Columbia vs Lancaster Catholic-LL Football

Columbia's Darnell Tucker (26) runs the ball against Lancaster Catholic during first half action of an L-L section 3 football game at Columbia High School Friday August 30, 2019.

With heat acclimatization practices on tap for Aug. 31, and the truncated gridiron season set to begin Sept. 18 because of ongoing COVID-19 concerns, here’s a pre-camp L-L League football primer for the Section 4 teams …

ANNVILLE-CLEONA LITTLE DUTCHMEN

PIAA: Class 3A.

COACH: Matt Gingrich — 6th season, 33-21 overall.

LAST YEAR: 6-3 Section 3, 7-5 overall (Lost to eventual champ Wyomissing 62-28 in District 3 Class 3A semifinals).  

SCHEDULE: 9-12 scrimmage vs. Elizabethtown, 6 p.m.; 9-18 @ Donegal; 9-25 @ Elco; 10-2 Northern Lebanon; 10-9 @ Pequea Valley; 10-16 @ Columbia; 10-23 Octorara; 10-30 Lancaster Catholic.

NUGGET: After a 0-7 start in the postseason, A-C won a playoff game for the first time in school history last fall.

KEY KIDS: Gingrich watched 10 offensive starters pick up their diplomas last spring, so the Dutchmen have some work to do on that side of the ball, with only C Ethan Schriver due back on O. A-C must also replace seven full-time defensive starters from last year’s playoff squad, so there will be a lot of fresh faces on the field early on for the Dutchmen. The four returning D kids are tackles Logan Wagner (21 tackles, 3 for losses) and Hunter Nelson (20 tackles, 2 sacks) and ‘backers Chase Maguire (75 tackles, 12 for losses, 4 sacks, plus 197 rushing yards, 3 TD) and Rogan Harter (15 tackles, plus 122 rushing yards, 1 TD). Everyone else will be relatively new; Gingrich is expecting big things from DT Hunter Alcala, RB-DB Kenny Schaeffer (8 tackles), RB-DB Drew Eby, OG-DT Kyle Black, WR DaModric Greene, OT-DE Brad Smith and especially RB-LB Alex Long, who could be the Dutchmen’s next must-see playmaker kid, coming off an injury last season. Football is in Long’s genes; big brother Tyler is a recent A-C grad, and dad Tommy is the league’s second all-time leading rusher, after he piled up 5,662 yards for Lebanon Catholic. And last but certainly not least, there’s K Mac Plummer, who is one of the best in the business. All he did last year was boom nine field goals — including a 51-yarder and a league-record 54-yarder — while making 52 PAT attempts in a row, drill 24 touchbacks on kickoffs, and average 31 yards per punt. Plummer was invited to the Kohl’s Scholarship Camp earlier this summer.

QUESTION MARK: Gingrich and his trusty staff have a lot of holes to plug. And don’t forget: Lebanon Catholic closed at the end of last school year, so the Dutchmen won’t get the Beavers’ co-op players anymore. That said, Gingrich is happy with the summer turnout, and he’s expecting some exciting camp battles for starting gigs. One of those battles will be at QB; Gavin Keller and Jake Mills are 1-2 on the preseason depth chart to take the snaps, and step in for Veer wiz Junior Bours. Keep an eye on that race.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Digging that season-finale at Elco on Halloween eve. Hang a couple of stars next to that Lebanon County backyard scrap.

COLUMBIA CRIMSON TIDE

PIAA: Class 2A.

COACH: Bud Kyle — 4th season, 7-23 overall.

LAST YEAR: 3-6 Section 3, 4-6 overall.

SCHEDULE: 9-12 scrimmage at Garden Spot, 10 a.m.; 9-18 @ Lancaster Catholic; 9-25 @ Pequea Valley; 10-2 Octorara; 10-9 @ Northern Lebanon; 10-16 Annville-Cleona; 10-23 @ Elco; 10-30 Ephrata.

NUGGET: No postseason trips for the Tide since 2012, but Columbia just missed out on D3 bids the last two seasons.

KEY KIDS: With 11 total starters due back, that’s a pretty good start for the Tide, which perennially trots out one of the smallest rosters in the L-L League. But Kyle is excited about the kids coming back — seven starters on offense, including some major playmakers — and hopes the numbers continue to rise up on the hill. Nobody in the L-L League returns more flank talent than Columbia, with Michael Poole (25 catches for 448 yards, 3 TD), Demetrius Diaz-Ellis (18-294, 4 TD), Keegan Zink (10-145, 2 TD) and Darnell Tucker (44-630, 7 TD) all coming back. Good luck marking all of those guys. More good news, with OT Colin McCarty, OG David Hershey, OG Joel Ober, OG Dom Nell and C Aidan Gladfelter due back to anchor the O-line. Leading rusher Justin Elliott (425 3rds, 5 TD) and backfield mate Steven Rivas are vet playmakers, and should definitely help out with the ground game. On the defensive side, Kyle is counting on D-ends McCarty and Gladfelter, D-tackles Ober and Nell, ‘backers Zink, Rivas, Tucker and Derek Nell, and vet D-backs J’von Collazo, Dung Ly and Elliott to swarm and make sticks.

