The countdown clock is ticking.
Here are some important dates to circle with L-L League football 2019 coming up right around the bend:
* Heat acclimatization practices are Monday, Aug. 5 through Friday, Aug. 9.
* L-L League football Media Day is Friday, Aug. 9.
* All 24 L-L League teams will participate in their one and only scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 17.
* Opening Day for prep football across the state is Friday, Aug. 23, and all 24 L-L League teams will be in action with nonleague contests that night.
Also, this will be the final season of the current L-L 3-section format, with seven Section 1 teams, seven Section 2 teams and 10 Section 3 teams. Next year, for the start of the 2020-21 cycle, the L-L will go with four sections, with more mandated crossover games, plus four nonleague games on everyone’s docket.
Once the regular season hits on Aug. 23, there are plenty of juicy games on the schedule. Here are a handful of matchups to keep an eye on as the season unfolds …
Friday, Aug. 23
Lebanon at Cedar Crest, 7 p.m. — It’ll be the 48th Cedar Bowl, and the Falcons have dominated the series as of late, with seven wins in a row, including last year’s 42-19 triumph. Cedar Crest leads the all-time set 31-15-1. We’ll have our eyes on the QB matchup in this backyard scrap; Lebanon’s Isaiah Rodriguez and Cedar Crest’s Chris Danz — who is set to take over the signal-caller duties from graduated dual-threat Logan Horn — went to the Manning Passing Academy camp in Louisiana together earlier this summer. In Week 1, they’ll go head-to-head. FYI: Cedar Crest RB Tyler Cruz participated in drills at the University of Delaware this month, and did quite well; he clocked a 4.5 in the 40. He’ll be one to watch scooting out of the Falcons’ backfield this fall for sure.
Red Lion at McCaskey, 7 p.m. — Hello, new McCaskey skipper Sam London. He’ll make his Tornado Alley sideline debut against the Lions, who beat McCaskey 35-12 in last year’s opener. FYI: We’re anxious to see who wins the QB derby for the Tornado; Isaiah Thomas was a 1,000-yard passer last season, but we’re hearing whispers that he might shift to wideout this fall. Stay tuned.
Central Dauphin at Wilson, 7 p.m. — Seems like the Rams and Bulldogs play every year, doesn’t it? The D3-6A heavyweights will get the season started in West Lawn, and the Rams lead the series 7-3, including a 23-7 triumph last year in Harrisburg. We’re anxious to see who takes over the QB duties for the Bulldogs, replacing the graduated Anthony Futrick.
Kennard-Dale at Pequea Valley, 7 p.m. — Welcome aboard Jeff Werner, who will be making his coaching debut for the Braves in Kinzers. PV opens the season with three straight home games. This one will be the team’s maiden voyage under Werner. K-D blanked PV 33-0 in Fawn Grove in last year’s opener. FYI: PV went 0-10 last season, and the Braves have dropped 13 of their last 14 games. So they’d love a hot start in Werner’s debut.
Ephrata at Warwick, 7 p.m. — It’ll be the 90th edition of the George Male Trophy game — that’s a big number — between these longtime backyard rivals. The Warriors have won the last 13 meetings in a row, including last year’s 63-6 victory, which jump-started Warwick’s magical season.
Thursday, Aug. 29
The only two Thursday games on this year’s L-L schedule …
Cocalico at Cedar Cliff, 7 p.m. — A pair of D3-5A semifinalists from last fall will square off on the West Shore in Cumberland County. The Eagles clipped the Colts 31-21 in Denver last year. All eyes on Cocalico all-state QB-DB Noah Palm, who recently committed to New Hampshire. FYI: Cocalico stud two-way lineman Brock Gingrich, an all-state pick last fall, recently participated in drills at the University of Delaware, so he’s starting to make the college rounds.
Octorara at Annville-Cleona, 7 p.m. — It’ll be the Section 3 lid-lifter for the Braves and Dutchmen, just like last season, when A-C held off Octorara 39-30 on a humid Thursday night in Atglen in the Braves’ L-L League debut.
