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Northern Lebanon looks for 3-peat with new pieces

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Usually when a team posts an 8-3 record and then goes on to win back-to-back section titles, the term, “roller-coaster season” isn’t an accurate characterization of that particular year. But in 2015, that was the case for the Northern Lebanon Vikings football team.

Despite a season in which the Vikings made school history by becoming the two-time defending Section Three champions and earning a district playoff berth, there were some obstacles that could’ve been potentially damaging mentally to a football team – being robbed of an undefeated season after NL was forced to forfeit two games due to using an illegible player.

But instead of being put down by the punishing setback, NL did just the opposite – winning out to claim another section crown.

Vikings seventh-year coach Roy Wall knew his team would handle the unusual situation well, knowing the way his team always deals with any type of adversity. And it can even be put to good use for this season – with a target on their back as the defending section champions once again.

“Their heads are very level. They know what to expect and nothing surprises them,” Wall said. “One of the trademarks of my teams are we never get too high or low. We’re always somewhere in the middle. They’ll be fine.”

While adjusting to their new classification as a 4A school, there is another reason that level-headed mentality could be put to use again this season – all the new faces looking to step up to fill the big shoes left by departed seniors, including quarterback Isaac Wengert.

But it’s two upperclassmen competing for the starting job – junior Michigan Daub, and senior Dawson Else. Daub is making the conversion from split end, where he averaged almost 17 yards a catch for 271 yards and four touchdowns last season. Daub did see some time under center, but threw only two passes – one a 22-yard competition.

And Wall views the competition as valuable – so much so as to compare it to two eventual NFL Hall of Famers who once competed for a starting job.

“Michigan’s been fine and so has Dawson. We have a really good problem, sort of like when you had Joe Montana and Steve Young,” Wall said with a smirk. “Both are quality players. We have competition at a lot of other positions we haven’t had in quite some time. We’ve got good competition and I think we’ll be OK.”

But if you’re looking for an answer to whose number will be under center for week one at Pine Grove – well, it won’t be coming anytime soon.

“There’s been no determination who’s playing quarterback. We’re not going to assess that until our first scrimmage when we play with pads on,” Wall said. “Anyone can sit back and throw in seven-on-seven’s. That doesn’t give you a true indication. We’ll know more once we get the pads on.”

One player whose production hopes to take some pressure off his new QB – whoever it may be – is running back Luke Funck, who gets ready to play in a Vikings uniform for a final season.

“I’m just excited it’s my senior year,” Funck said. “This is what I’ve been waiting for since I was a pee wee. I just can’t wait.”

But his senior season could be more challenging than as a junior, coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season accompanied by 15 total touchdowns. With new pieces being mixed in offensively, game-planning for opponents makes it even more vital to take Funck out of the game. He says execution will still be the determining factor, no matter who’s on the field.

“We just keep doing the same plays, just like how we did it last year,” Funck said. “All we have to do now is move people around and see where everyone fits.”

Funck, along with fellow senior running back Noah Smith, not only will have the challenge of trying to defeat opposing defense's schemes more focused on them, but also trying to work their way through some question marks up front, led by senior Hunter Wallace.

But Wall isn’t totally worried about the new look to his spread offense, either, showing plenty of confidence the newbies will be ready to take the reins come opening kickoff.

“We have five receivers coming back, so there’s still going to be a lot of experience. We still expect to have some running holes for Luke because of how we stretch the field vertically and horizontally.” Wall said. “We have a lot of people coming back that might not be the high-profile kids we’ve had over the years, but we have some good talent coming back.”

Controlling the line of scrimmage will also be a concern defensively for the Vikings, but Funck, who again will be at linebacker, still has plenty of confidence in the guys up front.

"We lost some big guys on the line, but with these sophomores and juniors moving up, I think our line will be quicker," Funck said. "So I think we'll just be as effective as last year."

But overall, Funck refers to the simple things if he and his teammates are going to earn a three-peat this season.

“We just need to play as a team and work together,” he said. “If we keep pushing through, we can win the section title again like we want to.”

2016 schedule

Aug. 26 — at Pine Grove, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — bye 
Sept. 9 — at Cedar Crest, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Daniel Boone, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — Pequea Valley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — York Suburban, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — Donegal, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — at Annville-Cleona, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — at Elco, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 — Columbia, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 — Lancaster Catholic, 7 p.m.

2015 schedule

* L // Pine Grove // 2-0
*L // Lebanon // 2-0
W // Hamburg // 36-25
W // Ephrata // 57-26
W // Pequea Valley // 42-17
W // Williams Valley // 16-13
W // Elco // 44-41
W // Annville-Cleona // 58-36
W // Donegal // 34-22
W // Columbia // 53-14
L // Northeastern // 48-12