There is simply no denying it these days:
If you want to be successful on the football field — get wins, earn section titles and make deep postseason trips — you better be strong at the quarterback position.
And when the 2019 season rolls around in a couple of months, the Lancaster-Lebanon League will be very deep in that all-important spot.
Get this: Just five of the league’s 24 teams must replace a starting QB from last fall. That’s it. The L-L’s other 19 teams are set to bring back either a full-time starter, or a pair of QB’s who shared the duties in 2018.
There is plenty of talent to go around, including one QB that has already committed to a Division I program, a signal-caller who shattered the league’s single-game passing mark last year, and a dual-threat wizard who will be back for his fourth season behind center.
We counted 22 vet quarterbacks due back in the L-L League this coming season. We’ll list them for you here, by last year’s passing-yard total, and then drop some nuggets about all of the returning kids below. So keep reading …
Evan Simon, rising senior, Manheim Central — 131 of 247 for 2,753 yards, 30 TD, 10 INT
Harrison Kirk, rising senior, Manheim Township — 161 of 284 for 2,300 yards, 19 TD, 8 INT
Joey McCracken, rising junior, Warwick — 92 of 158 for 1,970 yards, 27 TD, 3 INT
Isaiah Rodriguez, rising junior, Lebanon — 149 of 263 for 1,938 yards, 18 TD, 9 INT
Matt McCleary, rising senior, Columbia — 127 of 261 for 1,899 yards, 17 TD, 9 INT
Sean McTaggart, rising junior, L-S — 111 of 218 for 1,714 yards, 13 TD, 11 INT
Bradley Stoltzfus, rising senior, Conestoga Valley — 122 of 204 for 1,601 yards, 11 TD, 7 INT
Colin Peters, rising senior, Hempfield — 117 of 213 for 1,455 yards, 11 TD, 9 INT
Ethan Borcky, rising senior, Northern Lebanon — 124 of 233 for 1,328 yards, 8 TD, 7 INT
Caden Keefer, rising senior, Ephrata — 91 of 161 for 1,231 yards, 12 TD, 5 INT
Isaiah Thomas, rising senior, McCaskey — 84 of 161 for 1,071 yards, 9 TD, 13 INT
Gavin Sullivan, rising senior, Lancaster Catholic — 63 of 101 for 888 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT
Noah Palm, rising senior, Cocalico — 34 of 72 for 773 yards, 12 TD, 1 INT
Luke Braas, rising junior, Penn Manor — 41 of 101 for 770 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT
Nick Mattingly, rising senior, Octorara — 55 of 102 for 682 yards, 5 TD, 6 INT
Junior Bours, rising senior, Annville-Cleona — 34 of 79 for 630 yards, 7 TD, 4 INT
Jesse Martin, rising junior, Garden Spot — 59 of 150 for 564 yards, 4 TD, 11 INT
Braden Bohannon, rising junior, Elco — 32 of 63 for 493 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT
Aaron Gale, rising senior, Penn Manor — 33 of 82 for 470 yards, 4 TD, 8 INT
Collin Bailey, rising senior, Pequea Valley — 46 of 87 for 418 yards, 1 TD, 7 INT
John Smith, rising senior, Pequea Valley — 31 of 72 for 324 yards, 21 TD, 5 INT
Jansen Schempp, rising senior, Octorara — 15 of 40 for 244 yards, 3 TD, 5 INT
That leaves five teams looking for a new full-time QB this fall: Cedar Crest (which must replace dual-threat stud Logan Horn, who passed for 1,398 yards and 10 TD last season); Wilson (which must replace Anthony Futrick, who passed for 1,486 yards and 15 TD last season); Elizabethtown (which must replace gunslinger Cole Patrick, who had a pair of 400-yard games and threw for 2,570 yards and 26 scores last season); Solanco (which must replace L-L regular-season rushing leader Joel McGuire, who darted for 1,671 yards and 30 TD last fall); and Donegal (which must replace 700-yard passer Dylan Martin). We’re anxious to see who wins those jobs coming out of summer camp.
