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John Buffone and Matt Catrillo break down three L-L football matchups for Week 7. Video by John Buffone.

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It's a tired, heavily overused sports cliche but there's a reason for that, because it's undeniably true.

"To be the champs, you've got to beat the champs."

Make no mistake about it, the Annville-Cleona football team wants to be the Section 3 champion and it's off to a good start in that regard with a 3-0 Section Three mark and a 5-2 overall record heading into Friday night's home meeting with county rival Northern Lebanon.

Though struggling a bit at 2-4 and 1-1 in Section 3, NL is still the two-time defending section champ, meaning it still represents a significant roadblock in A-C's path.

"It's the next game so it's the biggest game," said A-C coach Matt Gingrich. "And they're the two-time defending section champs, so until the season is over, they're still the section champs and you've gotta beat them. I can tell you last Friday night when we played Columbia (a 56-20 win) it was the scariest game of the year, because you've got a bunch of really good athletes who are coached really well, with nothing to lose.

"It's almost exactly the same thing this week probably to even more of a degree. Because you've got a bunch of really good athletes who are coached really well and it's also a rivalry."

Despite their record, the Vikings, who've been without go-to running back Luke Funcj because of injury, boast more than their share of playmakers in quarterback Michigan Daub, wideout Christian Trader and running back Steve Herb.

"They are as dangerous a team as you could hope not to play," Gingrich said with a chuckle. "They've got skill kids all over the place. And their offensive line does a great job, too. They're quick, they're fast, they're athletic and they're scary."

A-C counters with a formidable running game that has really hit its stride in the last month. A-C will be without one of those backs on Friday - Dylan Bomgardner - due to an injury but still has ample firepower in Cameron Hoch, Caleb Turner, Dominic McMillan, Victor Hoffer and quarterback Noah Myers.

"That was probably the fourth week where that offensive line really started taking pride in themselves," Gingrich said of the blocking up front, which has resulted in six different 100-yard rushers for A-C this season. "They really, really come off the ball well. And the other thing is our backs and receivers have really been great in blocking. I'm just really happy that the kids are executing."

And because they have, the Dutchmen have guaranteed themselves something every team hopes for while toiling in the heat during the dog days of summer - meaningful late-season games.

"I think we're in a pretty cool situation," Gingrich said, referring to the success also enjoyed by A-C's soccer and field hockey teams this fall."I think the whole school, these kids are a little more focused than in the past. I've got a lot of kids watching film, I've got a lot of kids giving input on game plans. They're really giving it their best effort."

Also on tap for Friday night for Lebanon County teams:

Steel-High at Palmyra, 7 p.m.

Palmyra endured its first loss of the season last week in a 14-10 loss at Middletown in a battle of unbeatens. But the Cougars may have gained more than they lost after a top-notch effort against a high-caliber, high-powered opponent.

They'll find out for sure this week when they host the Rollers (2-4, 1-2) on Homecoming at Buck Swank Stadium. Steel-High beat Trinity 25-22 last week to snap a four-game losing streak, but figures to have its hands full with a Palmyra squad that will be looking to get back on the winning track.

Count on the Cougars doing just that. This is a focused, hard-nosed group that wants to play in the postseason and one that showed last week it has the chops to get there.

Cedar Crest at Solanco, 7:30 p.m.

Like Palmyra, the Falcons are coming off a showdown loss of their own - last Friday's 22-13 loss to Section Two front runner Cocalico.

And like Palmyra, Cedar Crest (4-2, 2-1) has a good opportunity to right that wrong this week against its next opponent, in this case Solanco (2-4, 1-2). The lengthy drive to Quarryville won't help matters, nor will the Mules' confidence-boosting 41-33 win over Lampeter-Strasburg last week.

But Cedar Crest has shown that it can hang with anybody thus far, so there is no reason to bet against a bounce-back effort on Friday night.

Columbia at Elco, 7 p.m.

Here's a team due for something good to happen to it. If the football gods have a heart, this might be the week the Raiders (2-4, 0-3) avoid fourth quarter heartbreak and get back in the win column.

It's been a rough three weeks with narrow losses to Annville-Cleona, Donegal and Lancaster Catholic, so winless Columbia could be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Raiders. The Crimson Tide has been outscored 213-78 in its five losses, while Elco's four losses have come by a combined 47 points, and three by 12 points or less.

Wilson at Lebanon, 7 p.m.

The Cedars (1-5, 0-3) have struggled mightily in their return to Section 1, dropping their first three contests by a combined score of 145-39, and it won't get any easier this week with mighty Wilson coming to town.

The Bulldogs are 5-1 and responded to a narrow win over Warwick three weeks ago by bludgeoning McCaskey 55-0 and Penn Manor 42-13.

So, um, Wilson is pretty good and Lebanon figures to need a huge effort just to stay close. It won't be easy.


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