Lancaster-Lebanon League football, the 2019 edition, has arrived. So pull up a chair and get comfortable for the journey. It should be a fun ride.
And what a way to start the new season, with 20 big matchups on the first night of action, with all 24 league teams getting their seasons started with nonleague games aplenty across the region.
Previewing Friday’s games, which all begin at 7 p.m. …
Penn Manor at Conestoga Valley: Two vet quarterbacks to keep an eye on in this clash, with Comets’ gunslinger Luke Braas going up against Buckskins’ pinpoint passer Bradley Stoltzfus. May the best defense win this skirmish; Penn Manor brought up the rear in total team D in the league last fall, and must clean that up, pronto. Key kid: Josh Mathiot returns to anchor CV’s O-line from his center spot. He’ll be flanked by four new starters around him at the line of scrimmage, so he’ll have to keep that group on the same page to keep Stoltzfus protected from the Comets’ hard-charging D.
Lebanon at Cedar Crest: It’s the 48th Cedar Bowl between these neighboring districts and arch-rivals, and the Falcons have won the last seven games in the series, including a 42-19 result in 2018. If the Cedars want to snap that streak, they’ll need a big night from 1,900-yard passer Isaiah Rodriguez in the Air Raid. And plenty of stops of their own on defense. Could be some points in this one, so nudge the scoreboard operator. By the way, Cedar Crest leads the all-time series vs. Lebanon by a 31-15-2 count. Key kids: Lebanon linebackers Skyler Sattizahn, David Vargas and Andrew Bowers must keep tabs on Cedar Crest RB Tyler Cruz, and not let him punch it into another gear and get second-level.
Dallastown at Hempfield: New-look Wildcats vs. new-look Black Knights, as a pair of D3-6A behemoths will be breaking in plenty of new starters across the board. Good news for Hempfield: Dual-threat QB Colin Peters is back to steer the ship. Knights have to come out of this one healthy; they’re at reigning 5A state runner-up Manheim Central next week. The road gets no easier for Dallastown either; the Wildcats welcome preseason Section 1 favorite Manheim Township in Week 2. Key kid: Knights’ O-line stud Aiden Power is the lone returning starter back in the trenches, so he’ll have to do some heavy lifting, while keeping Peters upright and Hempfield’s offense churning.
CD East at Manheim Township: Huge expectations for the Blue Streaks, who return 18 starters from last year’s 10-win club. That includes 10 top tacklers on defense, and gunslinger QB Harrison Kirk, a Colgate commit. Key kid: CD East RB Bryce Baker can scoot; he darted for 732 yards, averaged 7.4 yards per carry, and he scored five touchdowns last fall for the Panthers. Township’s D must we wary of Baker.
Red Lion at McCaskey: Sam London will make his much-anticipated debut as the Red Tornado’s fourth coach in the last 10 years. His mantra: Preaching accountability and fundamentals, and it all starts against the Lions. Key kid: McCaskey’s Thyago Alvarez should be a major force from his interior lineman spot, and he’s been one of the Tornado’s vocal leaders this summer.
Ephrata at Warwick: The George Male Trophy will be up for grabs as the Mountaineers and Warriors will clash on the gridiron for the 90th time. Warwick has won the last 13 games in a row in the backyard feud — including a lopsided 63-6 final last year at War Memorial, giving the Warriors a 45-38-6 lead over Ephrata in the all-time series — and with QB Joey McCracken, all-state WR Trey Glass and clue-chip interior lineman stud Nolan Rucci all back, the Warriors are thinking big. Plenty of good vibes for Ephrata, which is coming off a .500 season and is looking for more. Kid key: Ephrata’s Miracle Wratto has a ton of athleticism. The Mounts shifted him from QB — where Caden Keefer returns to run the show — to RB, where he should get a lot more touches this time around.
Central Dauphin at Wilson: Longtime D3 heavyweights will collide in West Lawn — pow! — where the Bulldogs will be out to snap a 4-game losing streak against the Rams, the D3-6A runners-up last fall. All eyes on Wilson QB Kaleb Brown, who will be making his first career start. Key kids: Bulldogs’ vet offensive guards Nate Keller and Anthony Koper will be in the spotlight to shed oncoming Rams’ blitzers, and give Brown time to operate in the pocket in his starting debut. Thinking there might be some butterflies flying around inside Mr. Brown’s belly come Friday at 7 p.m. Keller and Koper will have his back for sure. And this: The Reading Eagle is reporting that Wilson WR-DB Matt Fry is out with a broken jaw, suffered in the Bulldogs' scrimmage last week vs. Parkland.
Cocalico at Conrad Weiser: Eagles begin their quest to get back to the D3-5A title game, but they must do it with only six returning full-time seniors. Weiser is coming off a nine-win season and a trip to the D3-4A semifinals. Tricky road opener for Cocalico, but vet QB Noah Palm is back to pilot the offense, and kick-start the D from his safety spot, where he was an all-state selection last season. Key kid: Weiser K Matt Noll is a major weapon; according to the Reading Eagle, he’s booted 18 career field goals, including 12 last season, and he’s just two shy of tying the Berks County career record. If this game comes down to a late kick, Cocalico must rattle Noll.
Kennard-Dale at Pequea Valley: The Jeff Werner Era begins for the Braves, as they look to turn things around quickly under their new coach after a 0-10 campaign last fall. Key kid: PV trench stud Seth Gray goes 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. You can’t miss him in the Braves’ huddle. They’ll need him to provide protection for QB Collin Bailey, as PV unveils its new spread schemes under Werner.
