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Cedar Bowl a clash of rivals, rising programs

Akin to the build-up for any true rivalry game, you should have thrown records and recent history out the window before Cedar Bowl XLV.

But that toss wouldn't have made a difference.

Even with a clean slate, Cedar Crest's fifth straight series victory Friday underscored another truth beyond the fact that rivalry, in all aspects, remains alive and well in Lebanon County: These two rising programs remain at distinctly different stages.

And while Lebanon could have staked a one-score deficit with five minutes to play, evidence of this distance was widespread over four quarters.

Take the turning point, for instance.

Instead one identifiable moment that molded Cedar Crest a winner, there was a steady, 13-play drive to open the second half that when the Falcons seized a two-touchdown lead. They didn't need luck or one play.

They delivered a constant, punishing physicality until it carried them to the end zone. And simultaneously, Cedar Crest found what all high school coaches seek with the fervor of a Holy Grail quest: consistency.

"We're fighters," Falcons coach Rob Wildasin said. "I think we're tough and we're physical. We keep coming ... and right there it was toughness."

Consistency, meanwhile, was more difficult to come by for a younger Cedars squad.

" I thought we were physical in the first half, and there were some times in the second half," Lebanon coach Gerry Yonchiuk said. "But there were lapses."

Sure, the Falcons also uniquely benefited from bruising senior running back Justice Belleman, who personally inflicted much of that third-quarter damage. But the Cedars' Josh Kauffman ought to be credited with just as many hard runs Friday night.

The difference there, though, is Belleman can afford to simply play offense, given the Falcons' depth. Kauffman, meanwhile, is expending energy both ways in part because of his talent, but also Lebanon can't afford for many of its players to specialize.

"I wouldn’t want to tackle him a whole game. He’s not playing defense, so he’s just sitting there geared up and ready for when we get the ball," Wildasin said." And same with A.J. (Apple). Those two are tough.”

Consistency, depth and knack for big plays in big moments, too.

For after Lebanon forced a punt, and creeped toward striking distance midway through the fourth quarter, the Falcons harassed sophomore quarterback Zakee Sailsman into a turnover on downs. In fact, it had required a stellar fourth-down Sailsman touchdown pass for the Cedars to even draw within a couple of scores.

Although that isn't to say Lebanon is so far behind in its rebuilding plans; the 2016 version of this team operated with a togetherness its predecessor fought much harder to find.

But that kind of teamwork is also an area where Cedar Crest has stayed a step ahead and, consequently, managed to keep the Cedar Bowl in Falcon hands.

“We learned that we’re really physical, we work until the end and play as a team," Cedar Crest senior Tate Seyfert said. "We're a brotherhood, a family.”