Annville-Cleona, Elco set for another classic?
It was a game for the ages, an overtime thriller decided on an improbable, do-or-die fourth down touchdown pass.
But last year's Elco-Annville-Cleona football clash of county rivals, won by Elco 40-39 on the strength of then QB Jeff Martin's 14-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Olson on fourth down, won't mean anything when the Raiders and Little Dutchmen meet again on Friday night in Myerstown to open Section Three play.
Or will it? True, it's a new season with some new players and different vibes, but the memories of last season's encounter will play at least some role in the latest meeting between the county rivals, set for 7 p.m. Friday at Elco High School.
The host Raiders come into the beginning of what looks to be a wide-open Section 3 title chase with a 2-1 non-league record, while A-C enters the fray at 2-2.
But before they look ahead, there's time for a quick peek back at last year's memorable tussle.
""It was a neat game to be a part of, and a neat game for these players that are coming back to be a part of," Elco coach Bob Miller said on Wednesday. "We were never out of it, even at 4th and 15 in overtime we were never out of it. To play against an opponent that shows heart makes it a lot of fun. They played hard that game, too."
Matt Gingrich, A-C's head coach, and his team have similar memories of the matchup but a little bit different taste in their mouth about the way it turned out.
"There's a lot of kids that are really looking forward to this game," Gingrich said. "I don't think it's a revenge thing, because it's a rivalry but it's a respectful rivalry. I think our kids felt like they left (a win) out there last year, and I think they're looking forward to making amends."
On paper, at least, the teams seem as evenly matched as they did a year ago.
Elco, fresh off a 29-26 win at Fleetwood last week, is blessed with a formidable one-two offensive punch in QB Kyle Knight and running back Tyler Horst, while A-C counters with a three-pronged attack featuring senior back Cameron Hoch, sophomore back Caleb Turner, and junior signal caller Noah Myers.
There are differences, as well. A-C has been in four high-scoring affairs so far, while Elco has a shutout loss to Palmyra and a 17-7 win at Susquenita on its docket.
But both teams are not yet fully-formed, so Friday night may provide a clearer indication of what to expect from each the rest of the way.
"We're still trying to find our way," Miller said. "But I've been incredibly impressed with the effort and heart and leadership the kids have shown. The senior class has been phenomenal. Football-wise we're still trying to feel our way. This is gonna be only our second week in a row with all of our offensive line guys. We'll see on Friday, I guess, where we are."
"I was not very happy in the beginning of the year," Gingrich admitted. "I don't think we did a good job with preparing, and I also think our kids did not do a good job of playing aggressive. I think a lot of them had expectations of what was going to happen instead of making things happen. Especially this last game, I was really happy and impressed with our ability to show some aggression. We are not the most physically dominant and aggressive team I've ever coached, nor will we probably ever be, but our aggression level the last game, it was nice to see."
Whether or not another instant classic is in the cards will be determined on Friday night. Either way, though, it promises to be an interesting battle with a good deal of meaning to both teams, although also one to be kept in proper perspective.
"It's a local game, so maybe we'll get a bigger crowd," Miller said. "But in terms of adding anything, it's an opponent we respect, that we're gonna play hard against and that we're gonna get a four-quarter game from. But I don't see it as anything bigger than that."
Also on the docket in Lebanon County on Friday night.
Ephrata at Cedar Crest
The Falcons' feel-good start took a bit of a detour last Friday night in an ugly 10-7 loss to Lower Dauphin at Hersheypark Stadium. The defeat was Cedar Crest's first after back-to-back wins over county rivals Lebanon and Northern Lebanon to open the season, but there shouldn't be any lingering effects from that defeat this week with lowly Ephrata visiting Earl Boltz Stadium.
The Mounts are off to an 0-3 beginning to 2016 and have been outscored by a staggering 146-29 margin thus far, so if the Falcons can avoid the turnover bug that bit them against LD notching their third win should be a mere formality. Should be a big night for Justice Belleman, AJ Apple, Tate Seyfert, Logan Horn and the rest of the Cedar Crest offense.
The contest also marks Cedar Crest's return to Section Two competition for the first time since the late 90s after an extended stint in Section One.
Pequea Valley at Northern Lebanon
The two-time defending Section 3 champion Vikings open another title defense under less than ideal circumstances with a 1-2 non-league record and a banged-up star player after running back/linebacker Luke Funck went down with an injury in last week's loss to Daniel Boone.
But Northern Lebanon under head coach Roy Wall has always been a next-man-up kind of outfit, so count on it putting its best foot forward Friday night if Funck is still sidelined.
In the Braves, NL will be facing a 3-1 squad anxious to establish itself in a wide-open section title race, but one smarting from a surprising 34-13 loss to Kutztown last week.
It's a big game for both teams, even though it's only their first foray into section play, as they each look to establish some forward momentum again.
Penn Manor at Lebanon
The Cedars return to Section One with what looks to be their most favorable matchup in a grueling slate of league contests.
While Lebanon had its share of low moments while starting 1-2, it's been worse for Penn Manor, which is 0-3 and the not-so-proud owner of a 93-29 scoring differential thus far.
That's good news for the Cedars, who have the potential to put up some points behind quarterback Zakee Sailsman and running back Josh Kauffman, averaging 21 per contest heading into Friday night.
Lebanon needs this one, so plan on it going all out to get it. Take the Cedars.
Knight, Speraw Players of the Week
Elco quarterback Kyle Knight and Annville-Cleona lineman Drew Speraw have been honored as the Section 3 Back and Lineman of the Week, respectively, by the Lancaster-Lebanon Quarterback Club.
Knight earned his award with a huge effort in Elco's 29-26 win at Fleetwood, The senior quarterback/linebacker rushed 18 times for 118 yards, and was 8 of 16 passing for 152 yards and 3 TDs, while adding 6 tackles, including one for a loss, on defense.
Center/linebacker Speraw, meanwhile, notched 4 tackles, including 2 tackles for a loss, and produced a high blocking grade on offense in A-C's big 35-26 win at Hanover.