Cocalico E-town 6

Cocalico's Craig Neal (7) stops Elizabethtown's Riley Drager (20) as Jett Kelly (79) closes in on Friday, September 14, 2018.

A year ago, at the start of preseason football camp in August 2019, Elizabethtown was breaking in a new quarterback and new wide receivers around four returning offensive linemen.

It’s why coach Andy Breault said at the time, “We’re still going to throw to open up the run, but there may be times we run the ball a little bit more.”

The Bears’ spread offense proceeded to throw for 1,600 yards and run for 662 yards, running the ball 41 percent of the time. It was a slight drop-off from the 43 percent of the time they ran in 2018.

Fast forward to preseason camp in 2020, and the messaging sounds quite similar from Breault: “We might run the ball a little more this year.”

Breault, in his third year at the helm, promises he means it this time. Why? First off, Elizabethtown has three returning O-linemen and a returning back in Riley Drager.

“I think our line is going to be one of our strengths this year,” Breault said. “Here at E-town we’ve always had decent skill guys but the line was hit or miss. This year they had a good offseason and the sophomore class has some talent.”

Secondly, assistant coach Matt Bleacher, a Lancaster Catholic alum, is taking over play-calling duties from Breault. Last season, Bleacher was the Bears’ run-game coordinator on Friday nights.

“So I would think we’ll run the ball more under (Bleacher),” Breault said. “Which isn’t a bad thing with our linemen.”

About the offense

Three lineman are back: Seniors Billy McNitt, Gavin Gray and Jett Kelly. They’ll provide leadership to sophomore newcomers Zack Lippold and Lyndon Olsen at a tackle spot, and sophomore Brayden Burkholder at center. Senior guard Jacob Shue might also see time off the bench.

Drager (45 carries for 135 yards, 1 touchdown) and sophomore Logan Lentz will see action out of the backfield.

Elizabethtown has a pair of capable second-year QBs in junior Patrick Gilhool (100 for 187 for 1,298 passing yards, 9 touchdowns, 6 interceptions) and sophomore Josh Rudy (17 for 39 for 302 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception).

Junior tight end Brandonn Frey (8 receptions for 110 yards) and junior wideout Brock Belmont (4 receptions for 39 yards, 1 TD) will take on a more prominent role in the passing game, as will senior Elijah Reitmeyer.

About the defense

Elizabethtown’s 4-3 defense surrendered four or more touchdowns in seven of 10 games last year. That unit aims to tighten things up with seven returning starters: Senior D-ends Kelly (63 tackles, 8 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) and Reitmeyer (3 sacks), junior D-tackle Riley Runnels (2 sacks), senior outside linebacker Bobby Walters (80 tackles, 1 interception), middle linebacker Gray (32 tackles) and senior corner backs Drager (60 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery) and Brandon Lewis (25 tackles, 1 fumble recovery).

Senior D-tackle McNitt, sophomore outside linebacker Lentz, junior strong safety Belmont and sophomore strong safety Brady Breault also saw some varsity playing time last year.

“We need a better effort on defense,” Andy Breault said. “Some guys look at something and think another guy is going to make a play and misses it. If we can do a better job getting 11 guys to the ball we’ll be in good shape.”

The last word

Elizabethtown went 4-6 last year, and will have tough sledding in Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Two with stalwarts Manheim Central and Cocalico and a loaded Warwick team on board. Where do the Bears fit in?

“It is a stacked section. I don’t know,” McNitt said. “I’m just hoping for a positive record and maybe some playoffs. We’re going to do our best to try to get there.”