Bishop McDevitt Beast Shows Its Teeth As Crusaders Gobble Up Lampeter-Strasburg, Stalk Another District 3 Title
By any objective measure, it’d be safe to say that it’s been yet another successful football season as far as Lampeter-Strasburg had to be concerned. And that’s not for nothing either. To be sure, for a program that routinely finds itself at the head of the class both in terms of their own respective Lancaster-Lebanon League standings, but also the District 3 power rankings at large, 2023 has indeed lived up to many of those same lofty aspirations inside Lampeter yet again.
Why you ask? Well, perhaps the fact that the Pios seem to be Webster’s dictionary version of a team that plays complimentary football. Easy to realize such an assertion quite frankly given that L-S came into their Week 13, District 3 semifinal round contest on Friday night while scoring no fewer than 42 points in each one of their victories this season save for two. Even there in that particular duo though against the likes of Penn Manor and East Pennsboro respectively, L-S still managed to crack the 20-point barrier regardless, not too shabby if you consider that your off-speed pitch of sorts.
And while the offense most usually steals headlines, by and large, this year’s version of L-S might just be one example where that narrative falls on its face.
How do you help bolster an explosive offense? By giving it a sultry defense to ride along with, no doubt. But sultry might not even be a strong enough of word to describe the Pios defensively this season. A couple of numbers to bear in mind when scouting L-S coming into this week. 7 and 99. Seven to highlight the number of times the opposition has failed to crack double digits on L-S this season –four of which remarkably came in the form of shutout victories – and ninety-nine meaning the total number of points overall that the Pioneers had surrendered to date this season so far. Even still, while a 9-2 record is nothing to sneeze at, the two losses L-S experienced at the hands of Cocalico and Wyomissing –both of whom still are in the playoffs at the time of this writing – meant that the divisional crown wouldn’t reside within the Lampeter-Strasburg district borders this year, something that perhaps best exemplifies the pure strength and totality that Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Four play can present.
But on this Friday night? Well, let’s just say that the hard-knock life that life in L-L Section Four presents on a weekly basis still may not have been enough to adequately prepare them for the test that awaited them on the outskirts of Harrisburg.
While the letter of the law states that they compete within the 4A ranks of the PIAA classification system, the truth of the matter is that the Bishop McDevitt Crusaders could just as easily reside in the 5A and 6A crop and possibly end up at Cumberland Valley the first week of December and compete for either one of those state titles regardless. Simply put, top-to-bottom, McDevitt is one of the best high school football teams in the entire state of Pennsylvania. Full stop. And if the saying goes that numbers don’t lie, don’t worry, the Crusaders have that base covered.
Historically, in this very District 3 tournament, McDevitt has parlayed their Vegas gold color scheme for that of gold medals quite nicely, doing so 16 times. Beyond that, it’s been a program that has found itself at the top of the state’s mountaintop six times before, summiting the peak twice, including just last year in a rematch against Aliquippa in the 4A grand finale. And with a bevy of those very same players reentering the fold this year, there was ample reason as to why McDevitt began 2023 with legitimate aspirations of making it back to the state finals for the third consecutive season, hopefully hoisting gold in back-to-back fashion if they had their druthers.
Oh, the smorgasbord of talent found on the Crusaders’ roster spread across grades 9 -12? Yep, McDevitt has you covered there too.
Even taking Pennsylvania out of it for a second, is there another state located north of the Mason-Dixon line that can trot out two starters already committed to SEC schools? Sure enough, the Crusaders can rightly boast such a claim seeing as how senior wideout Rico Scott, already pledged to play for the 21st century’s foremost dynasty known as the Alabama Crimson Tide, routinely finds himself on the receiving end of passes thrown in his direction from one of the top signal-callers in the United States regardless of class, Stone Saunders, McDevitt’s junior quarterback slated to head off to Lexington, Kentucky after being courted by a who’s who of college football. But beyond those two headliners, make no mistake about it. This is a McDevitt team overall whose sum of its parts is far greater than that of just one or two pieces out by themselves.
If you like the aforementioned theme of complementary football, then this L-S/McDevitt semifinal game figured to be worth the price of your admission. While already mentioning L-S’ theme of routinely scoring points in the 40s, Bishop McDevitt came to the table offering up not just a perfect 11-0 record, but no fewer than a staggering 42 points put up in each one of their contests save for the season opener. Beyond that, the Crusaders were able to limit five opponents shy of double figures in their own right –including a pair of shutouts – en route to that unblemished resume. And if we’re going to inspect divisional play here too, McDevitt rolled through their Mid-Penn Keystone competition without much in the way of a speedbump seeing as how their beat their section brethren by an average score of 52-7 this season. And for the final cherry on top of it all, McDevitt has defeated teams from three different states this season (Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), an incredible feat rarely seen by a club that operates without the constraints of anything other than an independent, national schedule.
