Northeastern vs. Cocalico puts ground attack on display
On Friday night at Northeastern High School, a smash-mouth football game will ensue between two programs that are ground-oriented in their offensive philosophy.
Many in York County are aware of the Northeastern Bobcats, a team that relies heavily on its rushing attack to pile up both points and wins during the past two seasons. This year, it has guided the program to an 8-2 overall record and a No. 3 seed in the District 3 Class 5A tournament bracket.
They'll meet Cocalico in the opening round Friday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Bobcats have run the football 339 times this season, compared with just 108 pass attempts. Their quarterback Shannon Valenti relies on his legs (53 carries, 307 yards and six touchdowns) as much as his arm. He has completed 41 of 96 pass attempts on the season for 616 yards and six TDs.
The Bobcats spread out the ground attack between Anu Johnson (120 carries for 1,037 yards, nine touchdowns), Chris Whack (68 carries, 516 yards, six touchdowns) and Fred Mulbah (29 carries, 236 yards, six touchdowns).
On Friday, Bobcats will face another team that likes to run the rock, however. As a matter of fact, the Eagles might keep it grounded more than even the Bobcats prefer.
Cocalico has attempted just 45 passes on the season, spread among four players. The team has run the ball 444 times for 2,931 yards. Of the Eagles’ 38 touchdowns on the season, 34 have come on the ground.
Under head coach Dave Gingrich, Cocalico is notorious for running a power-option offense that features the quarterback and two running backs coming out of the offensive backfield. Any given play could bring a give up the middle, a pitch to the outside, or a QB keeper.
“They ran the same thing back when I played,” said Northeastern head coach Jon Scepanski, who suited up as quarterback at Solanco High School from 2002-05. “Same coach, and a very good system.”
Yes, the Eagles – similar to the Bobcats – will hit the opponent in the mouth without thinking twice about it.
“What’s that old saying? ‘It’s going to be a doozy,’” Whack said during a Tuesday evening phone interview. “Well, it’ll be back-and-forth. And it’ll be a doozy.”
A back-and-forth game indeed. Not that Whack and the Bobcats are strangers to such a setting.
Last year, the team faced a similar set of circumstances – an 8-2 overall mark and a No. 2 seed in the District 3 Class 3A bracket. They beat Northern Lebanon, 48-12, before falling at home to Susquehanna Township in a 42-14, second-round waxing.
“That game right there,” Whack said, hearkening back to a season ago. “It reminded us of how quickly things can get taken away.”
And it also points to another facet of Friday night’s showdown: The Bobcats, in just their ninth year of varsity football, are building their own history in the present.
While its playoff experience is limited, Northeastern is coming off its second straight successful season. And last year the team did grab a District 3 win, meaning they can build off that momentum.
“When you have a football program, you like to have that history. That way, the kids can look back at it and understand, this is what we strive for,” Scepanski said. “At the same time, that reputation has to be built somewhere. And these are the kids that are building that reputation. So that’s exciting.”
Whack, a senior leader, said he joined the Northeastern football program in eighth grade. In his ninth grade season, the team went 1-9.
That same group of seniors — about 20, he estimated, who are on the current roster — have climbed the ladder together and don’t want to feel the fall anytime soon.
Friday night, on their home field, they’ll face a tough-minded team in what looks to be a toss-up postseason showdown with a hard-hitting edge.
“Who’s going to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Scepanski said, matter-of-factly. “A physical game. And a good test for us.”
If you go
Who: No. 6 Cocalico (7-3) at No. 3 Northeastern (8-2)
What: District 3 Class 5A football tournament, first round
Where: Northeastern High School
When: Friday, 7 p.m.