As for the returning signal-callers …
* In Section One, at least four full-timers are due back, and both players who took snaps for a fifth team are returning to the mix. … There are a trio of QB’s who piloted their teams to the postseason: Kirk at Township, McCracken at Warwick and Peters at Hempfield; the Black Knights snuck into the D3-6A bracket with a 5-5 mark, but went playoff dancing. Peters had a 15-7 TD/INT ratio and is nimble on his feet, and he’ll try and lead Hempfield back to the postseason this time around. … Kirk stepped in for Harvard recruit — and Big 33 alum — Luke Emge, and Township didn’t skip a beat, sharing the Section One crown with Warwick and Wilson on the way to a D3-6A quarterfinal-round appearance. Kirk showed poise in the pocket, especially in shotgun, spread-it-around mode, and he went up top for 2,300 yards. Oh by the way, coach Mark Evans and his Streaks are set to return 10 of their top 11 tacklers on defense, plus plenty of offensive weaponry around Kirk, so it could be another successful fall for Township. Stay tuned. … McCracken shared the QB duties with Adam Ricketts at the outset of last fall, but he took over the starting role around midseason and guided Warwick into the playoffs. Ricketts threw for 1,338 yards and 11 TD, and McCracken went for 1,970 and 27 scores, giving the Warriors a pair of 1,000-yard passers in the same season for the second year in a row; Ricketts and Grayson Kline did it for Warwick in 2017. McCracken’s breakout moment: He passed for a league-record 530 yards, with five TD tosses, in Warwick’s 38-12 win over Wilson; it was the Warriors’ first victory over the Bulldogs since 2007. Warwick coach Bob Locker told us last summer to keep an eye out for this McCracken kid, and he didn’t disappoint. The Warriors went on to beat Palmyra in a first-round D3-5A game for the program’s first postseason win. … It was not a fun season for McCaskey — the Red Tornado went 1-9 and coach Eric Spencer tendered his resignation in November — but Thomas had a nice debut season behind center, throwing for 1,000 yards and seven scores. We’ll see if new McCaskey skipper Sam London sticks with Thomas at the controls heading into Week One. … Braas and Gale shared the QB duties for coach John Brubaker at Penn Manor. Braas took more snaps as the season went along, and he ended up with the gaudier stats, including a nifty 306-yard passing effort, with a pair of TD throws, in Week 10 vs. Warwick. Braas is entering his junior year and is younger than Gale; we’ll see who Brubaker goes with coming out of camp for the Comets.
* There is plenty to like in Section Two, where two vet signal-callers will return to continue their rivalry. That would Manheim Central’s Simon and Cocalico’s Palm; Palm is set to return for his fourth season behind center, steering the Eagles’ wildly powerful Flexbone attack. Palm won’t wow you with a big arm, but he’s thrown just two interceptions in his career — and he was starting as a ninth-grader. He has some terrific dual-threat skills, and doubles up as one of the top safeties in D3. … Simon already is Central’s all-time leader in TD passes, and he’s closing in fast on Jeff Smoker’s program mark of 5,900 career passing yards. Simon was named all-state by every major publication last fall, after helping the Barons go to the PIAA-5A state title game. Simon committed to Rutgers earlier this spring, and he’ll be one of the top quarterbacks to watch in the state this fall. FYI: Manheim Central at Cocalico is Friday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. in Denver. Be there. … Stoltzfus made a big splash in his debut season behind center for CV last fall, helping the Bucks get off to a fast 5-1 start before the Section Two heavyweights came knocking. Still, it was a 5-5 finish for CV, and Stoltzfus — whose big brother Grant is third in L-L history with 7,273 passing yards during his Bucks’ days — threw for 1,600 yards and he was a plus in TD/INT ratio. We’re anxious for his follow-up season. … L-S is also in good hands with McTaggart back at the controls. He’s a dual-threat kid, and is coming off a breakout sophomore season when he threw for 1,700 yards and was a major threat on the ground, helping the Pioneers win a D3-4A playoff game along the way. … Matt Zamperini returns to coach at Garden Spot, where Martin is set to return behind center for his junior campaign. The Spartans struggled to a 0-10 finish in 2018, so Martin’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the stat sheet. But he’s a real burner and a whirling dervish who can make plays on his feet and keep opposing defenses guessing. And now he has a season under his belt in the backfield. We’ll see what changes Zamperini makes in his second stint as coach, and how he’ll choose to use Martin as the Spartans re-tool moving forward.