QUESTION MARK: Gotta start with the QB spot here, especially after the Tide lost strong-armed Matt McCleary to graduation. All he did last fall was pass for 2,580 yards and throw a league-best 32 TD strikes. In steps Robert Footman, who has some experience in the Tide’s offense; he has some catches and some rush attempts in his Columbia career, and with all of those talented wideouts at his disposal, if Footman gets some time and can get the ball out quickly, the Tide will be tough to tame through the air.

CIRCLE THE DATE: If the Tide wants to ride with the lead pack in Section 4, that Oct. 2 opener at home vs. Octorara is a key game for sure.

ELCO RAIDERS

PIAA: Class 4A.

COACH: Bob Miller — 9th season, 41-40 overall.

LAST YEAR: 7-2 Section 3, 7-4 overall (Lost to eventual champ Lampeter-Strasburg 34-7 in first round of District 3 Class 4A playoffs).

SCHEDULE: 9-12 scrimmage vs. Penn Manor, 10 a.m.; 9-18 @ Ephrata; 9-25 Annville-Cleona; 10-2 Pequea Valley; 10-9 @ Octorara; 10-16 @ Northern Lebanon; 10-23 Columbia; 10-30 @ Donegal.

NUGGET: After no playoff appearances since 2009, Elco was back in the D3 bracket for the second year in a row last fall. The goofiest thing about those back-to-back trips? Both times, Elco fell to L-L League neighbor Lampeter-Strasburg, 37-0 in 2018 and 34-7 last year.

KEY KIDS: Elco is enjoying a really good stretch right now, with those back-to-back playoff trips and a lot of success. And the Raiders certainly hope to keep the good times rolling this fall with multiple key cogs due back in camp, including all-state QB-DB Braden Bohannon, who is coming off a whopper junior campaign. All he did last fall was pass for 465 yards and seven scores, rush for 1,606 yards and 19 more touchdowns, pile up 55 tackles and intercept three passes from his safety spot, and earn Section 3 Defensive Back of the Year and Section 3 Lions Club Player of the Year honors. Whew. Bohannon, who also handles the punting chores, will have two familiar faces in front of him in OG Logan Tice and OT Ben Wargo, who will anchor the O-line in the Raiders’ Veer attack. Another key weapon due back is RB-LB Luke Williams (541 rushing yards, 5 TD; 98 tackles), who is a two-way terror. Jack-of-all-trades O weapon/LB Cole Thomas (90 rushing yards, 2 TD; 37 tackles) also returns, as well as K Reece Shuey, who drilled 32 PAT kicks and a 27-yard field goal last season. Also keep an eye on RB-LB Jake Williams and LB Cameron Martin (7 tackles).

QUESTION MARK: There will be three new starters along the O-line, and that group simply must keep Bohannon upright and mobile.

CIRCLE THE DATE: That Oct. 30 regular-season finale in Myerstown vs. rival Annville-Cleona should be intriguing. Always a good time when the Raiders and Dutchmen knock heads.

NORTHERN LEBANON VIKINGS

PIAA: Class 4A.

COACH: Roy Wall — 11th season, 46-57 overall.

LAST YEAR: 1-8 Section 3, 1-9 overall.

SCHEDULE: 9-11/12 scrimmage vs. Hamburg, TBA; 9-18 Lebanon; 9-25 @ Octorara; 10-2 @ Columbia; 10-9 Elco; 10-16 @ Pequea Valley; 10-23 @ Annville-Cleona; 10-30 Lebanon.

NUGGET: Since winning Section 3 titles in 2014, 2015 and 2017, the Vikings are just 2-18 overall, and are looking to snap out of that rut — pronto.

KEY KIDS: The good news is that the Vikings only lost seven seniors from last year’s squad. The bad news is that all of those guys were playmakers, including 1,700-yard passer Ethan Borcky, durable backs Tyler Lewis and Chase Bressler, rugged O-line anchor Josh Werni, and go-get-it wideouts Nate Leedy-Reidel and Alex Folmer. Those guys are gone, yes. But Wall is excited about Northern Lebanon’s returning talent, particularly the big uglies up front; the Vikings are set to welcome back six two-way trench kids with varsity experience: Sean Eisenhower, Kris Frazier, Arthur Shirk, Kalani Adams, Tyler George and Ryan Lutz. Adams was an all-star pick in 2019, and he’ll be an anchor for sure.

QUESTION MARK: OK, so what about the skill kids? Borcky was the only QB to attempt a pass last fall, so the Vikings will be breaking in a brand-new starter behind center this time around; Nate Shirk and Ethan Ebersole were the only two kids listed as quarterbacks last fall who were due back this season. Keep an eye on that spot. Meanwhile, Dominic Varvel and Tyler Wolfe have some experience in the pass-catching department on the flanks.

