running out. Alas, the Eagles saw their sensational season come up 45 seconds and 7 points shy of a state-finals trip. They, like L-S, supplied their fans with so many memorable moments and big plays, and even bigger victories. The greater Lampeter, Strasburg and Denver communities were treated to some spectacular football over the last four months. Good stuff.

3. Much more about this soon … Cocalico coach Dave Gingrich confirmed after Friday’s game that this was his final season as the Eagles’ coach. What a 16-year ride in the head-coaching saddle for Gingrich, who went out in style, with a D3 championship and a trip to the state semifinals — while getting to coach his son in the process. … This leaves two L-L League coaching vacancies as the offseason settles in: Cocalico and Hempfield.

Didn't think my final fact in the final post of the season would be about a coach retiring ... but there it is.

That’s a wrap for the “3 facts” posts for 2019 … thanks for reading along every day for the last four months or so. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s been fun to chronicle yet another season. I’ll have a few more wrap-up-the-year posts in the coming days, plus the L-L League all-stars and players of the year will be announced on Dec. 4. Stay tuned for that.

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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