That said, while McDevitt certainly appeared poised to make it back to nearby Cumberland Valley with perhaps the ultimate rubber match with Aliquippa waiting there for them at the end of the road, those plans could just as easily be derailed if the Crusaders were found looking ahead and stumbling short, particularly against this stingy bunch from Lampeter-Strasburg who figured to present the Crusaders with arguably their stiffest assignment found since the early days of September.
Yet while both teams brought them stats and resumes that largely appeared to be mirror images of one another coming into the contest, Bishop McDevitt quickly proved why they were a cut above out on this night.
Granted, while the home-standing Crusaders got the ball to begin the contest and methodically plotted their way down the field on their opening series at least to start –highlighted by tosses from Stone Saunders to the waiting hands of Rico Scott and Chase Regan while peppered in amongst the downhill running style employed by 6’2 205lb sophomore running back Maurice Barnes – the opening salvo was not without its share of adversity. Chief among the hills that McDevitt had to climb early on came in the form of a 4th & 16 play with the ball resting at the L-S 36-yard line. That said, the Crusaders’ weaponry was on full display when the chips were down as Rico Scott found himself all by his lonesome behind the Pioneers’ secondary with Saunders finding his safety blanket operating on the outside for a 30-yard pitch and catching that promptly moved the sticks.
But even that wouldn’t be the last time that McDevitt found themselves operating against a fourth down scenario.
Sure enough, even after surging all the way down to the L-S inch-line essentially, a Crusaders’ 4th & Goal attempt was met with nothing but firm resistance from the Pios’ defensive unit up front, as the critical defensive stop allowed the guests to have their offense trot onto the field for the first time on the evening, albeit every inch of 99 yards away from paydirt following the initial McDevitt march which sucked up almost half the first quarter clock.
Yet while the potent McDevitt offense might not have been able to tally points, their stingy defense answered the bell from there.
In fact, it took all of one play in which to do so as the first L-S play from scrimmage offensively was devoured by the McDevitt defense almost instantaneously for the safety, giving the hosts the rare 2-0 lead with 7:06 left to play in the opening frame.
This time, however, the McDevitt’s offense made the most of their opportunity.
That said, even this drive too had some initial fits and starts contained within it, however.
Yet again, the Crusaders found themselves up against another fourth-down situation, this time being of the 4th & 8 variety. Regardless, much in the same way in which they were able to do so in their previous drive courtesy of Stone Saunders’ right arm, McDevitt was able to get out of danger as the 6’2 215lb quarterback was able to hook up with another one of the embarrassment of riches found in the Crusaders’ wide receiver room, Nevan Hopkins, as the talented senior wideout was able to haul in the 26-yard reception which ushered he and his fellow troops down to the L-S 11-yard line.
Déjà vu? Well, maybe.
Just as had transpired as on the drive previous, McDevitt was able to sail down the field with relative ease, save for when they reached the Pioneers’ 10-yard line it seemed. And in an eerily similar fashion, the Crusaders encountered another fourth down try inside the L-S 5-yard line which understandably made the home patrons a tad bit antsy. However, those fears were helped washed away not just by the annoyance of a pesky rain found falling on this night at Rocco Ortenzio Stadium, but also by Stone Saunders’ patience in waiting for Chase Regan to work himself free against the L-S coverage defensively on said play as the senior wideout’s 4-yard touchdown catch made it a 9-0 McDevitt cushion following a Gerard Lulinda PAT with 3:53 left in the opening frame by that point.
And while the first quarter would later expire with McDevitt continuing to hold serve with that 9-0 bulge, the Crusaders would find themselves every bit of 99 yards away from tallying another scoring drive following a sensational Peter Fiorello punt which concluded an L-S series that while it did not end in points, had nonetheless made its way into McDevitt territory.
99 yards you say? Let’s roll.
Of course, chunk plays certainly go a long way when pushed up against your own goal line no doubt. With that in mind, a timely 45-yard toss down the sideline from Saunders to Rico Scott in stride not just got the Crusaders out of danger, but it also put them right near the midfield stripe within the blink of an eye. And with a sizeable run between the tackles from Maurice Barnes which preceded a screenplay to Nazir Jones-Davis, the Crusaders were right on the verge of formally breaking into the L-S red zone. As it turned out though, they wouldn’t need to operate within that area of that short window of the field as a 20-yard bolt of lightning touchdown scoot from Jones-Davis up the middle made it a 16-0 McDevitt advantage following the sophomore running back’s tote with 9:31 left before intermission.
Suffice it to say, time was of the essence for Lampeter-Strasburg to stay within the fight with the McDevitt machine obviously getting warmed up.
