Lampeter-Strasburg entered Friday’s District Three Class 4A first-round playoff football game with starting quarterback Conner Nolt in a walking boot.
As a result, Pioneers’ sophomore Berkeley Wagner and senior Logan Bradley were set to split signal-caller duties. Wagner hadn’t thrown a pass since Week Five, while Bradley hadn’t thrown a varsity pass all season.
The prospect seemed worrisome for L-S against a red-hot Elco team riding a seven-game winning streak.
But it ended up not mattering in an eventual 34-7 victory by No. 8 seed L-S over No. 9 Elco, mostly thanks to a quick start by the host Pioneers.
On the second play from scrimmage, L-S senior running back Bryan McKim (11 carries, 158 yards) took a handoff up the middle, broke a few tackles and found the open field for a 65-yard rushing score.
The Raiders (7-4) then fumbled on their first play from scrimmage, with L-S sophomore defensive lineman Nick Del Grande scooping up the ball and going the other way for a 25-yard return and his first career score, pushing the lead to 13-0 with only 55 seconds elapsed in the game.
“The guy got popped,” Del Grande said. “I didn’t hit him. The ball popped out and went right in my hands. I’m slow but I took it to glory.”
Two plays into the second drive for L-S's offense, junior running back Alex Knapp found the edge on the right side and chugged down the sideline for a 77-yard rushing TD, putting the Pioneers (8-3) up 20-0 by the 2:49 mark of the first quarter.
Elco, meanwhile, couldn’t generate much with its Veer offense, held to 73 rushing yards on 42 attempts (1.7 yards a carry).
“We were just trying to take away what they do best,” veteran L-S coach John Manion said. “Attack the gaps and play pure, team football. We’ve seen it (the Veer) all year with Cocalico and Solanco.”
Elco later cut the deficit to 20-7 at the 4:06 mark of the second quarter on an 18-yard rushing score from junior QB Braden Bohannon, capping off a quick 4-play, 57-yard drive.
But things went from bad to worse for Elco when it attempted to punt the ball with its back to the end zone just before halftime, with Bohannon instead tackled at the 2-yard line by L-S senior Jacob Kopelman.
The Pioneers punched it in two plays later on a 1-yard rushing score from Wagner to push its advantage to 27-7 with 10 seconds left before intermission.
Elco entered Friday’s game having held opponents to 231 yards a game, the third-best clip among Lancaster-Lebanon League teams in the regular season. L-S put up 383 total yards by the end, with 359 of those coming on the ground.
McKim and Knapp both exited the Pioneers’ second-to-last drive with lower body injuries and didn’t return.
“I’m pretty sure Alex was just precautionary,” Manion said. “Bryan we’ll have to wait on some results.”
Manion said Nolt will be out at least another few weeks. Regardless, L-S will travel to top-seeded York Suburban for a 7 p.m. start Friday in next week’s quarterfinal round.