Make room in the case, Lampeter-Strasburg.
For the second year in a row, and for the third time in program history, the Pioneers are bringing home a District Three Class 4A championship football gold trophy.
One year after sailing past Berks Catholic for the program's second district crown, L-S had to scratch and claw for No. 3 on Friday night. Held scoreless at halftime for the first time this season, the Pioneers answered the bell with a dominating second-half performance for a 20-3 victory over Elco in Lampeter.
The Pioneers didn't dent the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter, and they didn't crack the end zone until early in the fourth. But L-S's 20 unanswered second-half points, plus an inspired defensive effort against the Raiders' vaunted Veer rushing attack, meant another gold trophy for the case.
"It's been a year where we've needed to be resilient," L-S coach John Manion said. "From the summer all the way up until now, we've had to overcome a lot of things as a group. These guys have continued to overcome those things, so I'm really proud of them."
Friday, top-seeded L-S (9-0) overcame a determined Elco outfit that led 3-0 at the break, turned the Pioneers' over on down four times in the first half, and kept L-S's potent spread offense out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.
Up next for the Pioneers is a PIAA Class 4A state semifinal showdown against District Four champ Jersey Shore, tentatively set for next Friday at 7 p.m. in Lampeter. Jersey Shore (9-0) topped District Two champ Crestwood 26-14 on Friday.
Elco, which fell to L-S in the first round of the district playoffs in 2018 and again last fall, had a 3-0 lead at the half, compliments of Reece Shuey's 25-yard field goal with 5:24 to go in the second quarter. That 3-pointer capped a ball-hogging, 23-play drive that started at the Raiders' own 7.
"We didn't execute in the first half," Manion said. "But we were completely calm at halftime. What wasn't working we could change. Our defense did a heck of a job. I'm really proud of our defense for holding their offense to 3 points. That's impressive."
Charged up to open the second half, L-S forced a quick three-and-out and put together a scoring drive of its own, capped by Andrew Reidenbaugh's 27-yard field goal with 7:07 to go in the third quarter for a 3-3 game.
Later, Sean McTaggart hit Ian Herr for 37-yard and 44-yard completions, setting up Reidenbaugh's 25-yard field goal, which gave L-S the lead for good, 6-3, with 1:33 to go in the third quarter.
"There was no panic and there were no nerves at halftime," L-S's Nick Del Grande said. "We knew we could pull it out; it was just a matter of getting focused as a group and calming down. We talked about doing our jobs. And we got it done."
Early in the fourth quarter, L-S thwarted Elco's drive at midfield when Alex Knapp scooped up a fumble and returned it deep inside Raiders' territory. Two plays later, McTaggart — who went 8 for 16 for 267 yards up top — flipped a 17-yard TD toss to Beau Heyser, and the Pioneers, the outright Section Three champs, had a 13-3 lead with 9:06 to go in the game.
L-S iced it two minutes later, when Del Grande pounced on his second fumble recovery of the game, setting up McTaggart's 72-yard TD strike to Austin Stoltzfus, who gathered in a pass in the flat, turned on the jets, and capped the scoring with 7:46 to go.
Elco, the outright Section Four champ and No. 2 seed, finished its season 7-1 overall. The Raiders recovered two fumbles, but were held to 162 rushing yards, well under their season average, as L-S did a good job keeping QB Braden Bohannon mostly under wraps.
The Pioneers had four sacks, recovered three fumbles and held Bohannon, the league's leading rusher with 938 yards coming into the game, to 37 yards on 16 keepers, as the Raiders, the No. 1 rushing team in the L-L League coming into the game, averaged just 2.9 yards per carry against the league's top-ranked defense.
"This was a culmination of the talent of the players, the hard work of the players, and the heart and commitment to the goals these players put forth," said Elco coach Bob Miller, who had the Raiders back in a district final for the first time since 2001.
"We showed so much heart that entire game," he said. "It's been a great experience this senior class has put together over the last three years."
Ditto for L-S's seniors, who helped put the Pioneers back in the district winner's circle for the second year in a row.