As of August 1 — and it pains me to preface this piece with those four words — all systems are go for the 2020 Lancaster-Lebanon League football season. That means the start of heat acclimatization practices Aug. 10, preseason camp Aug. 17, followed by a scrimmage and then Week 1 games Aug. 28.
Fingers and toes crossed; other districts across the state have already tinkered with their fall sports schedules because of COVID-19 concerns. The WPIAL — District 7 — on Friday announced that it will push back the start of fall sports, and only play a 7-game schedule in football, with a new playoff format.
Earlier in the week, the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference — greater Allentown and Bethlehem areas — in District 11 announced it too will push back the start of fall sports. And then there’s Norristown, a large District 1 program, that announced it is suspending fall sports all together until further notice, and administrators there are seriously considering cancelling fall sports.
But the L-L League — for now — is in go mode.
This will be the first season of a spiffy new two-year cycle in L-L League circles, with the new-look four-section format ready to roll off the showroom floor. Some like it. Some don’t. It’ll only be on the books for two years, and then all heck will break loose in 2022 when the Berks County teams jump in.
The first four weeks of the schedule this fall feature nonleague games across the board, with the league-mandated crossover games — Section 1 vs. Section 2 and Section 3 vs. Section 4; again, some like it, some don’t — slated for Week 5. And then it’s the sprint to the finish line with five head-to-head section games to wrap it up.
Hey, every game is big, especially this year, when everything could — could — get jumbled up and possibly truncated. Just saying. After eyeballing the schedule, these are the can’t-miss matchups I have circled moving forward, along with plenty of news, nuggets and links ...
Cedar Crest at Lebanon — It’s the Cedar Bowl, which is creeping up fast on a milestone number; the Falcons and the Cedars are set to clash for the 49th time here in Week 1, and Cedar Crest leads the backyard rivalry series 32-15-1, including a 28-6 triumph in last year’s season opener for the Falcons’ eighth win in a row in the set. … This game will also mark the debut of new Lebanon skipper Frank Isenberg. … Intriguing QB matchup here, with a couple of wily vets due back behind center: Cedar Crest’s Chris Danz (1,672 passing yards, 15 TD last year) and Lebanon’s Isaiah Rodriguez (2,155 passing yards, 18 TD) can both wing it. … FYI: I have Rodriguez for 4,152 career passing yards, so he’s a pretty solid candidate to hit 5,000 air yards — which is a pretty elite club in L-L League annals.
Reading at McCaskey — A couple of old-school rivals will clash in Tornado Alley in Week 1, as the Tornado starts Year 2 under coach Sam London — trying to snap a 17-game losing streak in the process. McCaskey’s last victory? That would be Sept. 7, 2018 at home against — ta-da — Reading. … The Tornado and the Red Knights hooked up last year over in Berks County; the Knights won 37-13. … These two will be Section 1 rivals when the Berks County teams join the L-L League in 2022. For now, McCaskey and Reading will continue their rivalry as nonleague foes. … Reading went postseason dancing last fall, falling to Lebanon in the Eastern Conference Class 5A playoffs. They’re hoping to build off that playoff success last season.
Wilson at Central Dauphin — Oh my. Bulldogs and Rams in Week 1? Yes, please. ... CD opens defense of its D3 6A title in this showdown in Harrisburg, as the Rams and the Bulldogs clash for the ninth time since 2010. The series is tied 4-4 over that clip; Wilson won 21-13 last year in West Lawn. … Three key offensive weapons back in the saddle for the Bulldogs: QB Kaleb Brown (1,430 passing yards, 23 TD), fleet RB Mason Lenart (760 rushing yards, 6 TD) and WR Troy Corson (28 catches for 298 yards, 4 TD). … Love the coaching matchup, too: Always a good time when Wilson’s Doug Dahms and CD’s Glenn McNamee match wits.
