Homecoming at Cedar Crest came and went one month ago. But there will be no more important, and potentially celebrated, return for the Falcons than Friday night.
After a four-game road trip, Cedar Crest will kick off inside the homey confines of Earl Boltz Stadium against Conestoga Valley with District Three Class AAAA playoff implications on the line. The Falcons and Buckskins sport matching 3-5 records overall and 2-3 marks in Section One play, standing one and three spots outside of the final district playoff spot, respectively.
In turn, even after dropping three of its last four, the message for Cedar Crest is simple: win two and you're in. And given winless Penn Manor awaits next Friday, all the marbles appear up for grabs this week.
"Whoever wins is a win away from being there," Falcons coach Rob Wildasin said. "I think you're going to see two teams throw everything that they've got."
Last year's meeting, a 28-21 Conestoga Valley victory, should provide a rough outline of what to expect Friday, though considerable changes have been made since then. Namely, Cedar Crest's switch at quarterback, as freshman Logan Horn has been under center since a Week 3 change against Manheim Central. However it was his senior brother, Evan, working in tandem with the Falcons' offensive line, that changed their season's course last Friday at McCaskey.
The elder Horn rushed for more than 90 yards, scored a go-ahead touchdown and recovered a fumble defensively. Meanwhile, Crest's big boys up front paved the way for more than 300 total rushing yards and sapped nearly every second out of the second half. The Red Tornado held the ball for just 2:17 after halftime.
"I said it at Media Day and 11 weeks later, I'm still saying it: we'll go as far as our offensive line takes us," Wildasin said.
Given Conestoga Valley's preference for a quick-strike aerial attack with quarterback Grant Stoltzfus, a similar game plan may be in the works yet again. And Cedar Crest, which is seeking its fourth district berth all-time and first since 1999, can only hope for similar results.
"It's unavoidable to talk about because it's been our goal since I took over," Wildasin said of the district playoff possibility. "They're aware of where we stand, so that hasn't changed. But they know they've got to win two. In order to win two you've got to win one, and that starts Friday."
NORTHERN LEBANON AT DONEGAL>> For the second straight season, a share of the Section Three title will be on the line when the Vikings meet the Indians. Northern Lebanon (6-2, 4-0 Section Three) last dispatched of county rival Annville-Cleona, 58-36, in its home regular-season finale, setting the table for two closing road games. If senior quarterback Isaac Wengert continues his torrid pace (11 touchdowns in the last two games), it's difficult to imagine the Vikings falling short of their "back-to-back" hopes.
But Donegal (5-3, 3-1) should be ready to roll Friday, having outscored its opponents 67-14 over that same span since a tough road loss at Elco.
MILTON HERSHEY AT PALMYRA>> The Cougars will be looking to bounce back from a two-game skid, their last loss a 36-point road drubbing at Middletown. While Palmyra (6-2, 3-2 Mid-Penn Capital) was without star runner Alon Rhette, its problems extended well beyond lack of a rushing attack. A 21-0 deficit can not crop again against the Spartans (5-3, 3-2), who topped Middletown a few weeks ago.
The divisional foes are currently locked in the middle of the Mid-Penn Capital, trailing unbeaten Camp Hill and Middletown. Thankfully for the Cougars, currently slotted eleventh in the district power rankings, a soft landing against 0-8 West Perry awaits in their season finale.
COLUMBIA AT ANNVILLE-CLEONA>> The Little Dutchmen (5-3, 1-3 Section Three) welcome a lowly Crimson Tide team to town to help heal their wounds from a rough rout in Northern Lebanon last Friday. As can be expected every week, watch for Annville-Cleona to roll out run after run behind senior quarterback Adam Fox and Co. The Little Dutchmen appear secure in their current possession of a district playoff spot, slotted sixth in Class AA.
A key meeting with Pequea Valley is penciled in for Annville-Cleona in Week 10.
LAMPETER-STRASBURG AT LEBANON>> Unable to carry momentum from a close loss at Lancaster Catholic in Week 7, the Cedars (2-6, 0-5 Section Two) fell hard to Garden Spot last Friday.
Meanwhile, the Pioneers (6-2, 4-1) have continued to roll behind stellar signal caller Collin "Bear" Shank. Expect points to be aplenty Friday night at Alumni Stadium.
EPHRATA AT ELCO>> The Raiders (4-4, 4-1 Section Three) survived a closer-than-expected showdown at Columbia last week, eventually eking out a 31-20 win. Hosting the winless Mounts (0-8, 0-4) on Friday, Elco will have its first chance to move above .500 since a critical loss at Northern Lebanon in Week 7 that likely decided the section. Junior Tyler Horst and a powerful offensive line remain the Raiders' best tone-setters, as Horst has now eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season.