Friday, Aug. 30
Hempfield at Manheim Central, 7 p.m. — A couple of longtime Lancaster County heavyweights will clash in a nonleague tilt at Elden Rettew Field, as the Barons continue their march to get back to the PIAA-5A finale. Cool QB matchup here between returning gunslingers Evan Simon, Central’s Rutgers commit, and Colin Peters, who makes the Knights go. Central topped Hempfield 28-7 in a Saturday morning clash in Landisville last season. It was a rainy Week 2 last year. Remember?
York at McCaskey, 7 p.m. — York was a D3-5A semifinalist last fall, falling to Cocalico in a wild and crazy Final Four game. Second home date in a row for the Tornado, which is hoping to take advantage of some home cooking for a much-needed hot start under London’s watchful eye. York drubbed McCaskey 55-0 last year, so the Tornado should payback on its mind.
Wilson at Governor Mifflin, 7 p.m. — The granddaddy of all Berks County rivalries will be contested in Shillington this time around. The Bulldogs lead the Mustangs 36-25 in the all-time series, including last year’s 42-28 victory in West Lawn.
Elco at Lebanon, 7 p.m. — The Raiders edged the Cedars 7-6 last year, when Elco’s Elijah Herb blocked Lebanon’s potential game-tying PAT kick in the third quarter. We’re expecting big things from the Raiders and Cedars in the Section 3 race, so hang a star next to this opener for sure.
Ephrata at Northern Lebanon, 7 p.m. — The Mounts snapped their 52-game losing streak with a 61-14 romp over the Vikings in Ephrata last year. You think NL wants some payback for that?
Friday, Sept. 6
Central Dauphin at Manheim Township, 7 p.m. — Another trip into L-L country for CD, two weeks after the Rams venture to Berks to square off against Wilson. CD blanked the Blue Streaks 27-0 in last year’s D3-6A semifinals in Neffsville, so Township will definitely have some revenge on its mind. The Streaks will also feature three college commits: WR-DB Jon Engel (Lafayette), TE-DE Ben Mann (Yale) and QB Harrison Kirk (Colgate). CD leads the series 10-4 — including the D3 win last year — and this will be the fifth time the Rams and Streaks will lock horns in the last three seasons, so there’s plenty of familiarity between these programs. Township won the regular-season meeting 22-12 in Harrisburg last fall.
Manheim Central at Warwick, 7 p.m. — The Warriors led the Barons in Manheim last year before Central rallied for a 27-20 win — on the way to a 10-0 regular-season run. The local folks were clamoring for a Warwick-Central D3-5A semifinal showdown last November, but it didn’t happen; the Warriors were tripped up at Cedar Cliff in the quarterfinals, and the Barons beat the Colts a week later in the semifinals. Another super QB matchup here, featuring Simon and Warwick ace Joey McCracken, who had an unbelievable sophomore debut last fall (1,900 air yards, 27 TD strikes). Will the Warriors have crackerjack wideout Trey Glass (knee) back on the field for this game? He went down in the Cedar Cliff game last year and missed the lacrosse season in the spring.
Governor Mifflin at Cocalico, 7 p.m. — One week after taking on in-county rival Wilson, the Mustangs will head over to Denver for a stab at the Eagles, who stopped Mifflin 35-21 in Shillington last year to kick-start their run to the D3-5A semifinals. Here’s a name to remember: Mifflin rising sophomore RB Nick Singleton already has college scholarship offers from Penn State and Pitt. Could be yet another big season for Mifflin in Berks 1. FYI: There’s a long way to go, obviously, but this could — could — be a potential all-D3-5A semifinal preview night, with Central taking on Warwick and Cocalico squaring off with Mifflin. We wouldn’t be stunned if those are the four D3-5A teams left standing in November. Put that in your memory banks.
