ELCO Mows Down Columbia, Secures Playoff Bid In Regular Season Finale
It has often been said that whenever you get squeezed, what ultimately comes out of you is who you truly are. In other words, when adversity strikes, how you act and respond when the chips are down is how you are ultimately defined for all to see. Well, when talking Lancaster-Lebanon League Football this season, it’d be difficult to find two squads that fit that have embraced the subject of adversity better than ELCO and Columbia. And as fate would have it, these two familiar L-L Section 3 foes just so happened to go up against one another in Friday night’s regular season finale atop “The Hill” in Columbia.
If tasked with the assignment of trying to find feel-good storylines that have developed over the course of the last ten weeks in terms of Central Pennsylvania high school football, it would become an arduous search process to come across one much better than that of this year’s ELCO squad. Coming into the night with a 7-2 record already to their name, just one win shy of tying the highest season total produced by the school over the last decade and a half, the Raiders appeared poised to enter the postseason provided they could take care of the home-standing Crimson Tide. But make no mistake about it, this is not your everyday 7-2 mark.
Remember that earlier theme of bouncing back after facing difficult and trying times? Well, ELCO has served as a remarkable case study thus far in 2018. Dating all the way back to Week 3 this season, the proof has been in the pudding for the Raiders. On that night in particular, the gang from Myerstown traveled south to match up with eventual Section 3 champ, Lancaster Catholic. Needless to say, it would quickly escalate into a night that would not go the way of the visitors as the Crusaders cruised to a 43-0 triumph, dispatching ELCO back home with their first loss of the year. While such a defeat could easily destroy the most fragile of teams, the Raiders quickly displayed their resolve by retaliating with five straight wins, including four in which ELCO won by a combined total of 21 points. Sure enough, Friday’s venture to Columbia would help serve as another mental test of the Raiders’ collective mettle considering their 31-19 setback last time out against Lebanon County rival Annville-Cleona — A loss that would squash any aspirations of a possible L-L Section 3 title share. But even in defeat, ELCO head coach Rob Miller viewed this past week as an invaluable learning experience his young ballclub.
“We’re thankful for that adversity,” Miller stated. “When we watched that film, we knew that there were plays that we could have made in that game and won. We learned that we didn’t ‘lose’ that game. We made too many mistakes (against Annville-Cleona)…I was glad to have that adversity and for these guys to have that challenge and learn how to respond. It was great.”
Fittingly, their opponents on this damp and dreary evening were no strangers to the task at hand in their own right.
No doubt about it, there’s just something pure and decent about small towns that rally around their hometown teams, supporting them with the type of fervor that can warm the soul. One such town that fits the description to a T is the tough-as-nails village of Columbia which sits proudly on the eastern banks of the Susquehanna. But admittedly, the last few years have been a far cry from the storied past of Crimson Tide football gone by. Besmirched by a handful of outside variables, not the least of which includes low turnout numbers the last handful of seasons, it finally appears as though there is a true and tangible sense of legitimate excitement returning to this community for their beloved football team — And not a moment too soon.
Behind the leadership of second-year head coach Bud Kyle, there is clearly a renewed optimism that elicits the hope that this year’s Crimson Tide squad can be the ones to help pour the concrete which will lay the groundwork for years to come. In fact, it appears that the foundation is already starting to firm up and take shape.
Entering the night by playing some their best football in years, as evidenced by a current two-game winning streak, the Crimson Tide faithful were still holding onto the hope of perhaps sneaking into the District 3 2A playoff field come the Saturday afternoon cutoff deadline, provided they could knock off ELCO on Senior Night along with being the beneficiaries of some much-needed outside help.
But on this night, the Raiders would feast.
Ignited by a 3 & Out after their first defensive series to start the contest, the Raiders would get the ball and take off running. Literally. Aided by a key 3rd& 3 conversion by way of sophomore quarterback Braden Bohannon, along with gashing runs up through the heart of the Crimson Tide defense by way of scintillating freshman running back Luke Williams, the Raiders quickly found themselves inside the Columbia redzone. And when the 70-yard opening march down the field needed to be completed, ELCO would turn the keys over to another workhorse in the backfield, Jordan Fernandez, as the junior running back would traverse his way into the endzone from 16-yards out to give ELCO the early 7-0 lead following the Cole Thomas PAT with 7:01 left in the opening period.
