There isn't really a good time to play a football team as physical and talented as Northern Lebanon.
But there probably couldn't be a worse time to face the Vikings than this week, given the tumult that has surrounded the defending Section Three champs since news broke on Tuesday afternoon that it would be forced to forfeit its first two games of the season due to inadvertent use of an ineligible player.
So when Annville-Cleona heads to Fredericksburg on Friday night to face a Northern Lebanon team that has seen its unbeaten record changed to 5-2 by the forfeits, it will be facing a team that is not only physical and talented, but likely also angry and extremely motivated.
The anger, of course, would stem from seeing a potentially perfect season ended by an administrative error, and the motivation from the fact that a second straight Section Three title remains in play since the forfeits were to non-league opponents Pine Grove and Lebanon.
Northern Lebanon coach Roy Wall declined to comment on the forfeit situation, but A-C coach Matt Gingrich was less than excited that the Vikings are in possession of some added incentive for this week's resumption of an already spirited county rivalry.
"On the field, it doesn't impact us at all," A-C coach Matt Gingrich said of the Northern Lebanon situation. "But what it does, though, is it could impact the way they play. They're good enough already, they don't needed any added incentive. I'm not a fan of this (news) coming out now, but it is what it is."
Interestingly enough, the key for the Little Dutchmen (5-2, 1-2 Section Three) may well be to tone down their own emotions for the matchup, something Gingrich believes it failed to do during last season's 32-24 loss to NL in what amounted to a showdown for the section crown.
And A-C has some added motivation of its own to work with, given that it is currently fifth in the AA district power rankings and in the thick of the fight for a postseason bid.
"Last year, I think we were a little too emotional," Gingrich said. "We're trying to treat it this year likes it's another game. Because quite honestly, we've already lost our chance at winning the section. Our goal is how good can we become by the end of the year and how good can we become by the district playoffs if we're fortunate enough to get there.
"So it is another game for us. For them it's not, for them it's a proving point and a section championship on the line."
Whether it's just another game or not, it should be a good one. Northern Lebanon boasts playmakers in quarterback Isaac Wengert and Luke Funck, as well as bigtime players up front in linemen Dustin Motter, Matt Vines and George Thompson, and quite frankly was 7-0 for a reason.
A-C, meanwhile, counters with quarterback Adam Fox and big-play backs Will Langan and Cameron Hoch, who are more than capable of matching the Vikings' production.
"Each team takes its own personality, and I think this team felt really good about themselves at the beginning of the year," Gingrich said of his club, which started 3-0 before dropping back-to-back section games to Donegal and Elco. "And the big thing I try to impress upon them is, our goal is not to win the game it's to get better every single day, every single play. I think the first three weeks we had a false sense of security, because we won those games but we didn't get any better.
"The last couple weeks I've been very pleased with our attitude and aggressiveness and our improvement."
The Little Dutchmen will need to continue that improvement this week if they are to match the intensity that Northern Lebanon will undoubtedly bring to the field.
Also this week:
CEDAR CREST AT MCCASKEY>> The Falcons have made strides this season and are contradicting the old Bill Parcells line that you are what your record says you are.
Despite its 2-5 record, Cedar Crest seems better than that and should not be taken lightly, as evidenced by last week's close 38-35 loss to 6-1 Hempfield.
A 3-4 McCaskey team awaits this week in a contest that begins a stretch of three straight winnable games — Conestoga Valley and Penn Manor await the next two weeks — to close the regular season.
Now all the Falcons have to do is win them. Hey, we'll see.
ELCO AT COLUMBIA >> Fresh off a 44-41 loss to Northern Lebanon in an epic Section Three showdown, the Raiders (3-4, 3-1 Section Three) will be looking to take out some frustrations this week and may have found the perfect foil in the 1-6 Crimson Tide.
Columbia, which picked up its first win last week against Ephrata, is surrendering close to 40 pioints oer game, which should have quarterback Jeff Martin, running back Tyler Horst and the rest of the Elco offense licking their chops this week.
LEBANON AT GARDEN SPOT >> It's been a rough go for the Cedars since the Week 3 win over Elco, thanks to a loaded Section Two schedule, but there were some bright spots in last week's 41-27 loss to Lancaster Catholic, so it's not all bad.
And Lebanon even picked up its second win of the season on Tuesday, thanks to the Northern Lebanon forfeit. Not the way it wanted to do so, but still.
Win No. 3 will be harder to come by, though, with a trip to New Holland on the docket this week.
Garden Spot (3-4, 1-3 Section Two) isn't a world-beater, but is averaging more than 26 points a game and gave a decent account of itself in losses to Cocalico and Solanco.
PALMYRA AT MIDDLETOWN, 2 P.M. >> The Cougars tasted defeat for the first time this season last week in a 28-24 Homecoming loss to Camp Hill, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to their first brush with adversity in a Saturday afternoon trip to Middletown.
The Blue Raiders are no slouch, either, and come into the meeting at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Mid-Penn Capital Division after last week's 35-7 beatdown of Trinity.
Palmyra played well enough to win last week, though, so there is no cause for alarm, especially if it gets back in the win column this week and continues its march to the district playoffs.