Throw out any discussion about whether last Friday was the true start of the high school football this fall, whether we call it Week 0 or Week 1.
As far as Lebanon County is concerned, the 2016 season will have arrived without question or contest as soon as kickoff commences Friday at Alumni Stadium.
The 45th edition of the Cedar Bowl will unfold at Lebanon this fall, where the Cedars aim to end a four-year losing skid against their top rivals. Meanwhile Cedar Crest, long pestered by questions regarding its offensive and defensive lines, holds its first chance to show the program can improve upon last season’s 5-5 showing. And similarly, Lebanon hopes its own turnover, both in roster and playbook, can bring about positive change.
Only one thing is for certain: Friday night will be a significant opportunity for both sidelines to answer any and all of those questions.
“We have a lot of new pieces this year, and every scrimmage so far has been a big help for us,” Falcons coach Rob Wildasin said. “Friday will be a learning experience. It's not just another game, I know that. But it will certainly be a good first test for both teams.”
While Wildasin openly admits there’s uncertainty about particular positions, he’s certainly content with other areas. Chiefly, the physicality the Falcons have demonstrated defensively, their collection of running backs and the development of sophomore quarterback Logan Horn among others.
“Now that (Horn)'s really focused on football, you really notice it in his mechanics,” Wildasin said. “And physically, he’s definitely bigger than he was as a freshman.”
With the time for individual development largely over in camp, the focus now turns to game planning. And that task has grown slightly more difficult this time around against the Cedars, considering their move from an all-out passing attack to a more hybrid offense.
“They run some triple option and double option, but there are still some elements of the Air Raid in the passing game,” Wildasin said. “The pass game is a mix. The run is new.”
And the player at the offense's controls is new, too.
Sophomore Zakee Salisman, a Lancaster Catholic transfer, has won the job in Lebanon's short pistol offense, where he'll be required to beat defenses with his arms and legs. The elusive Salisman reminds Cedars head coach Gerry Yonchiuk of a former Lebanon signal caller, James Capello.
"He throws a great ball," Yonchiuk said of Salisman. "He's extremely accurate, a real good decision-maker and he's really an amazing athlete. He's been playing quarterback all his life. And that experience factor can be big, especially in games like this."
Games like this have not been kind to the Cedars as of late, hence the complete off-season overhaul. How well the big changes pay off remains to be seen, though hope for the Lebanon locker room has rarely been higher in recent years than it is now.
"We have not matched up. One year they were in better shape than us and we got gassed. But the other three times they've hammered us," Yonchiuk said. "Now I think we're evenly matched this year."
Also in action on Friday night in Lebanon County:
Biglerville at Annville-Cleona
The Little Dutchmen are looking to bounce back from a rough, 55-27 defeat in their season opener against Trinity, a game in hand for the Shamrocks from the get-go. While Annville-Cleona moved the ball well, it will face an entirely new task against the Canners, an eight-win group last season.
Last year's meeting between the two, played in Biglerville, went down to the wire in an eventual 39-36 Little Dutchmen triumph. Though that should have little bearing on the 2016 version, considering both programs waved goodbye to a sizable senior class. Whoever avoids the large mistakes, such as the penalties, turnovers and surrendered third-down conversions that hurt A-C last week, should have the upper hand in Annville.
Elco at Susquenita
The Raiders are high on the return of their skill-position players, who will get a great opportunity to showcase their abilities against a Blackhawks defense that allowed 71 points last week to Juniata, including 64 before halftime. Susquenita, unsurprisingly, was run over in the process, a fact that should have senior back Tyler Horst ready to roll.
Arguably the top back in the county, Horst topped more than 1,300 yards a season ago and will be relied upon for similar production this fall. In that same season, Elco nonetheless limped to an 0-3 start. Can blue and gold open 2016 on a better note?
Palmyra at West Perry
Considering the number the Palmyra defense did on Camp Hill last week, Cougar opponents might have to wait a while to light up the scoreboard.
The Cougars shut out the reigning Class A district champions, 31-0, in a performance rooted in toughness and power. Offensively, Alon Rhette rushed for more than 100 yards, while the defense held strong. Expect more of the same this Friday, given the Mustangs are looking to regroup after a winless 2015 campaign. They fell 42-23 in Palmyra a year ago.