Four Lebanon County teams seeking district berths
One of the main goals for any high school football team that trudges through a grueling 10-week regular season is to do enough during that span to gain the reward of an 11th week of play. Or more.
For four Lebanon County teams, that goal is very close to being realized.
With their respective regular season finales looming, Northern Lebanon, Palmyra, Annville-Cleona and Cedar Crest are each on the brink of extending the 2015 campaign into the postseason.
Assuming wins this weekend and no crazy power rankings developments, each will be in action when the District Three playoffs kick off next week. It will mark the first time that four county football teams have qualified for districts in the same season.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at where the four stand heading into Week 10:
NORTHERN LEBANON >> In addition to wrapping up a second straight outright Section Three title with a win at Columbia on Friday night, the Vikings can also claim a second consecutive AAA district playoff berth if they can emerge victorious in their regular season finale.
Sitting 14th in the latest power rankings, Northern Lebanon (7-2) should be good to go as long as it doesn't slip up against Columbia.
And that's pretty unlikely given how motivated the Vikings are after two forfeit losses for using an ineligible player earlier in the season temporarily knocked them out of the top 16 and smudged their unbeaten on-the field record.
Time to get ready for Week 11.
CEDAR CREST >> The Falcons have cleared their largest remaining hurdle to claiming the program's first district berth since 1999. But the work isn't over yet.
Currently slotted 15th in the Class AAAA power rankings, Cedar Crest (4-5, 3-3 Section One) must knock off a winless Penn Manor team in its 2015 finale at Earl Boltz Stadium. Rob Wildasin's club won't have to look as far back as 16 years for motivation, as they'll remember beating the Comets at their place last year with nothing to play for. Meanwhile, Penn Manor, akin to the Falcons this season, were slated for a district playoff berth then and still lost.
Having returned from an ankle injury that initially provided a great scare, expect junior Justice Belleman to again carry the load behind a powerful offensive line. And there can never be any forgetting those Horn brothers, either.
PALMYRA >> The Cougars (6-3) have lost their way a bit after a 6-0 start to the season, but if they can halt their three-game losing skid on Friday at Buck Swank Stadium against 0-9 West Perry a district playoff spot will be theirs.
Once the top-ranked team in the district, Palmyra slid to 12th in the latest power rankings, but should easily secure a top 16 spot and a postseason bid with a win Friday.
It's been a rough go lately, but the Cougars have lost to some good teams the last three weeks and are still of postseason-caliber. They'll prove it Friday.
ANNVILLE-CLEONA >> A second straight trip to districts is there for rookie head coach Matt GIngrich's Little Dutchmen to grab as they head into Friday's Week 10 meeting at home with Pequea Valley.
The Braves are no joke, so A-C (6-3) will have to come to play to remain in the top eight in Class AA, where they're currently ranked sixth.
A win could also move the Little Dutchmen away from a first-round meeting with current No. 3 Newport, which they fell to 33-14 in the first round a season ago.
Also on Friday night:
ELCO VS. TWIN VALLEY>>The Raiders (5-4, 5-1 Section Three) will be looking to secure their first winning season since 2012 in a tough non-league match against Twin Valley. The visiting Raiders (3-6, 3-3 Berks Section II) walloped Elco last year, 48-6, but also lost to the teams' only common opponent this year in Hamburg. Elco's physical winning formula, which has delivered back-to-back wins, is unlikely to change, especially after a 41-point win over Ephrata last week.
The Lebanon County Raiders have also not lost at home since Sept. 18.
LEBANON VS. ELIZABETHTOWN>> After suffering a blowout home loss to Lampeter-Strasburg last Friday, the Cedars (2-7, 0-6 Section Two) are hoping to wrap up their 2015 campaign on a high note with one final kickoff at Alumni Stadium. Incoming E-town (1-8, 1-5) claimed its first victory of the season last week against Lancaster Catholic, a team Lebanon had on the ropes itself until late not too long ago. Stopping Bears quarterback Micah Garber, who stands on the cusp of 1,000 passing yards this season, figures to be paramount for the Cedars defense.
The loser of this regular-season finale will finish last in Section Two.