Northern Lebanon running back Derek DiAngelis
Northern Lebanon running back Derek DiAngelis (FILE PHOTO)
No matter a team's record, if it passes the midpoint of its season and first place is still in sight, life is pretty good.

In that sense, life is pretty good for the Northern Lebanon football team right now.

Despite a subpar 2-4 overall record, the Vikings head into Friday night's home clash with Elco residing in the nearby outskirts of first place in Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three.

That's because both of Northern Lebanon's victories - over Annville-Cleona and Pequea Valley - have come in Section Three play, giving it a 2-0 section mark that leaves it just a half game behind frontrunning Donegal and its 3-0 record. Donegal and Northern Lebanon are the only two teams in the section that have yet to taste defeat in league play.

Not bad for a Viking team that only ended an 11-game program losing streak less than a month ago.

"It's still wide open," NL head coach Roy Wall said of the section race. "Obviously the team to beat is Donegal, but it's wide open. We just have to play well and stop shooting ourselves in the foot."

Indeed, it has been ill-timed mistakes that have led to the Vikings' four losses coming by just 21 combined points. A few less turnovers and costly penalties, and NL's record could be reversed or even better than that.

But Wall's club has still managed to inch its way into section title contention led by a fairly potent option running game that includes workhorse senior Derek DiAngelis, explosive sophomore Dominic Trader and heady quarterback Isaac Ray, who can also make plays in the passing game with the help of favorite target Mason Yost.

And for the Vikes to stay unbeaten in the section this week, they must take advantage of a leaky Elco run defense that has been pummeled in consecutive losses to Garden Spot and Donegal.

"It'll be quite a challenge for us," said Elco coach Bob Miller of trying to slow down NL's option game. "We've had breakdowns (defensively), and not just in one aspect. I think this week we have to be very, very disciplined. They're a good football team.

"The DiAngelis kid, I'm not sure what his stats are, but he's a real stud athlete.

Elco quarterback Jeff Martin
Elco quarterback Jeff Martin (FILE PHOTO)
We've got our work cut out for us."

"We've had moments, but we're still not consistent where we're churning out 250 or 300 rushing yards," Wall said. "The two games we won, we had a lot of big plays. We get behind schedule with holding penalties, we need to average four or five yards a play and keep on schedule."

The Raiders, just 1-5 overall and 1-2 in Section Three, are still a cause for concern for Northern Lebanon, though. The reason is the offensive weapons they possess in running back Cameron Strause, wide receiver Derek Miller and quarterback Jeff Martin, who've helped the Raiders exceed the 50-point mark twice this season.

"They're an explosive offense," Wall said. "Strause is very good, and they throw the ball all over the place. It should be an interesting game. Our defense has been playing well, and we need that to continue. I expect our defense to play better, but I won't be surprised if it's a shootout."

"We've made some progress in some areas, but we have not been consistent," Miller said of the state Elco is in at this point. "And as we started to make progress, we came up against Garden Spot and Donegal, which make it seem worse than it is."

The Raiders would also seem to have the added motivation of being able to play spoiler for the Vikings' section hopes with a win on Friday night.

But that's not the approach Miller is taking this week. Or any week, really. He's more worried about the Raiders finishing strong and building some momentum for next season than wrecking the Vikings' season.

"We gotta get better here," Miller said. "I'm more concerned with raising our level. I want to raise us up, not spoil anybody else.

"It's incredibly important (to finish strong). We've put in a lot of work. And some of the younger kids have kids started to find their way on the field. If they can have success that can carry over. And for the seniors, you want them to be rewarded for the work they put in."

The fact that 2-4 Northern Lebanon is still entertaining section title hopes and 1-5 Elco believes it can finish with a flourish speaks to the competitive balance in the section this season. There may not be a great team, but there isn't a lousy one, either.

"This is the most fun year in my four years (at Northern Lebanon)," Wall said. "You know you have a shot every week, and the games are close. Hopefully we're peaking at the right time."

Also on tap for Lebanon County teams in Week 7:

  • Lebanon at Cocalico, 7 p.m.

    Big bounce-back for the Cedars last week in a 30-14 win over Solanco that was achieved on the strength of, among other things, the physical running of senior quarterback Mark Pyles.

    It was a much-needed emphatic response to the previous week's 72-0 drubbing inflicted by Manheim Central, and that was very good news for Lebanon watchers, who've seen one bad loss wreck a season in the past.

    But for now, the 4-2 Cedars are hanging out on the outskirts of the District Three Class AAAA playoff chase, ranked 17th in the latest power rankings. Sixteen teams make it to the district playoffs in Class AAAA.

    Now here's the bad news: This week's opponent, a very formidable Cocalico squad, figures to be pretty darn ornery after dropping its much-hyped Section Two showdown with Manheim Central last week.

    And Cocalico's got a couple big-time offensive threats in running back Spencer Moser and quarterback Jhett Janis, who figure to provide a few pre-Halloween scares for a Lebanon defense that was shredded by Central's run game two weeks ago. So the Cedars may have to summon another bounce-back effort next week if they want to stay in the postseason hunt.

  • Cedar Crest at Hempfield

    Some losses sting longer than others, and there's little doubt that the Falcons felt a good deal of pain for a good long time after last Friday's come-from-ahead 28-26 loss to Manheim Township.

    But Cedar Crest (2-4, 1-2 Section One) has no time to dwell on the 20-0 third-quarter lead it gave up to the Blue Streaks, not with a trip to Landisville to face the much-improved Black Knights on the docket.

    Hempfield (3-3, 1-2) fell to unbeaten Wilson, 41-23, last week, but has solid wins over Lampeter-Strasburg and Central York and a blowout of McCaskey on its resume. In other words, it wouldn't be in the Falcons' best interests to still be nursing a hangover from the Township loss.

    It would, however, behoove Cedar Crest to continue cranking out the big plays, something it did last week via Damon Edwards' 72-yard TD run and Marq Kintzer's 87-yard kickoff return for a score.

  • Columbia at Annville-Cleona

    After a star-crossed first five weeks of the season, A-C finally found its stride last week in a 27-20 upset win over defending Section Three champ Garden Spot.

    So how about another win for the Little Dutchmen (1-5, 1-1 Section Three) this week? Well, maybe. Columbia comes to town with a 3-3 overall record and a 1-1 Section Three mark, but two of its wins came against less-than-formidable opposition in Northeastern and Pequea Valley.

    Definitely a winnable game for A-C. Especially if quarterback Mitch Rodkey, who had been hampered by an ankle injury, can put together another effort like he did last week when he threw for one touchdown and ran for another in the win over Garden Spot. Rodkey makes A-C go, and if he's healthy again that's bad news for the Crimson Tide.

  • Red Land at Palmyra

    There is no such thing as an easy game on Palmyra's Mid-Penn Keystone Division schedule, but there are some that are slightly less frightening than others. This week's matchup with the 3-3 Patriots fits the bill.

    Red Land certainly can cause the Cougars (1-5, 0-3 Keystone) a lot of trouble, but it's had some lopsided losses of its own in the division, including a 24-0 loss at Lower Dauphin and a 35-7 setback to Cedar Cliff.

    So Palmyra could hang in there in this one for a bit, but probably not enough to notch its second win of the season. The countdown for the return to Capital Division next season continues.