Elizabethtown at Donegal: Neighboring districts collide as the Bears and Indians will do battle in Mount Joy, where Donegal will be breaking in an entirely new Wing-T backfield. E-town will also have a new signal-caller, with sophomore Patrick Gilhool ready to take over the QB duties. While the new-look offenses get on track, the best defense likely wins this scuffle; E-town outlasted Donegal 49-33 in a point-fest last year. Key kid: E-town K Cade Denlinger is a reliable booter for the Bears. He drilled four field goals and 30 PAT kicks last fall, and he’ll help out in the field-position battle, too.
Garden Spot at Daniel Boone: Matt Zamperini is back to guide the Spartans, and he’ll take his troops to Birdsboro to battle the Blazers, who return Berks all-star RB Tanner Vanderslice, an 800-yard rusher last year. Garden Spot’s re-boot starts now. Key kid: Boone OG Jake Dwinchick, a Berks all-star pick last fall, is a force up front. He’ll be helping protect rookie QB Justin DeMild, whom the Spartans will be chasing throughout.
Spring Grove at Lampeter-Strasburg: Plenty of offensive firepower in the Pioneers’ arsenal, led by returning dual-threat QB Sean McTaggart. L-S gets a retooling Rockets’ squad coming off a 1-9 season. Key kid: L-S LB Christian Garver had 54 tackles, three stops for losses and a trio of QB hurries last year, so he knows how to crash a backfield. He’ll keep Spring Grove’s skill kids occupied.
Susquehanna Township at Manheim Central: The Barons open defense of their back-to-back D3-5A championships at home against an Indians’ team featuring rugged Penn State recruit D-tackle Fatorma Mulbah. Central QB Evan Simon, a Rutgers recruit, is poised for a big senior season — and to help get the Barons back on the big stage in a couple of months. Central will be going for its 26th regular-season victory in a row in this showdown. Key kid: Central WR/DB/special teams fiend Colby Wagner had an incredible breakout junior season last fall, averaging 30.6 yards per catch with 12 TD grabs and 1,641 all-purpose yards. He dealt with a hand ailment this summer, but all indications are that he’ll be 100 percent for Friday. Can Hanna keep Wagner under wraps in all three phases?
Northeastern York at Solanco: Newbie QB Grady Unger steps under center to guide the Golden Mules’ triple-option attack. And he’ll have rugged FB Nick Yannutz behind him to carry the load. But there are a lot of fresh faces in Quarryville, after 37 seniors graduated last spring. That’s a bunch. Key kid: Northeastern QB Zech Sanderson threw for 1,207 yards with nine TD tosses last year, when the Bobcats went postseason dancing. Solanco’s D must get pressure on Sanderson, and give him happy feet in the pocket.
Annville-Cleona at Milton Hershey: A-C returns 22 vet players from last year’s D3-3A playoff qualifier, including dual-threat QB Junior Bours and a host of skill kids and defenders. This matchup could come down to the trenches; the Trojans’ bread and butter is line-of-scrimmage play, so keep an eye on the big dudes in the middle. Key kid: A-C home-run threat Tyler Long is tough to mark on the flanks. If he can pop a play in special teams, watch out.
Columbia at Eastern York: It’s the River Rivalry clash, and the Crimson Tide will bring a roster of 33 players across the bridge to Wrightsville, including every single starter from last season’s squad, which finished one win shy of nabbing a D3-2A playoff bid. Key kid: Eastern QB Trevor Seitz had a whopper season in 2018, throwing for 2,800 yards with 37 TD strikes. And his best sport is basketball. Tide’s D can’t let Seitz get cozy in the pocket.
Elco at Susquenita: Can the Raiders keep the good vibes going from last year’s D3-4A playoff trip? With shifty QB Braden Bohannon, wrap-and-tackle linebackers Erik Williams and Luke Williams and durable RB Jordan Fernandez all coming back, they sure hope so. Elco won this game 20-0 last year, and would love another quick start against the Blackhawks. Key kid: Nita QB Antonio Garcia passed for 625 yards and five scores last year. He must be aware of Elco’s pressure D, including sack-master Hunter Hockley off the edge.
Camp Hill at Lancaster Catholic: The Crusaders will go for their 11th regular-season win in a row, after a 10-0 ride last fall. And they'll have plenty of returning talent in tow, including dual-threat QB Gavin Sullivan. Camp Hill is coming off a 1-9 campaign, and must try and short-circuit Catholic’s punishing ground attack, spearheaded by breakaway back Jeff Harley. Key kid: Camp Hill WR Connor Trumpy goes 6-foot-5, and he can go up and snag catches in traffic. He had 25 receptions for 519 yards (20.8 yards per catch) and five TD grabs last fall. Catholic’s DB types must be wary of Trumpy on the hashes.
Pine Grove at Northern Lebanon: The Vikings begin their re-boot after last year’s 1-9 finish, and they’ll host a Cardinals’ team returning plenty offensive weaponry from last year, including ringleader QB Josh Leininger. Key kid: NL WR Nate Leedy-Reidel had 18 catches (14.6 yards per reception) and a trio of TD grabs last fall, and the Vikes will need him to make plays on the flanks to keep PG’s D honest.
Pottstown at Octorara: A tricky opener at home in Atglen for the Braves, who face a Trojans’ team that went all the way to the D1-4A championship game last fall before falling to Pottsgrove, and return dual-threat QB Josiah Wiggins to run the show. Jeff Delaney makes his coaching debut for Pottstown in this clash, as Octorara opens its second season as a full-time L-L League member. Key kid: Braves’ TE-DE Matt Keating (17-200, 3 TD receiving; 13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery last year) must be a factor in the receiving and blitzing departments for Octorara.