Cocalico at Conrad Weiser — The Eagles hit the road to Robesonia, where Bryan Strohl will make his debut as Cocalico’s new skipper. He’s sliding into Dave Gingrich’s chair; Gingrich guided the Eagles to 130 victories and to last year’s D3 5A championship before hanging up his whistle and play sheet, and Cocalico will open defense of its district crown starting here. … No Noah Palm. No Brock Gingrich. No Ronald Zahm. Gasp! It might look a little different, but it never takes Cocalico very long to reload. We’re anxious to see how Strohl’s transition goes — with the Eagles, who will get everyone’s A-game, facing a daunting schedule. Keep reading.
Manheim Central at Cumberland Valley — Let this matchup rattle around in your brain and sink in for a minute, won’t you. Barons. Eagles. We’re talking District 3 royalty here; Central owns 17 D3 titles, CV has 13 D3 gold trophies in the case. That’s pretty mind-boggling, and now the Barons and the Eagles will square off in a home-and-home nonleague set this year and next. Round 1 is in Mechanicsburg. … Keep an eye on the sidelines in this one, as former Carlisle and Central York skipper Josh Oswalt will be making his coaching debut for CV. … FYI: When Oswalt departed Central York for CV, former Lebanon skipper Gerry Yonchiuk took that job. … No Evan Simon and no home-run threat Colby Wagner on the flanks for the Barons, who also lost some thumper trench guys up front to graduation. In fact, Central is set to return — wait for it — just two starters, total, from 2019. Judd Novak (who completed nine passes for 50 yards with a pair of TD tosses in relief last year) sits atop Central’s QB depth chart for now. Whoever gets the QB gig has some gigantic shoes to fill, with Simon — an 8,000-yard passer, No. 2 in L-L League history — now at Rutgers.
Warwick at Lampeter-Strasburg — Perhaps the juiciest of all the local Week 1 openers, as the host Pioneers will open defense of their D3 4A crown, against a Warriors’ club coming off a trip to the D3 5A semifinals — and with a ton of firepower back in tow. … Mighty intriguing QB matchup here, featuring a pair of rising seniors who are both coming off knee injuries: Warwick’s Joey McCracken (an all-state pick after throwing for 2,912 yards with 27 TD strikes last fall) suffered an ACL injury during basketball season, but he’s been back working out this summer. And L-S’s Sean McTaggart went down with an ACL injury in last year’s season opener. He was recently cleared for all football drills. Fingers crossed that McCracken and McTaggart will both be on the field for this must-see matchup; that would be pretty awesome. … Warwick all-state WR/DB Caleb Schmitz verbally committed to Cincinnati this summer. … Will Warwick stud O-tackle Nolan Rucci announce his college decision before this game kicks off? Can’t say for sure, but he narrowed his wish list down to a final nine this summer. … Definitely going to write about L-S’s trench kids at some point here; they took advantage of the quarantine time this past spring by lifting and beefing up for the season. Stay tuned for that. … Two of the longest-tenured coaches in the L-L League will square of here: L-S’s John Manion is starting his 23rd season — tied for the longest tenure in the league with Manheim Township’s Mark Evans — and Warwick’s Bob Locker is setting sail on his 20th season in Lititz.
Governor Mifflin at Wilson — It’s the annual backyard scrap between the Mustangs and the Bulldogs. Never any love lost there. What kind of shape will Wilson be in after that Week 1 tilt at CD? ... Mifflin is also playing Cedar Crest and Cocalico in the nonleague portion of the slate.
Cedar Cliff at Cocalico — Rematch alert: Cocalico crunched Cedar Cliff 45-7 in last year’s D3 5A finale in Denver. The Colts will make a return trip to Eagle Country for this nonleague battle. No trophies up for grabs in the stadium this time around, but there should be plenty of hard hits as Cedar Cliff goes for some revenge; the Eagles also dropped the Colts in a nonleague clash last year. … Good time to mention that Carson Nash is atop Cocalico’s QB depth chart. He’s gotten some spot snaps here and there — remember that trick-play TD heave he had vs. York in the D3 playoffs in 2018? — and he played wideout last season, so he knows the Eagles’ offense like the back of his hand. Hey, someone has to come next after Noah Palm, right? We’re anxious to see how Nash handles the gig.
