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Cocalico Looks The Part, Begins Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Four Gauntlet With Dominating Win Over Octorara

Written by: on Saturday, September 17th, 2022. Follow Andy Herr on Twitter.


As crazy as it may be to say this out loud –or rather type it out loud as it were I suppose — Friday night somehow marked Week 4 of the high school football season in Pennsylvania. What does all that mean you ask? Well, short of trying to figure out where exactly it was that Father Time had escaped to, it also brought along the stone-cold fact that come seven days from now, we’ll be halfway through the 2022 campaign already. Indeed, where does the time go?

So, suffice to say, setting yourself for the final end-of-season of push could take on the utmost importance this particular Friday night given what’s sitting behind you in the rearview mirror, along with what obstacles still lie in your immediate pathway as the calendar trudges toward October. Case in point, the first-ever meeting on the gridiron was held on Friday night in Denver between Octorara and Cocalico.

For the visitors from Octorara, the program’s honeymoon phase with their entry into the Lancaster-Lebanon League which now spans a handful of seasons has seemed to be exactly that—a match made in heaven. In joining the L-L League, now, after finally playing similar-sized schools that were more akin to the Braves’ enrollment numbers, the Octorara football program finally found itself on solid and stable footing, highlighted by the program’s best-ever season that came to an untimely end against Northern York in the cruelest of fashions as the Braves fell just literally inches shy of overcoming the Polar Bears just one season ago in a 28-22 final decision of the District 3-4A playoffs.

But this year? Well, let’s just say the bouquets and chocolates may have gotten lost in the mail or returned to sender somewhere down around the hamlet of Atglen.

You see, as most around these parts are already aware, this year, in particular, is unique in that it marks the first year of the 37-team megaconference that the Lancaster-Lebanon League has suddenly morphed into by taking the 13 Berks County schools along for the ride. With it, while some changes have remained relatively tame by and large –such as Section One remaining firm save for Reading High entering into the mix – Section Four is altogether a different beast these days. In fact, some have called it the most competitive division found in the entire Commonwealth. Hard to argue with that notion when schools like Wyomissing, Berks Catholic, Lampeter-Strasburg, and Cocalico to name just a few get entered the equation. And wouldn’t you know it, but the unforgiving gauntlet that is Section Four suddenly became Octorara’s newfound residence overnight.  And with Friday night marking the first game of divisional play for the Braves, picking up a win in the northeastern corner of Lancaster County on Friday night would prove vital for this crew from Chester County given their 1-2 start of the gate thus far.

As far as the last team mentioned there in that breakdown of Section Four teams, do with it what you will, but can we call it a case of saving best for last?

Sure, there might be those who would take exception to that expression residing in Lampeter and the surrounding suburbs of Reading city certainly, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a program that has been as much as a sure thing as the Cocalico Eagles have been on the gridiron going back decades now. Granted, while this cast of Eagles surely won’t be phased by the competition that awaits their arrival over the course of the next couple of weeks down the line, the slate ahead is still nonetheless unforgiving. Ironically, speaking of unforgiving, Cocalico’s initial triumvirate of contests wasn’t exactly anything to sneeze at either. No, not when you open the chute against what had been a bubbling new section rival, Warwick, follow that up by going on the road to the nether regions of southern Lancaster County to square off with what may be Section Three’s best outfit in Solanco, then finish off a very pedestrian initial slate (he said tongue-in-cheek) by engaging in what is arguably the county’s fiercest of rivalries when Cocalico traded paint with Manheim Central last week. All in all, much like their counterparts in uniform on the opposite sideline on Friday night, the Eagles came out of the first two weeks with a 1-2 mark with their lone win coming against Warwick, meaning that the cast from Denver was staring the barrel of a three-game losing skid with many of their stiffest challenges yet to be waged.

Needless to say, it could have been argued that the bewitching hour for both the Braves and Eagles’ seasons had arrived at the top of the seven o’clock hour when they looked at one another eye-to-eye.

But if what transpired over the course of 48 minutes on Friday night is to serve as any sort of indication, not only did Cocalico fully grasp the magnitude of the moment and the task at hand, but they also appear to be well on their way in serving as a sharp and piercing thorn in the side of their fellow section foes the rest of the way in 2022. In other words, yes, what’s old is new again in this tiny sliver of the high school football universe.

To be sure, the evening could not have started out much better for the hosts had they hired their own scriptwriter to be kept on retainer.

After holding their white-clad guests to just three yards and out to begin the contest, the high-powered Eagles offense took to the field with their first opportunity to possess the ball, albeit while starting 70 aways from paydirt with not even two minutes having yet melted off the first quarter clock. And while Cocalico began to lay the groundwork for what figured to be a dominating night down in the mud and muck of the trenches, the ground and pound methodology appeared to take a back seat to the explosion that was an Aaryn Longenecker 53-yard touchdown scamper. Well, that was before yellow laundry back on the field brought an untimely end to the party.