Lancaster Catholic at Elco, 7 p.m. — This was a matchup of 2-0 teams last fall, and the Crusaders pinned a 48-0 L on the Raiders. It served as a wakeup call for Elco, which went on to an 8-3 season with a D3-4A playoff trip. Catholic ran the table, won the Section 3 crown with a 10-0 regular-season mark and was the No. 1 seed in the D3-3A bracket. Myerstown should be jumping for this clash, which could go a long way in determining the section champ. FYI: Good QB matchup here, with returning pilots Gavin Sullivan at Catholic and Braden Bohannon at Elco.
Saturday, Sept. 7
McCaskey at Reading, 1 p.m. — Red Tornado and Red Knights will throw down in Albright’s Shirk Stadium in a renewal of a longtime L-L Section 1 rivalry. First road game under London for McCaskey, which lost to Reading 34-17 last year in Lancaster. Yes, a lot of eyes on McCaskey this season, as the Tornado transitions to a new coach.
Friday, Sept. 13
Manheim Central at Wilson, 7 p.m. — It’s the first L-L-mandated crossover game on the 2019 slate, and it’s a beauty. The Bulldogs had a 10-0 lead in Manheim last year before the Barons scored 20 unanswered points for the win. If this isn’t the best game (section, nonleague or otherwise) on the L-L schedule this fall, it’s certainly one of them. Get to Gurski for this gem.
Conestoga Valley at Lampeter-Strasburg, 7:30 p.m. — The only 7:30 start on the 2019 L-L schedule, so set your alarms accordingly. The traveling Lampeter Bowl trophy will be up for grabs on the turf at L-S, as the Buckskins (East Lampeter) and Pioneers (West Lampeter) duke it out. L-S leads the Lampeter Bowl series 7-2, but the Pioneers had their 7-year winning streak snapped last season, when CV picked a 20-7 home win in Witmer. L-S will try and take back the trophy on its home turf this time around. FYI: Yet another game featuring vet quarterbacks, as L-S’s Sean McTaggart and CV’s Bradley Stoltzfus go head-to-head, steering their squads.
Friday, Sept. 20
Manheim Township at Cocalico, 7 p.m. — Another week, another must-see L-L-mandated crossover game, and this is certainly a tasty matchup. The Eagles, off to a 3-0 start in 2018, certainly hung tough in Neffsville last year, before the Streaks gutted out a 36-24 victory. We’re expecting big things and deep runs from both of these squads in the coming months, so hang a couple of stars next to this showdown in Denver. FYI: A pair of speedy return-men to watch here; Township’s Anthony Ivey and Cocalico’s Ronald Zahm can both take it to the house in the return game. Ivey, a rising sophomore, already has college scholarship offers from West Virginia and Virginia Tech. Ivey had an 85-yard kickoff return for a TD in last year’s win against Cocalico.
Lancaster Catholic at Lebanon, 7 p.m. — The Crusaders slipped past the Cedars 27-21 in Lancaster last year, in their stiffest tester on the way to the Section 3 crown. Can Lebanon get over the hump and dethrone the champs this time around? There are a lot of fun matchups ahead in Section 3; this is one of them.
Pequea Valley at Octorara, 7 p.m. — It’s the Brave Bowl, as these longtime backyard rivals square off in Atglen. This will be the second time PV and Octorara knock heads as Section 3 rivals; Octorara beat PV 19-6 last fall.
Saturday, Sept. 21
Conestoga Valley at Solanco, 7 p.m. — Quarryville Fair weekend, and the Bucks and Golden Mules will do battle in a Section 2 skirmish. Gotta love the Saturday night games.
Friday, Sept. 27
This is arguably the most anticipated date on the league schedule, with three dynamite, must-see matchups, one in each section …
Manheim Township at Wilson, 7 p.m. — Two years ago, the Streaks snapped the Bulldogs’ incredible 68-game L-L winning streak and won the outright Section 1 title. Last year, Wilson got some payback, beating Township in Neffsville and eventually sharing the section pie with the Streaks and Warwick. So what will happen this time around? No clue. But we can’t wait for this one.