Donegal at Columbia — Backyard rivalry games are the best, and the Indians and the Crimson Tide are separated by about 5 miles of blacktop. … A lot of flank talent due back for Columbia — Darnell Tucker, Demetrius Diaz, Michael Poole are vet pass-catchers — but we’re anxious to see who settles into the QB spot now that 2,000-yard passer Matt McCleary has departed. … A lot back at Donegal, too — QB Trent Weaver and durable backs Mason Ober and Garrett Blake, plus some heavy duty linemen — and the Indians would love a fast start with a grinder Section 3 slate up ahead.
Lebanon at Reading — Another rematch alert: In the Class 5A Eastern Conference playoff game last November, the Cedars KO’d the Red Knights 36-14 in Lebanon. In that game, Lebanon’s Alex Rufe had six catches for 122 yards and a pair of TD grabs from Isaiah Rodriguez. Those two are due back to terrorize opposing D-backs this fall. ... Fun fact: Rodriguez's nickname is "Mohawk" and he recently received an offer from Albright.
Central Dauphin at Manheim Township — Gotta love these rematch games; the Rams and Blue Streaks are mighty familiar with each other. CD and Township have played as nonleague foes every year since 2010, and the Rams lead that regular-season series 7-3. However, Township has won the last three nonleague meetings in a row, including last year’s nip-and-tuck 10-7 escape-job. As for the D3 playoffs, CD and Township have met five times there since 2010, and CD has a 4-1 edge in those games, including last year’s unforgettable 35-34 double-OT win in Neffsville, as the Rams went on to win the D3 6A title.
Cocalico at Governor Mifflin — The Eagles beat the Mustangs twice last season: 26-14 in a Week 3 nonleague clash in Denver, and then 42-14 in a D3 5A playoff tilt, also at Cocalico, on the Eagles’ journey to the district championship. You think Mifflin wants some payback? … All eyes on Mifflin junior RB/DB Nick Singleton, who is up to 27 scholarship offers, including Penn State.
Conestoga Valley at Lampeter-Strasburg — It’s the Lampeter Bowl, with the Buckskins representing East Lampeter and L-S repping West Lampeter. … L-S leads the traveling trophy series 8-2, including a 49-14 W last year in Lampeter. … No Bradley Stoltzfus at QB for CV; it looks like rising soph Macoy Kneisley is first in line to take over behind center for the Bucks.
Ephrata at Warwick — Same night, another trophy up for grabs, as the Mountaineers and Warriors square off for the venerable George Male Trophy. This series goes way, way back; Warwick leads 46-38-6, including the last 14 matchups in a row, in a series that dates to — gulp — 1929. I was not on the prep football beat that year. The Warriors won 61-0 last fall in Lititz. … It appears Miracle Wratto is set to take over the QB duties for Ephrata, stepping into Caden Keefer’s large spikes.
Octorara at Pottstown — Might have to hang a TBD next to this matchup; Pottstown’s administration is considering the suspension and possible cancellation of all fall sports over coronavirus concerns. If Pottstown puts its athletic program on pause, the Braves could be left scrambling for a game here. Stay tuned.
Three intriguing nonleague games to circle here: Manheim Township at Spring-Ford, Wilson at Martin Luther King in Philadelphia and (Bel Air) Maryland Christian at Pequea Valley. … Spring-Ford played Wilson in a home-and-home nonleague series the last two years; now the Rams will clash with the Bulldogs’ Section 1 rivals, the Streaks. … Instead of Spring-Ford here, Wilson instead will gas up the bus and head to Philly to face MLK out of the Philly Pub League. … Pequea Valley gets an out-of-state opponent in Maryland Christian; fingers crossed for that one, depending on what Maryland does with its fall sports teams. Ditto for D3, quite frankly.