No matter though.

Despite being negated for the moment in lieu of said holding call, a 3rd & inches at the Octorara 29-yard line quickly culminated in not only a first down conversion but a touchdown as well in one fell swoop as a Josh Myer 29-yard touchdown jaunt on an option keeper made it a 7-0 Cocalico lead with 8:12 left to play in the opening period following a Cole Roos PAT, effectively culminating the Eagles’ initial 2:09 march.

But the Cocalico flag was just beginning to be unfurled.

Yes, while Octorara would be able to pick up their initial first down of the game following a quarterback keeper by way of the junior signal caller, Braeden Wood, on their ensuing offensive drive, the Braves offensive unit was stymied by the Eagles’ D shortly thereafter, meaning that Cocalico would set up shop this time at their own 31 following the Octorara punt.

Once again, no matter here either.

Combining the “three yards and a cloud of dust” version of running that came in witnessing Cocalico junior fullback, Sam Steffey, pound his way through the line, a 15-yard gainer by another junior found residing in the Eagles’ backfield, Aaryn Longenecker, was equally as appetizing when paired with a chunk play on the ground by one, Jacob Kohl, which ushered the hosts’ drive down to the Octorara 11-yard line behind of bevy of big bursts. From there, Steffey helped finished off what he himself had helped start earlier in the possession as his 6-yard touchdown plunge across the chalk made it a 14-0 Cocalico advantage following a Talen Popolis PAT this time around, which is precisely where things would remain throughout the final 52 seconds that were still left remaining in the first quarter of play.

In short, while Cocalico’s starting field position would probably be considered as less than stellar throughout the opening 12 minutes, that average proceeded to take a prompt nosedive following a sensational punt by Octorara sophomore punter, Chandler Stoltzfus, which pinned the Eagles back on their own 1-yard line following yet another Cocalico stop defensively.

Yet again though, this would prove to be a night in which Cocalico was simply operating on an entirely different plane regardless of where the Braves preferred, nay, wished for them to start.

Despite starting this drive 99 yards away from paydirt, the Eagles’ ability to sniff the endzone remained just as potent regardless of location. So much so in fact that this particular romp down the field would take the hosts all of three plays when it came to locating the endzone this time around as a pair of 47-yard gallops by way of senior running back, Tyler Angstadt, and quarterback Josh Myer respectively helped upped the Eagles’ cushion to a 21-0 count following the Roos PAT with Myer’s latter carry having the honors for his second touchdown of the still relatively young evening up until that point with 7:16 left to play in the opening half.

At this stage, it was readily apparent that Octorara needed some sort of good juju they could conjure up. And well, rather urgently quite frankly.

In that regard, Octorara sophomore linebacker Austin Kurtz certainly tried to do his best for troops by pouncing on a fumble which not only swung momentum in the direction of the Braves sideline somewhat but also more importantly stymied Cocalico. Well, at least for the time being that is.

Despite earning a new lease on life following the Kurtz takeaway, the Braves were limited to yet another three and out courtesy of the Cocalico defensive unit, meaning that the Cocalico would have the opportunity to land one more body blow heading into the halftime recess.

And truth be told, it would ironically be a drive that would begin with the Eagles’ best field position up until that point as a high snap on the Octorara punt spelled doom for the visitors, yet opportunity for Cocalico’s Mason Moore as the Eagles’ senior special teams man not only blocked the would-be Braves’ punt but recovered it as well, a change in momentum right back in Cocalico’s favor with the Eagles beginning this drive at Octorara’s 10-yard line.

Best starting field position of the night? Make that the quickest drive of the night while we’re at it given Aaryn Longenecker’s 10-yard scamper around the right side of the Eagles’ line, making it 28-0 in favor of Cocalico following the Popolis PAT as both squads retired to their dressing room just 53 seconds later for the halftime respite.

Coming out of the break though, Cocalico seemed to be more locomotive rather than a bird of prey.

In fact, it took these Eagles all of 2:21 to find the endzone once more to begin the third quarter proceedings as a 60-yard untouched, touchdown jaunt on a reverse carried all the home by senior wideout, Gavin Glass, promptly made it a 35-0 Cocalico bulge within a flash.

Defensively, the equally potent Eagles’ defensive unit from front to back seemed no worse for the wear coming out of the dressing room either. Especially given an emphatic quarterback sack tallied by Cocalico senior defensive lineman, Levi Bearinger, thwarting an Octorara 3rd & 8 attempts, meaning that the Eagles would go back to work at the midfield stripe following the change in possession.

Remember Cocalico’s propensity to strike rather quickly? Yeah, Octorara certainly does now too.

