Lancaster Catholic vs Columbia-LL Football

Lancaster Catholic's Alex Cruz (42) breaks free and heads for the endzone against Columbia during first half action of an LL League section 3 football game at Crusader Stadium in Lancaster Friday August 31, 2018.

With heat acclimatization practices on tap for this week, training camp set for next week, scrimmages on Aug. 17 and then real, live Week 1 games on Aug. 23 approaching quickly, here’s a late-summer, pre-camp Lancaster-Lebanon League football primer for the upcoming 2019 season.

We put a bow on our series with a look at the Section 3 squads

ANNVILLE-CLEONA LITTLE DUTCHMEN

COACH: Matt Gingrich (5th season; 26-16 overall).

LAST YEAR: 7-2 Section 3 (tied for 2nd place); 7-4 overall (lost to eventual runner-up Bermudian Springs 14-7 in D3-3A quarterfinals).

NUGGET: The Dutchmen went to the D3 playoffs last fall for the fourth time in the last six years. But A-C came up short for the fourth agonizing time in a row; last year’s setback vs. Bermudian Springs came in a driving rainstorm. In fact, the Dutchmen are now 0-7 all-time in D3 playoff appearances, so you know this group is jonesing to leap that hurdle. The pieces are here to make that happen.

KEY KIDS: Gingrich lists 22 total returning vets on his preseason depth chart, so there is plenty of talent in Annville. That includes the QB — rising senior Junior Bours passed for 630 yards, rushed for 654 yards and accounted for 18 touchdowns in his debut season steering the Veer last fall — plus O-line stalwarts Matt Pajski and Declan Schaunessy at tackle and guards Jaren Bombgardner and Dion Lopez. Here’s a two-way terror to keep an eye on: Trevor Porche piled up 55 tackles and a sack from his LB spot, and he gouged out 750 rushing yards with six TD bolts last fall. He rushed for 235 yards against Ephrata, and he had a 232-yard rushing night vs. Northern Lebanon. More firepower: Playmakers Evan Heilman, Tyler Long, Romeo Varela, Josh Speraw, Quamir Parker and Dan Tobias are all due back. More good news: K Macrae Plummer is back to handle the special teams duties. He’s a good one. There is a lot to like in Dutchmen camp.

QUESTION MARK: Gingrich must replace key-cog all-star LB Gavin Stout, who piled up 400-plus tackles in his A-C career. He also started on the O-line, so that spot must be plugged as well. The good news: Porche, Varela, Tobias and Parker all have plenty of experience in the ‘backer department in the Dutchmen’s 4-3 scheme. So it might be a smooth transition overall. Still, Stout will be missed.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 6 vs. Lancaster Catholic. Should be plenty riding across the board when the Crusaders visit Annville in late September.

COLUMBIA CRIMSON TIDE

COACH: Bud Kyle (3rd season; 3-17 overall).

LAST YEAR: 3-6 Section 3 (7th place); 3-10 overall.

NUGGET: No D3 playoff trips since 2012 for the Tide, and that was one year after Columbia won the D3-1A championship with a victory over Camp Hill for the program’s second D3 crown. The Tide went into Week 10 last year with a shot at making the D3-2A bracket, but a loss to Elco ended Columbia’s spirited late-season charge.

KEY KIDS: We’ll start behind center, where gunslinger QB Matt McCleary is due back in Tide camp. He aired it out to the tune of 1,899 passing yards and 17 TD strikes last season, and he added four TD keepers. McCleary can wing it, and now he has a year of dissecting Section 3 defenses under his belt. And here’s some more really great news: McCleary’s top four targets from last season are all due back to man the flanks on the hill. That includes Ryan Redding (40-524, 2 TD), Terrance Elliott (25-404, 5 TD), Demetrius Diaz-Ellis (21-509, 7 TD) and Darnell Tucker (19-265, 1 TD). Opposing defensive backs beware.

QUESTION MARK: Columbia broke camp with 26 kids on the roster last season, and that included eight freshmen. We haven’t gotten a peek at Kyle’s complete preseason depth chart just yet, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the Tide won’t have any roster issues moving forward. That has been a bugaboo lately. But here’s some terrific news: Every starter from last fall is due back in camp this time around. Having some depth would be a bonus.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 1 at Eastern York. It’s the River Rivalry clash, and Columbia certainly could use a fast start heading into Section 3 play, with defending champ Lancaster Catholic up first in Week 2.

DONEGAL INDIANS

COACH: Chad Risberg (2nd season; 6-4 overall).

LAST YEAR: 6-3 Section 3 (4th place); 6-4 overall.

NUGGET: Risberg, the former Donegal player and assistant coach who is back for his second year at the helm, lists just five seniors on his preseason depth chart. That’s it. And this: The Indians are set to return four of their five O-line thumpers up front.