Cocalico at Manheim Township — It’s Week 5, which means the league-mandated crossover games, and the Eagles and the Streaks will be knocking heads for the third year in a row. It’s been all Township so far; the Streaks won 56-7 last year in Denver on the way to a blistering 11-0 start, and Township won 36-24 in Neffsville in 2018. Neither of those setbacks destroyed Cocalico; the Eagles went to the D3 5A finale in 2018, and they snagged the No. 1 seed and won the district crown last fall. … FYI: Cocalico drops to Class 4A this season, playing Township, a 6A team. Like I said: Some people like the crossover games, some don’t. Insert rim-shot here.
Wilson at Manheim Central — The two winningest programs in L-L League history, dating back to 1972, will square off in Manheim, and both teams will be coming off tricky schedules over the first four weeks: Wilson has Central Dauphin, Governor Mifflin, another Berks neighbor in Exeter, and MLK; Central has Cumberland Valley, Hempfield, Susquehanna Township and Perkiomen Valley (out of the PAC-10 in District 1). No rest for the weary. … Central and Wilson split their first two crossover games: The Barons won 20-10 in Manheim in 2018 and the Bulldogs rolled to a 49-14 victory last year in West Lawn. … Wilson has won an L-L League-best 27 section championships; Central is right behind the Bulldogs with 26. Who’s third? Cocalico, with 13. Conestoga Valley is next with 10. Now you know.
Lancaster Catholic at Annville-Cleona — A crossover game yes — the Crusaders are playing up in Section 3 this season — but these two squads are plenty familiar with each other after so many head-to-head matchups for Section 3 supremacy over the years. … Catholic has won the last three meetings in a row, and is 3-1 vs. A-C since 2016; A-C beat Catholic 36-21 in 2016, when the Dutchmen and the Crusaders shared the Section 3 banner. Catholic won the last two Section 3 championships in a row, after Northern Lebanon captured the flag in 2017. … This we know: There will be two new quarterbacks on the field in this matchup, now that Catholic’s Gavin Sullivan and A-C’s Junior Bours — both crafty, dual-threat signal-callers — have graduated. According to the preseason depth charts, Catholic’s QB battle is between Mason McClair and Will Cranford, while A-C lists newbies Gavin Keller and Jake Mills behind center. We’ll see who emerges from those camp battles, and who is taking snaps when this game rolls around.
Manheim Central at Warwick — Goodness gracious, what a Section 2 opener here, as the Warriors begin life in their new home after sliding down from a 16-year stint in Section 1. … Anxious to see how much gas the Barons have in the tank after tangling with Wilson the week before. Either way, this is a juicy matchup, after Warwick took a pair from Central last year: 37-7 in a nonleague tilt in Lititz, when the Warriors beat the Barons for the first time since — gulp — 1983. And then 31-28 in Manheim in the D3 5A quarterfinals on Tanner Haines’ field goal at the horn for a clean sweep. Warwick will go for three in a row here.
Lancaster Catholic at Lampeter-Strasburg — What a fabulous Section 3 opener, as the Crusaders hope to make it three section championships in a row, while the Pioneers are out to defend their D3 4A title. … Love this coaching matchup: L-S’s John Manion, in his 23rd year, against Catholic’s first-year skipper, Chris Maiorino. Wily vet vs. rookie guy.
Ephrata at Lancaster Catholic — One week after a trip over to Lampeter to tangle with the Pioneers, the Crusaders return home to get a Mountaineers’ outfit that is thinking big. … Plenty of returning talent for coach Kris Miller at Ephrata, and his Mounts — coming off their first 6-win season in nearly 20 years, and with a terrific nucleus due back from that squad — can make a major statement in the Section 3 hunt with a win here. This Section 3 race should be mighty interesting.
Manheim Township at Hempfield — The Joseph F. Kurjiaka Trophy will be up for grabs in Landisville when these longtime rivals knock heads. The Streaks have dominated the series as of late with six wins in a row. The Knights’ last win over Township: Nov. 1, 2013 by a 56-28 count in Neffsville. … Again, another intriguing coaching matchup here between Township’s Mark Evans, the 23-year veteran, and Hempfield rookie George Eager — a Township grad, former Streaks’ standout, and a former assistant under Evans. Good times.