Cocalico at Manheim Central, 7 p.m. — Oh man. What a week. Seriously? If you simply can’t make it to West Lawn, then get to Manheim for this classic. For our money, it’s the best rivalry going in the L-L these days, and there’s never any love lost when the Eagles and Barons get together. This will be a rematch of last year’s D3-5A finale, won by Central. And by the time Week 6 rolls around, there should be even more storylines for this one. FYI: Heading into the 2019 season, Central is 26-2 in its last 28 games, and 34-3 in its last 37 games, and the Barons have won back-to-back D3-5A titles and have captured the last four Section 2 championships in a row — outright or shared.
Annville-Cleona at Lancaster Catholic, 7 p.m. — They’ve been two of the top teams in Section 3 over the last couple of years — the Crusaders are out to defend their crown — and there should be plenty riding when the Dutchmen come to Lancaster for this scrap. No preseason predictions just yet — be patient — but it’s pretty safe to say that A-C and Catholic will be at the top of the heap in our prognostications.
Friday, Oct. 4
Manheim Township at Warwick, 7 p.m. — Out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Streaks, who are facing this 3-week gauntlet: At Cocalico, at Wilson and at Warwick. Yikes. Township eked out a 28-20 win over the Warriors last year in Neffsville. Warwick responded by beating Wilson, and the Warriors, Bulldogs and Streaks all shared the Section 1 crown.
Manheim Central at Lampeter-Strasburg, 7 p.m. — Where will the Barons be sitting one week after hosting rival Cocalico? We can’t say for sure. So circle this Section 2 showdown, won’t you. L-S dominated this section for a couple of years before Central put its foot down and restored order here recently. Can the Pioneers change that? Fun QB matchup here, with Simon and L-S dual-threat McTaggart getting together.
Friday, Oct. 11
Warwick at Wilson, 7 p.m. — The Warriors beat the Bulldogs 38-12 in an unforgettable game last year in Lititz, when McCracken passed for an L-L single-game record 530 yards with five TD strikes. It was Warwick’s first win over Wilson since 2007. And yes, the Warriors and Bulldogs went on to share the section championship with Township. Will we get another 3-way tie this time around? This game should go a long, long way in determining who wins the hardware this time around.
Solanco at Lampeter-Strasburg, 7 p.m. — The Milk Jug will be up for grabs in Lampeter, as the Pioneers host their second trophy game. L-S leads the Milk Jug series 6-3, but Solanco won it last year with a 48-27 win in Quarryville. Never a dull moment when the Mules and Pioneers have at it.
Friday, Oct. 18
Annville-Cleona at Elco, 7 p.m. — The Dutchmen and Raiders will both have played defending champ Lancaster Catholic by the time this Week 9 skirmish rolls around, so A-C and Elco should know exactly where they stand in the section race, and in the pursuit for D3 power points. A-C earned a 31-19 victory in this backyard rivalry last year.
Friday, Oct. 25
Hempfield at Manheim Township, 7 p.m. — Never, ever any love lost when the Knights and Streaks collide, and they’ll be playing for the Joseph F. Kurjiaka Trophy. Just a hunch, but there should be plenty riding in the Section 1 chase, and D3-6A playoff race, in Neffsville on the last Friday night in October.
Lebanon at Annville-Cleona, 7 p.m. — As mentioned, there should be plenty of must-see Section 3 matchups in the coming months, including this one. The Dutchmen will be coming off their showdown one week earlier against Elco, so we’ll see what kind of shape A-C is in, with the section race coming to a crescendo. And this: Coming off a 5-5 season with a lot of talent back in tow, can Lebanon make the D3 playoffs? We should find out this night in Annville.
Manheim Central at Solanco, 7 p.m. — The pads also seem to pop a little louder when the Barons and Mules knock heads. Guessing the Section 2 title — and D3 power-point jockeying — will be hanging in the balance in Quarryville on this night, so circle this one.