CIRCLE THE DATE: A backyard scrap right out of the gates for the Vikings, who are slated to open up Sept. 18 with a nonleague cross-town scrap at Lebanon.

OCTORARA BRAVES

PIAA: Class 4A.

COACH: Jed King — 13th season, 26-87 overall.

LAST YEAR: 2-7 Section 3, 2-8 overall.

SCHEDULE: 9-12 scrimmage at Solanco, 10 a.m.; 9-18 @ Schuylkill Valley; 9-25 Northern Lebanon; 10-2 @ Columbia; 10-9 Elco; 10-16 @ Pequea Valley; 10-23 @ Annville-Cleona; 10-30 Lebanon.

NUGGET: Not many teams around the L-L League made scheme changes during the offseason, but the Braves pulled the trigger offensively and defensively. King is going with a Wing-T set on O — with some multiple looks sprinkled in for good measure — and a 4-3 look on D; Octorara operated out of 4-2-5 scheme last fall. King’s reasoning: Both systems fit his personnel, so he green-lighted the changes.

KEY KIDS: King lists an even 12 returning players that he expects to make plenty of noise this fall, so there should be ample familiarity in Atglen. Start with the big guys up front, where bookend O-guards Aiden Ross and Angel Mauricio are due back. A trio of reliable backs are also on the list in Mike Trainor (396 rushing yards, 1 TD), Haydyn Wrigley (42 yards, 1 TD) and Devon DeJesus (157 yards, 2 TD), plus receivers Brian Pennypacker, Ryan Kernan, James Taylor (9-292, 3 TD) and Caleb Rising (14-193), who will also play D-end and be flanked there by Ross (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Kaden King (25 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries). Wrigley (4 tackles) and Mauricio (13 tackles) return to the linebacker crew, and Trainor (39 tackles), Pennypacker (38 tackles), Kernan (27 tackles, 3 interceptions), Taylor (4 tackles) and DeJesus (8 tackles) are secondary vets. Trainor, a starter since his freshman season, is definitely one to watch.

QUESTION MARK: Octorara has gone with dual quarterbacks — Jansen Schempp and Nick Mattingly — the last two years. But they both graduated. There are two signal-callers on King’s preseason depth chart in Weston Stoltzfus and Paul Murray. Stoltzfus got some snaps last year; Murray didn’t. That doesn’t automatically make Stoltzfus the No. 1 guy, but he’s been behind center under the lights on a Friday night. So keep an eye on the Braves’ QB battle; King has gone with two guys before. Both guys will also chip-in on defense; Stoltzfus at safety and Murray at LB.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Oct. 16 at backyard rival Pequea Valley for the annual Brave Bowl throw-down.

PEQUEA VALLEY BRAVES

PIAA: Class 3A.

COACH: Jeff Werner — 2nd season, 0-10 overall.

LAST YEAR: 0-9 Section 3, 0-10 overall.

SCHEDULE: 9-11 scrimmage at Donegal, 4 p.m.; 9-18 @ Pottsville Nativity BVM; 9-25 Columbia; 10-2 @ Elco; 10-9 Annville-Cleona; 10-16 Octorara; 10-23 @ Northern Lebanon; 10-30 @ Garden Spot.

NUGGET: PV is looking to snap a 20-game losing skid, dating back to Week 10 of the 2017 season.

KEY KIDS: The first thing Werner mentioned in his summer questionnaire was how thankful he was with his team’s varsity experience, and that’s backed up with 12 total starters set to return in Kinzers. Werner also listed 14 vets that he’s excited about, including WR-DB Carter Rohrer (4 receptions), WR-DB Collin Rohrer (7-120, 2 TD), WR-DB Billy Johnson, WR-DB Dominic Wallace, WR-DB Jon Carter — that’s a lot of two-way flank kids — gritty QB Nate Fisher (21 of 77 for 266 yards, 2 TD), RB-LB Tony Lazar (282 yards, 2 TD; 12 catches for 90 yards), LB Dustin Huber, RB-LB Xavier Padilla, TE-LB Luke Brown, OT-DE Conor Brown, OT-DT Drew White, OG-DT Ian Hershey and OG-DT Austin Butler. That’s also a goodly amount of experienced trench kids back for PV, which annually struggles with roster sizes.

QUESTION MARK: A lot of holdovers, yes. And again, that’s fantastic. But depth will likely be a concern, so staying healthy will be mucho important for the Braves.

CIRCLE THE DATE: If the schedule holds — fingers and toes crossed — PV will play the first football game involving an L-L League squad this season, when the Braves host Jenkintown for a nonleague meeting on Thursday, Sept. 17. It’ll be the only game in town, and PV could use a quick start, as the Braves look to snap out of this funk.

UPDATE: The PV vs. Jenkintown game has been cancelled. The Braves will now open up Sept. 18 with a nonleague game at Pottsville Nativity BVM.

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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