Cedar Crest, Palmyra, Northern Lebanon and Annville-Cleona are set for kickoff Friday night in the District Three playoffs

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Stealing a moment to glance at the bigger picture, Lebanon County high school football has without question been a wild success this fall. Four programs made the District Three playoffs for the first time in the area's history, thrilling regular-season finishes became a weekly occurrence and the annual rivalries played out as fiercely as ever.

However, today and tomorrow are no time for big-picture appreciation. The next few days will be solely purposed for the time-honored "one game at a time" approach, as playoff football makes no promise of a tomorrow. And each county qualifier faces a tall, perhaps final task this week.

Headlined by the returns Cedar Crest and Palmyra, Friday's postseason showdowns will include local teams from each of the district's top three classes. By virtue of three straight wins to close their season, the Falcons earned the No. 14 berth in the Class AAAA tournament, their first overall since 1999, Meanwhile the Cougars held on after a rough finish to claim Class AAA's twelfth seed, as No. 15 Northern Lebanon finished just behind Palmyra in making its second consecutive district trip.

Lastly, Annville-Cleona, another repeat qualifier from a year ago, secured the seventh spot in the eight-team Class AA bracket. Each team will kick off at 7 p.m. for the right to play next weekend.

Below is a breakdown of each of their matchups.

Class AAAA

No. 14 Cedar Crest at No. 3 Exeter

The Falcons (5-5) will travel to the house of this year's Berks Inter-County Section 1 champions, who scored at least 30 points in every game this season but one. The Eagles (10-0) most recently wrapped up a tidy 42-3 victory over Daniel Boone, pounding the Blazers early and often en route to a perfect regular season. That physical style undoubtedly will carry over to their most important minutes of the sesaon.

"They're big, they're physical, they're going to jam the ball right at us," Cedar Crest coach Rob Wildasin said. "It's going to be a physical football game and a fun game to watch."

Since kickoff of Week 1, Cedar Crest has prided itself on its own physical running game, an attack led by junior Justice Belleman and furnished by the powerful, veteran line ahead of him. When a district berth lay in sight with three games to go, the Falcons marched right through McCaskey and Conestoga Valley to enter the playoff picture. Then, facing a winless Penn Manor team in its season finale, Cedar Crest's focus morphed into simply not sleeping on the Comets, who were eventually disposed of, 48-21.

Now with even greater school history on the line, have the Falcons caught many Zs?"

"I don't know," Wildasin said. "But I know I haven't."

Class AAA

No. 12 Palmyra at No. 5 Lampeter-Strasburg

Injuries took their toll on the Cougars more than most down the stretch, resulting in three losses over their final four contests. But headman Chris Pope believes his bunch will be as healthy Friday as it's been in at least a month, and included in that exodus from the trainer's room are a strong stable of running backs that carried Palmyra to early success this year.

"I think our running backs have recovered pretty good," Pope said. "I would look at us as healthier than we were a few weeks ago."

Looking across the way, Pope sees a powerful Pioneers squad (8-2) that staked a share of the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two title this year and claimed the entire crown a season ago. Senior quaterback Collin Shank steals the headlines, yet it's a quiet balance about Lampeter-Strasburg that has captured the coach's attention.

"They're a really solid football team," Pope said. "Obviously their quarterback is really good, and they have a good running back. Defensively they run a 4-3 and are really sound."

No. 15 Northern Lebanon at No. 2 Northeastern

The Vikings (8-2) never left a field this fall without more points than their opponents, yet earned a bottom seed due to two forfeits earlier this season. That slight should serve as plenty motivation Friday, which will bring about a rebooted YAIAA contender in the Panthers (8-2). Senior quarterback Isaac Wengert has run amok over Section Three competition in recent weeks and will look to continue to attack the edges with Northern Lebanon's patented option attack.

But as has been the case in each of these past two postseason runs, the Vikings' level of success will begin and end with its line play. Suiting up for perhaps the final high school game of their respective careers, expect seniors Josiah Kerstetter, George Thompson, Ethan Beard and others to have a large say in how the contest plays out.

Class AA

No. 7 Annville-Cleona at No. 2 Berks Catholic

Following a disappointing season-finale fall against Pequea Valley, the Little Dutchmen (6-4) face arguably the toughest matchup of any county playoff contender. The Saints boast a similar run-dominated offense that has taken few prisoners and offered no apologies over their 9-1 campaign. Berks Catholic's only loss registered in Week 10 when it met then fellow undefeated Wyomissing, now Class AA's top seed.

For any chance at escaping Reading with a victory, Annville-Cleona will likely need a special teams or defensive score on top of a outstanding performance from senior signal caller Adam Fox.

"We're going to have to play a very good game to stick with them. But we can," Little Dutchmen coach Matt Gingrich said. "They don't do many things, but they do them as well as they possibly can do them."

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