KEY KIDS: Speaking of those vet O-line stalwarts, we’ll definitely have our eyes on A.J. McCarty at center and OT Connor Ruhl. They were both all-star picks last fall; Ruhl was a first-team selection at O-tackle and at D-tackle, so he knows his way around both sides of the trenches. OG Joel Grillo and OT Owen Kling are also back to help anchor what should be a pretty solid O-line in Mount Joy.

QUESTION MARK: Safe to say Donegal’s patented Wing-T attack will have a different look, after the QB and all three workhorse running backs walked across the dais back on graduation night last spring. Check out the firepower the Indians must replace: QB Dylan Martin (721 passing yards, 157 rushing yards, 11 total touchdowns), RB Zion Gibbs (1,082 yards, 19 TD), RB Jordan Minick (821 yards, 6 TD) and FB Dalton Mullhausen (420 yards, 6 TD) are all gone. Say hello to the new playmakers: QB Trent Weaver and backs Joe Fox, Garrett Blake, Mason Ober and Ian Brown. Weaver completed six passes in backup duty last fall, and the Fox-Blake-Ober-Brown combo combined for 157 yards and a pair of TD runs last season. A lot of those guys — including those returning trench kids — will also play D in Donegal’s 5-2 scheme.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 9 at Lancaster Catholic. The Crusaders, fresh off a 10-0 regular-season ride in 2018, should get everyone’s A-plus effort, including Donegal. We’re thinking the Indians’ new-look Wing-T parts should be firing on all cylinders by the time this matchup rolls around. And it’s a safe bet that there should be plenty of Section 3 and D3 implications surrounding this showdown.

ELCO RAIDERS

COACH: Bob Miller (8th season; 34-36 overall).

LAST YEAR: 7-2 Section 3 (tied for 2nd place); 8-3 overall (lost to Lampeter-Strasburg 37-0 in first round of D3-4A playoffs).

NUGGET: Elco was back in the D3 playoffs last season for the first time since 2009, when the Raiders fell to L-L League foe Cocalico in a 2A first-rounder. The Raiders have one D3 playoff victory to their credit: Elco topped Delone Catholic in a 2001 2A semifinal before falling to Wyomissing in the title game.

KEY KIDS: The Raiders have the players due back to pick up right where they left off last year, when they won eight games, challenged in the Section 3 race, and went playoff dancing for the first time in nine years. QB Braden Bohannon is the catalyst. The rising junior had a whopper 2018 campaign, passing for 493 yards with five TD tosses against just one pick, and he rushed for 691 yards and 15 scores, while also earning all-star honors at DB. He’s legit. Bohannon will also have a plethora of familiar weapons at his disposal in the Raiders’ Veer scheme, like durable backs Luke Williams (800 yards, 6 TD) and Jordan Fernandez (349 yards, 5 TD), TE Erik Williams (17-288, 6 TD) and WR Evan Huey (5-98, 1 TD). More good news: C Logan Tice and O-tackles Ben Wargo and Hunter Hockley are all set to return to anchor the O-line. Plus, the LB trio of Williams-Williams-Fernandez are all back to spearhead Elco’s 4-4 D look.

QUESTION MARK: Yes, Tice, Wargo and Hockley are all due back along the O-line. But Miller must replace a pair of stalwart trench performers in Sam Montijo and Joe Nelson, who were all-star picks last season.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 3 vs. Lancaster Catholic. Both squads were 2-0 when the Raiders paid a visit to the Crusaders last season, and Lancaster Catholic pinned a 48-0 L on Elco. You think the Raiders want some payback for that one?

EPHRATA MOUNTAINEERS

COACH: Kris Miller (4th season; 5-25 overall).

LAST YEAR: 5-4 Section 3 (tied for 5th place); 5-5 overall.

NUGGET: Finally, no more “streak” talk in Ephrata, after the Mountaineers broke a 52-game losing skid that dated back to Oct. 25, 2012, compliments of a 61-14 demolition over Northern Lebanon in Week 2 last year. Ephrata also won five games in a season for the first time since 2004 and 2005, when the Mounts went 5-6 in each of those seasons. That was back in the day when teams could play 11 regular-season games. Ephrata’s last winning season was in 2003. The Mounts hope they are trending up after last year’s streak-snapping success.

KEY KIDS: Miller lists 18 returning vets on his preseason depth chart, so Ephrata would love to pick up where it left off and go for its first winning season in 16 years. Dual-threat QB Caden Keefer (1,231 passing yards, 760 rushing yards, 27 total touchdowns) is the spark-plug out of the Pistol Option, and he has several returning playmakers at his disposal, like WR Tucker Parmer (31-437, 4 TD), WR Brock Boyer (10-98, 1 TD), WR Sam Knowles (20-323, 4 TD), WR Castor Shuman (12-106), RB Miracle Wratto (164 yards, 3 TD) and RB Richard Greer (420 yards, 3 TD).