Then, as if to be right on cue, it seemed as if the Pios finally had something cooking following a fantastic run after catch courtesy of senior wide receiver, Dean Herr, with L-S finding themselves at the Crusaders’ 43-yard line after Herr bobbed and weaved his way through the McDevitt D. But even for all the good momentum and juju at that snapshot in time, McDevitt’s defense continued to offer nothing but rock-solid resistance in the plays which ensued, forcing L-S to bring the punt team back onto the field. However, if L-S had a game ball to give out on this night, it almost surely would be awarded to their sophomore punter, Peter Fiorello, as yet another of the underclassman’s punts would die inside the McDevitt 1-yard for the second consecutive time.
Who’s up for some more déjà vu? Certainly Bishop McDevitt it would have appeared.
Granted, while this Crusaders’ march might have lacked in the explosive play department to the naked eye, it was perhaps even more impressive considering how imposing it had appeared to be. Case in point, an initial bowling ball run of 13 yards from Jones-Davis to get things started. From there, a 21-yard toss down the seam from Saunders to senior tight end, Nick Slogik, moving the attack down to their own 34-yard line. By then, following the steady incisions, it seemed as if the dam had begun to break as Maurice Barnes proceeded to trudge his way for a 24-yard run that later took the ball across the midfield stripe and into L-S territory at the 42-yard line. Finally, just a few plays later, the Saunders to Scott connection may have had their finest hour of the evening as a 26-yard dime of a touchdown pass into an almost nonexistent window in the corner of the endzone while draped against tight L-S coverage made it a 23-0 McDevitt affair following Gerard Lulinda’s third successful PAT of the evening to cap off a second straight 99-yard scoring march which is where things would remain once the final 2:27 evaporated off the first half clock despite the hosts coming within a whisker of tallying yet another score in the waning stages of the second quarter to help add onto their already sizable cushion.
Ironically, while the L-S defense may have been the ones to offer up the first signature play defensively to start the contest, McDevitt took their turn at doing the same once the second half rolled around on Friday night.
Sure enough, after being stymied on a 3rd & 2 attempts that then set up an ensuing 4th & 1 attempt just one play later, the Crusaders’ starting defense was up for every bit of this challenge as a calvary of McDevitt defenders descended upon the L-S play, sniffing it out right from the jump, giving the ball to their offense with nary 43 yards of which to navigate.
In this go around, it would be a methodical mix of run and passes concocted together which moved the McDevitt troops down the field. To start, a Maurice Barnes 14-yard run which took the attack down inside the Pios’ 30. From there, a Stone Saunders to Chase Regan 18-yard pitch and catch which moved things down to the L-S 21-yard line following a penalty whistled against the Crusaders. Then, in the most apropos way possible given his pair of determined runs which had come in the two plays previous, Nazir Jones-Davis was able to cross the chalk line for this second TD run of the night, this being of the 6-yard variety, as it suddenly became a 30-0 McDevitt lead with 7:41 left to play in the third following a Lulinda PAT.
Needless to say, with the game quickly slipping out of their collective fingertips, the time was now for L-S to offer a counterpunch to the ongoing Bishop McDevitt onslaught they were currently up against.
With that in mind, hang a star next to Emory Fluhr’s name on this night as the L-S junior defensive back was able to come up with a timely interception to not just halt a possible McDevitt scoring drive which would have triggered the mercy rule into effect, but it also, more importantly, set the Pioneers up with auspicious field position with the ball resting at the McDevitt 24-yard line. Fortunately, for those who had traversed their way westward from just outside Lancaster city to the outskirts of Harrisburg for the occasion, their team clad in white was finally able to crack that pesky goose egg up on the scoreboard as an unabated 13-yard touchdown run through the McDevitt defense courtesy of senior running back, Jon Mellinger, made it a 30-7 contest following a Peter Fiorello PAT with 5:37 to play in the third.
As it turned out though, the impromptu Lampeter-Strasburg bout of momentum at the time would quickly be extinguished by a blue-collar drive offered by the hosts the next time they possessed the football.
Workmanlike in the sense that it came totally by way of the ground attack as the Crusaders continued to lean on the undersized L-S defense by comparison with the game now well into the second half. That said, it wouldn’t be a true Bishop McDevitt series offensively if big plays weren’t somewhere within the fray.
For that, Nazir Jones-Davis would have the honors once again as the budding star in the McDevitt backfield promptly strolled his way for a monstrous 59-yard gallop before being tackled within an eyelash of hitting the pylon. However, while he may not have had the distinction of having the explosive TD run to his name, his 1-yard plunge on the very next play was nonetheless effective as Jones-Davis’ third TD run of the ballgame upped the Crusaders’ lead to a 36-7 count with 3:34 left in the third as this PAT would be blocked.
