It will be an end of a quick era in Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 3 football lore this fall.
The 10 teams that call Section 3 home will play their final season in this crowded conference, as the league will shift to a four-section look for the 2020-21 cycle.
So this will be the second and final season of a single, Week 1 nonleague clash, and then a 9-week, sprint-to-the-finish section schedule. Lancaster Catholic ran the table last fall, going 9-0 in league play to win the title outright, on the way to a 10-0 regular-season joy ride.
Like last year, when we got our first look at this new-fangled set up, this race will be hard to predict. Yes, Catholic should definitely run with the lead pack again. But a four-pack of Annville-Cleona, Elco, Ephrata and Lebanon can all make a legit case to unseat the Crusaders.
Never, ever count out Donegal; Columbia made a playoff push last season; Octorara now knows its way around a Section 3 schedule; and Northern Lebanon and Pequea Valley are out to play spoilers.
It’s the last year of L-L League Section 3 football as we know it. How are things going to shake down come late October? Here’s my crystal ball …
1. Lancaster Catholic: Can the Crusaders make it back-to-back undefeated runs? There should be plenty of motivation, after coach Todd Mealy and his crew went 10-0 last year, but then were upset in the D3-3A semifinals. There’s a strong nucleus returning, including dual-threat QB Gavin Sullivan, a battalion of running backs, and Delaware commit Andrew Miklos, the Crusaders’ Swiss army knife. The target remains firmly on the Crusaders’ backs until someone knocks them off their perch.
2. Annville-Cleona: Nobody in the section returns more two-way talent than the Dutchmen, as coach Matt Gingrich lists 22 vet players on his depth chart. That includes dual-threat QB Junior Bours, two-way terror Trevor Porche, speedy playmakers Evan Heilman and Tyler Long, and a long list of trench performers and D tacklers. The time is now for A-C.
3. Elco: The Raiders turned plenty of heads in 2018, winning eight games and going to the D3 playoffs for the first time in nine years. And several key players are due back from that squad, including shifty Veer QB Braden Bohannon, QB chaser Hunter Hockley, and the Williams brothers, playmakers Erik and Luke. Expect reigning Section 3 Coach of the Year Bob Miller and Elco to keep trending upward.
4. Lebanon: Plenty to like in Cedar Country, as coach Gerry Yonchiuk is set to return ample playmakers, beefy line-of-scrimmage performers and stick-machine defenders. That includes 1,900-yard passer Isaiah Rodriguez, who is a pocket specimen at 6-foot-5. If Lebanon stops people, it says here that the Cedars will challenge.
5. Ephrata: No more streak talk for the Mountaineers, who are coming off a .500 season, and are looking for more now that they have everyone’s undivided attention. Dual-threat QB Caden Keefer is back for this third season behind center, with plenty of talent around him. Coach Kris Miller and his crew are poised to push their way into the lead pack, and put together a winning season for the first time in more than 15 years.
6. Donegal: There isn’t much senior talent in Mount Joy, but the Indians are set to return four starting O-line thumpers up front. That’s a great start. However, coach Chad Risberg must replace his entire Wing-T backfield, including reigning Section 3 Back of the Year Zion Gibbs. It might look a little different at the outset for Donegal, but the Indians always seem to find a way to wedge themselves into the race.
7. Octorara: It’s Year 2 in the L-L League for coach Jed King and his Braves, and they scared the living daylights out of pretty much everyone last fall. Dual-QBs Nick Mattingly and Jansen Schempp are back to steer the ship, and Octorara has enough beef and defensive prowess to give everyone a fight. Don’t overlook this crew.
8. Columbia: Coach Bud Kyle has 33 players on his roster, and that’s fantastic news for a program that has flat-out struggled with numbers — and particularly depth — the last several seasons. Last season, the Crimson Tide won three games, and was on the cusp of a D3-2A playoff bid. With all 22 starters set to return — including pass-happy QB Matt McCleary and his entire merry band of receivers — Columbia is fully expecting to nab a playoff spot this time around.
9. Northern Lebanon: There are just 23 players on coach Roy Wall’s roster, and the Vikings are coming off a 1-9 campaign — one year after winning Section 3 gold. QB Ethan Borcky returns to lead the offense, but NL has to stop people, while continuing to climb its way back up the leaderboard. Be patient, Fredericksburg. The Vikes have done more with less before, and they’ll figure it out again.
10: Pequea Valley: Say hello to first-year coach Jeff Werner, who inherited a squad that went 0-10 last season, and is hoping to regain its footing in a crowded Section 3 race. Baby steps for the Braves, who simply want to get better and keep everyone honest.