QUESTION MARK: The Mounts did lose some thumpers on defense, so Miller is switching his scheme from a 3-3-5 base to a 4-3 look to accommodate Ephrata’s skill set. The cupboard isn’t bare on this side of the ball, with holdovers Greer and Zach DaBella at D-end and ‘backers Trent Martin and Zach Wanous all due back. The Mounts should also be deep in the secondary, with Knowles, Shuman and Parmer all due back in the mix.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 4 at Lancaster Catholic. Safe to say the Mounts have everyone’s attention after last year’s success. Now, if Ephrata wants to run with the lead pack, a win over the Crusaders would certainly do the trick.

LANCASTER CATHOLIC CRUSADERS

COACH: Todd Mealy (2nd season; 10-1 overall).

LAST YEAR: 9-0 Section 3 (champions); 10-1 overall (lost to eventual runner-up Bermudian Springs 20-10 in D3-3A semifinals).

NUGGET: Lancaster Catholic sported the top-ranked total team defensive number in the L-L League last season, yielding just 197 yards per game. Alas, the top-seeded Crusaders were bounced by Bermudian Springs, the 5-seed, in the D3-3A semifinals after that glorious 10-0 regular-season run.

KEY KIDS: Plenty to like in Crusaders’ camp, with multiple vets and returning all-stars back in the fold. Like multi-purpose threat Andrew Miklos, who recently committed to the University of Delaware. He’ll play tight end on offense, and all over the field on defense, including LB, where he was an all-star pick last fall. More good news: The offense is in really good hands with the return of 3-year starting QB Gavin Sullivan, who completed 63 percent of his throws last year, for 888 yards and 11 TD. Speed-demon RB Jeff Harley (920 yards, 11.5 yards per carry, 15 TD) is also set to return, as well as RB Nevin Roman (272 yards, 6 TD) and FB Alex Cruz (323 yards, 9.5 yards per carry, 3 TD). Sullivan will also have familiar faces Liam Besecker at O-tackle and Trey Wells at OG back to protect him. Rising sophomore specialist Daniel Mueller also returns to handle the kicking and punting chores. He’s a blue-chipper with a bright future ahead of him in the kicking department.

QUESTION MARK: There are a few holes to plug, including LB, where all-star Charlie Skehan must be replaced after he moved out of the state. Catholic must also replace rugged O-line brutes James Sheetz at center and OG E.J. Pratt, who earned Section 3 Offensive Lineman of the Year honors last season. Playmakers Malkam Lawrence (557 rushing yards, 4 TD) and WR Philip Bomberger also graduated.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 6 vs. Annville-Cleona. As mentioned, the Crusaders are going to get everyone’s best punch, week in and week out. Just a hunch, but this showdown should go a long way in determining who claims Section 3 gold at the end of the rainbow.

LEBANON CEDARS

COACH: Gerry Yonchiuk (14th season; 41-91 overall).

LAST YEAR: 5-4 Section 3 (tied for 5th place); 5-5 overall.

NUGGET: The Cedars are coming off their best season since 2013, when Lebanon went 7-4 and made the D3-4A playoffs, falling to Dallastown in a high-scoring first-rounder. It was a long, bumpy and winding road the four years after that. But the Cedars regained some treading last fall, in their first of two years in Section 3 in this current cycle.

KEY KIDS: In a word, plenty. Yonchiuk lists 17 total returning starters, and that’s a terrific start for a team looking to get over the .500 hump and make a push for a D3 playoff spot. QB Isaiah Rodriguez (1,938 yards, 18 TD) is back to pilot the Air Raid, and he had a busy summer, participating in the Manning Passing Academy camp in Louisiana. He’ll have WR Alex Rufe (32-536, 6 TD), WR Kaden Harbaugh (9-137, 1 TD) and RB Joseph Mejias-Rios (682 yards, 6 TD) all back at his disposal — plus O-line vets Camren Eberhart at center, OG Kaden Deitzler and O-tackles Synsier Gonzalez and Matt Carvajal. And even more good news for the Cedars: Four stout, tackle-machine linebackers are coming back, including Skyler Sattizahn, Andrew Bowers, David Vargas and Mejias-Rios.

QUESTION MARK: We almost never worry about Lebanon’s receiving corps, but the Cedars did lose Section 3 Receiver of the Year Leighton Rivera and home-run threat Jahlil Young off the flanks. Harbaugh and Rufe return, so that’s a good start. But Rodriguez is going to need some more weapons in the Air Raid.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 1 vs. Cedar Crest. It’s the Cedar Bowl, and it’s always the tone-setter for the season.