Sure enough, it seemed as if no sooner had the ball been marked ready for play by the men stripes than was Cocalico saw celebrating another touchdown in the endzone. This time, yes, on another one-play drive, was the Eagles’ next score punctuated in style by a 50-yard touchdown run on the option keeper by junior quarterback, Bryce Nash, making it a 42-0 lead in favor of the home side with 7:34 left to play in the third.

Speaking of that Eagles’ D, they certainly hoped to remain nothing if rude party hosts over the course of the final 18 minutes and change left to play with the assistance of the mercy rule having been triggered into effect by that time in hopes of perhaps securing a shutout. That certainly remained evident and on display when Cocalico freshman linebacker, Dane Horning, collected himself a sack which concluded another brief Braves’ foray with the football before yet another punt back to the Eagles.

And while much of the contest up until that point was bathed in Cocalico blue and white, the Braves wouldn’t go down swinging without a fight.

Case in point, the Octorara defense falling on a loose ball suddenly laying on the natural grass surface at Eagle Stadium, giving the ball back to Braves’ offense with the opportunity to try and muster something up offensively.

Well, after a pair of nice end-around runs which traveled the span of 33 yards courtesy of the legs from Octorara’s Chandler Stoltzfus, the Braves found themselves finally knocking on the door once the final quarter rolled around, albeit while staring up and seeing a 42-0 deficit looking right back at them.

Finally, and not a moment too soon had they to be concerned, the guests were to burst through that wall once and for all on the opening play of the final stanza when Braeden Wood dropped back to pass and found a streaking Mason Colligan running down the seam past the Eagles’ defense as the 29-yard pitch and catch TD between the Octorara junior duo made it a 42-6 contest following the failed PAT with 11:42 still left to go.

Eleven minutes and change you say? Plenty of time for the young pups to try and start barking.

Simply stated, on the ensuing Eagles’ possession, Cocalico freshman Dane Horning quickly showed all those in attendance what he plans to do over the course of his next three years in donning an Eagles uniform.

Granted, while he had already tallied an aforementioned sack a little bit earlier, the 9th grader’s prowess in terms of carrying the ball seemed equally effective as the fourth quarter wound down on Friday night. So much so in fact that after being able to successfully pick up a 3rd & 5 in which he had helped prolonged this Eagles’ advance did his 27-yard touchdown jaunt in the immediate aftermath follow suit on the very next play, making it a 49-6 Cocalico cushion with 8:37 left to play.

But that wouldn’t be the last the masses would hear from Horning.

After successfully holding Octorara’s offense on downs on the heels of his earlier touchdown romp, the Cocalico young gun capped off yet another one-play Eagles’ march –their third such drive of the game — as Horning’s 45-yard burst into the endzone made it a 56-6 affair which is where things would remain over the span of the final four minutes of play on Friday night, effectively stamping Cocalico’s dominating display in permanent ink to the tune of a 50-point margin of victory in a game where the Eagles did not attempt one single forward pass.

NEXT UP: In a way, it’s almost funny. While everyone on the inside (and largely on the outside as well) knows quite well in terms of the L-L Section Four landscape this season, wins such as Cocalico’s over Octorara are ones that are to be savored and cherished. But wait, what’s that rule again? 24 hours to either celebrate or mourn, right? Hey, even if it’s not gospel per se, that might be a good jumping-off point for Cocalico to take with them into the remainder of this weekend as that arduous road to ho certainly gets no easier in seven days’ time when the Eagles make the trek down to Lampeter-Strasburg to visit a Pioneers team coming off an equally impressive triumph in their own right by blanking Donegal this week, 35-0 on the road. After that, the beasts just keep right on coming with a sneaky good game back at home against ELCO looming on the horizon in two weeks before a trip to Wyomissing, arguably the best team in their class inside the entire state, the week after that. But as mentioned earlier, don’t be fooled. If you want to pick against the Eagles, by our guest. Just understand and know full well that you are likely doing so entirely at your own peril.

For Octorara, if there is a bit of respite that comes in coming starting off the season at a 1-3 clip while also having to wage war inside a brutal division, perhaps it’s the fact that the Braves now find themselves on hosting duty for four of the next five weeks as Octorara will play the vast majority of their upcoming contests back at their familiar confines alongside state route 41. Of course, that is to say in respect to whom will be paying visits across the Chester County line those weeks when you speak on the likes of Conrad Weiser, L-S, Berks Catholic, and Wyomissing respectively, just a small sample size on just how arduous L-L Section Four figures to be the whole way home. And while no one really knows for certain how the rest of this season will shake itself out for Octorara, rest assured that this is a far better program than the one that had entered the league a few years ago, eager to finally find its way. Indeed, this is one program inside the swath of three dozen plus schools that now call this conference home that one can say is on the rise without a shadow of a doubt.

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