* Section Three has 11 experienced quarterbacks set to return this coming season. That’s a bunch, and it includes two teams that went dual-QB’s last fall. We can’t say for sure if Octorara and Pequea Valley will use two signal-callers or not just yet. Stay tuned. … Sullivan quarterbacked Lancaster Catholic to the Section Three title and to a glorious 10-0 regular-season ride last season. The Crusaders rode a rugged O-line and several hard-nosed running backs, but Sullivan orchestrated the attack with 888 yards and 11 TD through the air. He can run, too. … Bours helped A-C go to the postseason in his rookie season behind center, where he was a dual-threat for the run-heavy Little Dutchmen. Bours’ memorable moment: He lofted a last-second, game-winning TD pass to Jalen Price for a buzzer-beater 41-35 win over Ephrata. … What a season for Elco, and that had a lot to do with Bohannon, who was the dual-threat catalyst in the Raiders’ Veer look. Bohannon threw just one pick and he was tough to tackle when he took off, as Elco took second place in the section, won eight games and went to the D3 playoffs. … Ephrata finally got over the hump, snapped a long losing skid and went 5-5. Keefer was the leader, showing off his dual-threat capabilities for the Mountaineers. He was a 1,000-yard passer and was only picked off five times, and he can also tuck it under and run. Can Ephrata do it again? … We were a little bit worried about Lebanon’s passing attack coming into last season, but Rodriguez had a scintillating sophomore season for the Cedars. He threw for 1,900 yards and 18 TD as Lebanon’s spread air raid kept on keeping on. The Cedars also went 5-5 — joining Ephrata in Section Three for the first of a two-season run — and had everyone’s attention. Rodriguez is a big dude — 6-foot-5 — and we’re thinking he’s going to cause a lot of headaches again this time around. … Columbia also had a nice bounce-back season with three victories, and McCleary wasn’t shy about going up top, with 1,899 yards and 17 TD on 261 attempts. The Tide relied heavily on McCleary’s right arm and play-making abilities — and will likely do so again. … It was odd seeing Northern Lebanon slip to the back of the pack, but Borcky was a gunslinger with 1,300-plus yards and 13 TD strikes. We’re anxious to see if the Vikings have a snap-back season after taking some lumps in 2018. They’ll need Borcky to stand and deliver. … In its first season as a full-time L-L member, Octorara went double QB’s with Mattingly and Schempp. And when one wasn’t taking snaps, the other was on the flank as a wideout. Mattingly ended up with more pass attempts, and the duo combined for eight TD throws. Will coach Jed King go with the 2-QB system again this fall? There might be some tweaks in store, but we shall see. … Same thing at Pequea Valley, where Jeff Werner is settling in as the Braves’ new skipper. Smith, a lefty, came into last season as the starter, but he struggled with injuries, leaving more snaps for Bailey. They both ended up with 70-plus attempts, but PV limped to a 0-10 finish. We’re anxious to see what Werner installs offense-wise in Kinzers, and who he selects to be behind center for the Braves coming out of camp.
#SCtop10 Game winner with no time left-@Jr_Cleona to @JalenPricee! PA Friday Night Football, Annville-Cleona vs. Ephrata on 9/7/18. So happy for our kids and community!@ACAthleticDept @JeffReinhart77 @phuggsports @AC_CoachHeckard pic.twitter.com/7bE0gfSJCL— AC Coach Gingrich (@AC_coachG) September 9, 2018
Tomorrow: The top returning rushers in the L-L League.