NORTHERN LEBANON VIKINGS

COACH: Roy Wall (10th season; 45-48 overall).

LAST YEAR: 1-8 Section 3 (9th place); 1-9 overall.

NUGGET: The Vikings went from first to ninth last season, and Northern Lebanon’s one victory was its least in a season since the Vikes went 2-8 in 2012. But hey, enough with the gloom and doom; this is a proud program that won Section 3 championships in 2014, 2015 and 2017. So we’re thinking this re-boot won’t take very long.

KEY KIDS: All eyes on the skill-kid department, where a trio of playmakers are due back in Vikes’ camp. It starts with QB Ethan Borcky, who had a solid debut season behind center in 2018, passing for 1,328 yards with eight TD strikes. He got his feet wet, and will benefit from the return of flank threats Nate Leedy-Reidel (18-262, 3 TD) and Alex Folmer (17-173, 1 TD).

QUESTION MARK: Northern Lebanon lost a pair of section all-star picks to graduation in WR-DB Eyan Margut (41 catches, 578 yards, 5 TD) and D-end Seth Ebersole. Those spots must be plugged. We’re anxious to see how the Vikes bounce back after last season. They dipped to 4-6 after winning section crowns in 2014 and 2015, and snapped right back for another section title in 2017. Can they do that again? Section 3 promises to be a bumpy road. But Wall and Co. have re-tooled in a hurry before.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 2 vs. Ephrata. You think the Vikes want some revenge after the Mounts’ streak-busting win last year?

OCTORARA BRAVES

COACH: Jed King (12th season; 24-79 overall).

LAST YEAR: 2-7 Section 3 (8th place); 2-8 overall.

NUGGET: Year 2 in the L-L League for King and his crew, so we’re thinking the Braves should be a whole lot more comfortable in their surrounds. Octorara has a really good returning nucleus, too, so the Braves are jonesing to make some noise.

KEY KIDS: It looks like Octorara will go with dual-quarterbacks once again, as Nick Mattingly (682 passing yards, 5 TD) and Jansen Schempp (244 passing yards, 3 TD) are listed on the QB depth chart. When they’re not calling signals, those guys will play wideout, and they’re both dangerous on the flanks. Here’s another name to remember: Rising sophomore Michael Trainor is a dynamic RB-DB type; he rushed for 375 yards and a TD (with a 127-yard effort vs. Columbia) and he was in on 54 tackles from his safety spot as a ninth-grader. He has a bright future. Octorara is also set to return four O-line vets: Tackles Kaden King and Colby Wrigley and guards Angel Mauricio and Aidan Ross. That’s a plus. And there are eight starters due back on defense in the Braves’ 4-2-5 scheme, including King at DE, Ross and Matt Joe at D-tackle, ‘backers Nick McCaw, Logan Forte and Wrigley, and secondary fiends Mattingly, Schempp and Trainor.

QUESTION MARK: King must replace a pair of two-way trench studs in OT-DE Jake Eckman and C-LB Jarek Wasko. Those two will be missed.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 5 vs. Pequea Valley in the annual backyard scrap Brave Bowl.

PEQUEA VALLEY BRAVES

COACH: Jeff Werner (1st season).

LAST YEAR: 0-9 Section 3 (10th place); 0-10 overall.

NUGGET: The Braves suffered their first winless campaign last fall for the first time since a 0-10 run back in 2008. They’ve lost 13 of their last 14 games, dating back to the second half of the 2017 season.

KEY KIDS: We’ll start with the QB spot, where Collin Bailey is set to return after passing for 418 yards and a score last fall. He split the duties with oft-injured John Smith last year, so he has some experience against the Section 3 combatants. Bailey will have holdover WR Michael Finger (15-169) at his disposal, but the rest of the skill-kid department is relatively untested. Two-way line vets Seth Gray and Luke Simpson are also due back, plus linebackers Jake Stoltzfus and Luke Brown, plus DB Michael Beals.

QUESTION MARK: Pequea Valley lost a pair of stick-machine linebackers in Gabe Miller and Brandon Hershey, plus field-stretchers Dylan Jackson (503 rushing yards, 13 catches, 4 TD) and Dalton Temple (37-378, 2 TD receiving). Those are big holes to fill for Werner, who is set for his first season on the job in Kinzers. He’s installing a multiple offense and a 4-3 defense in his first go-round as Braves’ skipper.

CIRCLE THE DATE: Week 5 at Octorara for the 10th annual Brave Bowl. Octorara leads the series 6-3, including last year’s 19-6 win in Kinzers.

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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