Octorara at Pequea Valley — It’s the always popular backyard Braves Bowl, pitting the Braves against the Braves, this year in Kinzers. Octorara and Pequea Valley — their campuses are situated just nine miles apart — will be meeting for the 11th year in a row, and Octorara leads the series 7-3, with three wins in a row, the last two as full-time L-L League members. PV’s last win in the series was a 21-18 triumph in 2016. ... PV will be out to snap a 20-game losing skid when they open up Aug. 28 at Biglerville.
Cocalico at Warwick — Yummy. Another rematch from an unforgettable D3 5A playoff game last fall in Denver, when the Eagles rallied in the second half for a riveting 21-13 win and a spot in the district finale the next week, when Cocalico shook, rattled and rolled Cedar Cliff 45-7. So many rematches, and so many great Section 2 games to look forward to this fall. I know, I know: Fingers crossed.
Wilson at Manheim Township — What a Section 1 capper here in Neffsville, featuring the two squads that have dominated the section as of late: The Streaks have secured three Section 1 crowns in a row — outright in 2017 and 2019 and a tri-title, with Wilson and Warwick in 2018 — while the Bulldogs won a gaudy nine section titles in a row prior to that. … Since 2016, Township leads the series 3-2, including the playoffs. The Streaks won 30-14 last year in West Lawn, after the Bulldogs pinned a 16-14 L on Township in 2018, on the way to that funky tri-title. … Township’s big breakout in the series came in 2017, when the Streaks snapped Wilson’s glittering 68-game league winning tear with a 38-14 victory in Neffsville, and then Township topped Wilson 28-14 in the D3 playoffs on the way to winning district gold. Will another section title — and D3 6A seeding — be on the line here? Probably.
Manheim Central at Cocalico — Out of the frying pan and into the squelching-hot fire for the Eagles, who get Warwick in Week 9 before hosting their longtime nemesis, the Barons, to close out the regular season. Geez, who made this schedule? … Just a hunch, but there’s very likely to be plenty of section-championship scenarios on the line on Halloween eve for this classic. Trick or treat? … Central won a bananas 46-43 decision last year on the way to claiming its fifth Section 2 title in a row — shared or outright — and the Barons are 4-1 vs. Cocalico in their last five matchups, including the 2018 D3 5A title tilt. Cocalico’s last win in the series: 28-24 in Denver in 2016.
Annville-Cleona at Elco — Never any love lost when the Dutchmen and the Raiders get together, and here’s guessing the new-look Section 4 race could be hanging in the balance — and D3 playoff spots on the line — when A-C heads over to Myerstown for this showdown. … Elco snapped A-C’s three-year winning streak in the series with a 35-14 victory last fall, as the Raiders qualified for the D3 4A playoffs for the second year in a row. The Dutchmen also went postseason dancing, and beat Littlestown in a first-round 3A game for the first playoff victory in program history.
Only because this is getting dreadfully long, here are a few other special games I have circled …
A trio of Thursday games on the slate: On Sept. 3, Annville-Cleona will welcome Fleetwood for a nonleague clash, and on Sept. 10, Elizabethtown will take on Lower Dauphin in a nonleague game in Hersheypark Stadium. Always a treat to get to play in the Concrete Palace. Enjoy the chocolate, E-town ... And on Sept. 17, Pequea Valley will welcome Jenkintown for a nonleague scrap. PV was supposed to play (Bel Air) Maryland Christian on Sept. 18, but Maryland postponed all fall sports, and the Braves were able to add Jenkintown, for a Thursday clash.
And there are four Saturday games on the docket: Aug. 29, in Week 1, backyard rivals will square off when Donegal visits neighboring Elizabethtown. … On Sept. 12, Northern Lebanon will gas up the bus and head to York County to take on York Tech, and the same afternoon, Octorara will travel to Academy of the New Church for a nonleague tussle. … And on Sept. 19, here’s another big trophy game, when Solanco welcomes Lampeter-Strasburg in the annual Milk Jug clash on Quarryville Fair weekend. So grab some fried Oreo's and head over to Solanco. ... L-S leads the Milk Jug series 7-3, including last year's 41-14 win.