Devin Atkinson is not a wide receiver by trade.
So when the football ended up in the Lancaster Catholic defensive end’s hands early in the game Friday, he wasn't exactly sure what to do with it.
“When I first caught it, I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ " Atkinson said, chuckling. “But then I started running.”
All the way to the end zone.
Atkinson’s 15-yard interception return for a touchdown set the tone, and Lancaster Catholic played splendidly in a 43-14 Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Three victory over visiting Ephrata.
It was the Crusaders' 14th straight regular-season victory, and Catholic (3-0 L-L, 4-0 overall) remained in a first-place tie with Donegal, which held off Lebanon in Friday's other Section Three first-place showdown clash.
“Everyone wanted this game,” Atkinson said. “We all knew what was on the line. And we knew we had to play our best to beat that team.”
Ephrata (2-1, 2-2) had a 14-7 first-quarter lead on Friday, compliments of a pair of short TD runs by Miracle Wratto. But Catholic answered with a 32-yard field goal by Daniel Mueller, and the Crusaders were on their way.
Catholic got a fumble recovery TD from Andrew Nicklaus, Atkinson's pick-6 and then a second interception return for a score, when Henry Gartley capped the scoring with 11:17 to go with a 17-yard pick-six.
The Crusaders had just two penalties for 10 yards, they didn't punt, and Catholic held Ephrata to 110 rushing yards — one week after the Mountaineers singed Annville-Cleona for 648 total yards and 58 points.
"I thought we matched up well with them," Catholic coach Todd Mealy said. "So I thank our coaching staff for working well together and putting together a great game plan, and getting the kids to play well together. And I tip my cap to our players. We had a tough week with some injuries."
Catholic was back at full strength against Ephrata, and the Crusaders used all their weapons. Alex Cruz rushed for 87 yards, and his 3-yard TD run gave Catholic the lead for good, 17-14, with 6:26 to go in the first half.
Jeff Harley rushed for 69 yards, and his 32-yard TD bolt on the last play of the third quarter gave the Crusaders a safe-and-sound 36-14 cushion. And QB Gavin Sullivan was efficient in the pocket; he completed 7 of 8 passes for 86 yards, including a 9-yard TD flip to Andrew Miklos, and he added 63 yards on the ground, as Catholic churned out 325 rushing yards and 411 total yards.
"It's taken us a little while to find our identity as a team," Mealy said. "This was certainly a good performance. Now we'll see if it continues."
Wratto had TD runs of 6 yards and 1 yards in the first quarter. His first score was set up by Kyle Raudenbush's 67-yard kickoff return. But after Wratto's 1-yard TD dive, Catholic's defense put on the clamps.
"We started out strong and did some good stuff," Ephrata coach Kris Miller said. "We had some opportunities but we couldn't sustain it long enough. At the end of the day, it's a bump in the road, because I still think we're a good football team. To be where we were two years ago to this point, it's another step in our journey. Unfortunately we didn't get the job done here. But we'll be better because of this game."