But as mentioned off top, Bishop McDevitt is a total team from top to bottom in every sense of the overall operation. And perhaps there was no better evidence of such an assertion than the next time the McDevitt defense trotted out onto the field following their offense’s most recent score.
While perhaps somewhat jealous of the eye-popping numbers his offensive mates were once again putting forth on this night combined with equal parts talent, McDevitt’s Kameron Galloway decided to take matters into his own hands, both literally and figuratively, as the 6’3 270lb senior defensive lineman rose up and read the sneaky L-S halfback pass play perfectly, snagging the interception and running 30 yards home with his newfound prize for the pick 6 which not only made it a 43-7 McDevitt lead with 1:24 left in the third frame, but it also signified that the McDevitt defense had scored eight points themselves on the evening when factoring in their safety tallied earlier in the first period.
So, with the outcome being essentially a formality with the final dozen minutes set to commence with the mercy rule helping to take this one home the rest of the way, defenses figured to have their time in the limelight. Sure enough, they would.
First up in that regard would be McDevitt’s defense once more. With L-S staring down the barrel of another possible score with the ball resting at the Crusaders’ 6-yard following a defensive pass interference call much to the chagrin of the home patrons, there would be no further damage done if McDevitt’s Jaire Rawlison had anything to say about it as the senior defensive back came away with the Dikembe Mutombo-type rejection at the rim on a L-S 4th & 3 attempt, effectively turning away the L-S threat.
For the Pioneers’ side of the ledger, they would be able to do one better.
Ironically enough, the Crusaders’ ensuing offensive drive following the Rawlison swat would not in a turnover on downs, but rather in a traditional turnover, as L-S’ Cole Lopez was able to scoop up a McDevitt fumble and race down to the 8-yard line to put his offensive mates right back on the doorstep once again.
But as would be a microcosm for the entire evening at large, Bishop McDevitt continued to simply one-up the opposition.
For proof of that, consider Nevan Hopkins’ timely interception with him and his defensive teammates asked to put the fire out with L-S threatening to score once again which not only did they accomplish by extinguishing the Pioneers’ flames with the INT itself, but nearly setting the opposing house ablaze in their own right as Hopkins was just an ankle tackle away from coming away with 95-yard interception return for a touchdown himself.
And while L-S would continue to bring the fight to Bishop McDevitt despite the eventual outcome being mere minutes away, something best exemplified by a senior defensive tackle, Braden Bauer, who earned himself a pair of bone-rattling tackles in the waning stages down in the pit, the Crusaders’ performance over the course of 48 minutes was more than enough to earn them a date opposite of Manheim Central next Friday night back at the friendly confines of Rocco Ortenzio Stadium for the District 3-4A title fight following their dominating 43-7 triumph here over Lampeter-Strasburg in the semifinal round.
NEXT UP: Let’s be honest here for a moment. While nothing is ever really a certainty, certainly in high school sports that is, this is the matchup most everyone saw coming way back in the dog days of the summer with Bishop McDevitt and Manheim Central butting heads at either one’s home field to settle 4A supremacy in the District 3 ranks. Finally, after both the Barons and Crusaders were able to pull away from their respective adversaries in the semifinal round on Friday evening, the masses got the matchup they figured to receive. Simply put, if one is looking for a football game to escape to and partake of on Black Friday night after having more than enough time with family from the holiday, this Manheim/McDevitt affair is appointment-viewing. Needless to say, the skill talent on display posed by either side likely won’t look like any ordinary 4A matchup when you consider the likes of Zac Hahn, Aaron Enterline, and Brycen Armold to name just a few stalwarts from the Barons’ perspective when lined up against Stone Saunders, Rico Scott, and Maurice Barnes to name just a very few on the McDevitt side of the ledger as well. Simply put, while basketball season may have formally started inside gyms this weekend, basketball on grass (well, artificial turf), will be on full display next Friday night on the campus of Bishop McDevitt.
For L-S, while this was the end of the road on their 2023 journey, it’s a ride that no one in Pioneers’ camp needs to hang their heads about. After all, while the Pios may have ended the year shy of claiming any tangible hardware save for the Milk Jug –something they undoubtedly covet whenever they can pry it away from the hands of their neighbors down at Solanco – a deeper dive into those setbacks should help lend credence into this Lampeter-Strasburg season. In fact, all their losses came at the hands of opponents who find themselves in District 3 finals spread across the 3A, 4A, and 5A ranks respectively. And with a program and a system that seems to be one of those rare examples that seem to routinely withstand the constant flux of graduation peaks and valleys that other schools around them seem to fall victim to, setting your clock to seeing the Pioneers enter into the postseason almost always feels like a formality. Now sure, while you never want to take that level of success for granted, there’s no reason why we can’t expect the same out of the L-S Pioneers in 2024 either.
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