Friday's season opener - set to be played at Palmyra's Buck Swank Stadium at 7 p.m. - will also be the last between the two neighboring schools for a while after the annual game was not renewed by A-C. But all that aside, the Little Dutchmen are prepared to put one more thing on the line - seating at the Sinkhole Saloon & Deck at Palmyra Bowling for wings next Wednesday night.
You see, Annville-Cleona and Palmyra regularly gather at the Sinkhole to eat wings after practice on Wednesday nights, and because of the amount of people both squads bring, seating becomes very limited. One way to avoid that problem the Wednesday after the West End Clash is to tell the loser of the game to find somewhere else to eat their wings that night.
"The winner gets the Sinkhole for wings," Tyson Hayes proclaimed during Lancaster-Lebanon League Media Day a few weeks ago.
"We gotta beat Palmyra," the quarterback added. "If we can beat them, we'll be on Cloud 9 and we can beat anyone. It's a must-win game."
It's a tall order for the Dutchmen, who trail the all-time series 23-16-3 and have lost the last two games to the Cougars by a combined 77-14. Last season, A-C was defeated 33-14 by Palmyra and started 0-2 before winning four of its next five games. The Dutchmen finished with a three-game losing streak to end 4-6 overall and 3-3 and in third place in Section Three.
Last season, Ricky Snyder was A-C's main offensive threat, rushing for 1,726 yards and 14 touchdowns, both of which were tops in the county. Snyder's absence will definitely be felt this fall.
"You could probably put two backs together and get 1,700 yards, but what you can't replace is the punishment he put on defenses," head coach Terry Lehman said. "You can't replace Ricky, and the same can be said for Josh Henning.
Henning, a wide receiver who finished fourth in the county with 43 catches in 2010, is another big graduation loss in Annville, but despite the holes left behind by Snyder and Henning as well as linemen Nick Wanamaker and Nate Uhrich, Lehman likes the makeup of this year's team.
"We feel good," said Lehman, who is in his 25th season at A-C. "There's a nice little program here. We have cycles. We're competitive, and we think we're on the right track."
This year, Lehman will lean on his big men up front, offensive and defensive lines that will be anchored by Tyler Eckenrode (6-foot-2, 245 pounds), Jared Kramer (5-10, 255) and Richmond Owusua (5-11, 215).
"I think our offensive line is going to be better than last year, and I know our defensive line is going to be better," Lehman said.
"Offense is fun and all, but defensively we have to play conservatively and break up the play," the two-way starting senior said. "There's nothing like making a tackle. ... I think we'll fire off as hard as anyone."
The rest of the Dutchmen's defense should also be solid, with the likes of Hughes, Freddie Hess and Keith Witmer suiting up at linebacker while third-year starter Adam Connor will help fill the void left behind by Henning in the secondary along with promising sophomores Taylor Prentice and Mitch Rodkey.
"Our offense will score some points, but our defense will be able to stop people and get us wins," Hayes said.
On the other side of the ball, Eckenrode and Austin Zechman (5-10, 220) were projected to line up as guards, but preseason injuries took them out of the mix in the early going. That opened a door for Daultyn Kline, a 6-1, 205 junior who now is likely to start there.
Elsewhere, Hughes will be a starting tackle along with either Zach Dougherty (6-2, 260) or Brandon Boger (6-1, 250), and Mike Marakowski (5-10, 205) and Jared Kramer (5-10, 255) will battle for the starting job at center.
Marakowski is one of four Lebanon Catholic players out for the Dutchmen this season after the A-C school board agreed to allow players from that school to play in Annville. The other three are freshmen John Groh and Darius Ramos and senior Ian Long, a running back who has raised eye brows and should get some work under the lights this fall.
"It has added a kid here, a kid there," Lehman said of the addition of four Beavers. "They're all good kids. You can't tell a Catholic kid from an Annville kid. They all get along."
Also on offense, Tanner Fitting (5-11, 175) is expected to catch passes out of his tight end position, while Lehman plans to run players in and out of the game to fill the wideout spots. The backfield consists of Hess, a 6-2, 215-pound fullback, and third-year quarterback Hayes, a 6-1, 190-pound senior signal-caller who threw for 804 yards and 12 touchdowns while only being intercepted five times.
"We return a very good core of our line and we have some experience in the backfield," Hess said. "Tyson has started three years and I'll be starting three years. We return a lot of players, but we lost a lot of good players."
Hess will be the focal point of the offense, having attending a camp at the University of Michigan in the off-season and someone who is getting looks as a linebacker from some Ivy League schools and other similar Division I programs such as Navy and Lehigh.
"He loves physical contact from the fullback spot," Lehman said of Hess. "And he has great hands. It wouldn't surprise me if he's our leading receiving this season."
Sam Soliday is another weapon Lehman will look to utilize this fall, a kicker with a strong leg who the coach said "has the potential to be the best kicker we've ever had."
Another diamond in the rough could be sophomore running back Quentin Hall, a 5-8, 150-pounder who turned heads at a camp at Lebanon Valley College over the summer.
One area Lehman hopes to improve upon this fall is on the sidelines where he feels the coaching could have been better last season.
"Our fourth-quarter coaching," he said when asked about an area that needs improvement. "We can't lose four games in the fourth quarter. We need to figure out what's going on at halftime. I don't know if it's conditioning or play calling, but we need to make sure we don't go through that again."
Hess also knows A-C let some games slip away last season and will do whatever he can to make sure that doesn't happen this season.
"It's always our goal to be better than last year," he said. "Realistically, we could have been 8-2."
But right now, the Dutchmen are only concerned with being 1-0 and having the prime seating at the Sinkhole for wings next Wednesday night.