On ELCO’s second offensive possession, it was more of the same formula. After yet another successful defensive stand which would culminate in a Crimson Tide punt, the Raiders went right back to work at their own 49-yard line. The only difference on this drive? The Raiders would not need to churn out nearly as many methodical, plodding yards on this series thanks in large part to a 45-yard bolt of lightning Fernandez gallop immediately ushered the Raiders down the field to Crimson Tide 4-yard line. From there, Bohannon would have the honors as his 1-yard QB plunge across the chalk line gave the visitors from Lebanon County the 14-0 advantage with now 4:20 to go in the first quarter.
Needing to answer back with their season literally riding on the line, the Crimson Tide, under the direction of sensational junior quarterback Matt McCleary, eagerly returned to field. And fortunately for the hearty-souls that chose to brave the elements on this late October night in support of the hometown team, their Crimson Tide would be able to do precisely that.
Although they certainly wouldn’t make it easy on themselves, Columbia would eventually be able to pick up a critical first down and move the chains following a fantastic 4th& 15 conversion from McCleary to sophomore wideout Darnell Tucker in traffic as the Crimson Tide quickly found themselves knocking on the door with the ball now resting at the Raiders’ 25-yard line. Ironically enough, the Tide would find themselves flourishing on 4thdown yet again as McCleary was able to hook up with junior wideout Terrance Elliott this time for the 31-yard pitch and catch that was good for Columbia’s first points of the night as the Tide was able to claw back to within a score at 14-6 with 8:24 left in the first half following the PAT block.
But just as they had all night long, ELCO would have the answer.
After taking over at their own 40-yard line, the Raiders went back to doing what they do best — Running the rock. With the ELCO offensive line absolutely owning the line of scrimmage, the tractor-trailer sized holes were there for the taking as the both Luke Williams and Jordan Fernandez would soon discover. After a 28-yard jaunt up the gut of the Crimson Tide defense from Williams, the Raiders were once again sitting pretty on the Columbia 20-yard line. On the very next play, Fernandez would be able to cut that distance in half as the junior’s 10-yard burst made it first & goal. And from there, Braden Bohannon would call his own number as the 10-yard option keeper made it a 21-6 affair with ELCO increasing their lead.
Although the ensuing Columbia offense series would end in the same manner as so many before them had in the form of a punt, the Crimson Tide received a jolt of energy on the punt itself as a muffed attempt at securing kick the by ELCO was scooped up the Tide coverage unit, sending the offensive troops back onto the pitch at their own 45-yard line.
Unfortunately however, the positive energy was brief to say to say the least as a high snap from center went rolling on the natural grass surface before it was ultimately pounced on by ELCO senior stud defensive tackle Sam Montijo, giving the Raiders yet another short field to work with at the 23-yard line of the Tide.
And sure enough, the Raiders would be able to cash in on this opportunity as well as an eventual 5-yard Fernandez TD run gave ELCO some much-needed breathing room with the half winding down as the scoreboard now read 28-6 in their favor with just 1:27 left in the half.
However, as Columbia quickly demonstrated, that would be more than enough time for the Crimson Tide to offer a rebuttal.
Ignited by a nice kickoff return which got the Crimson Tide in gear at their own 49-yard line to begin the drive, the Tide went back to the air attack in order to find a possible late-half score heading into the break. Ironically, the pass game would pay dividends albeit without an actual catch, as the ELCO defensive secondary would be flagged with a defensive pass interference call which moved the Columbia offense down to the Raiders’ 35-yard line. Over the course of the next few plays however, the ELCO defense would rise up and stiffen, holding the Crimson Tide to nary a yard. Fortunately for the Tide, Matt McCleary was calling the signals and right on cue the physically imposing junior QB stood tall in the pocket and found his man in junior wideout Ryan Redding as the 12-yard hookup was good for a Crimson Tide fresh set of downs. And with an ever-present flare for the dramatics, the Crimson Tide would eventually find paydirt on 3rd& 10 as the conversion was good for yet another score as McCleary found Terrance Elliott for the 23-yard strike, the pair’s second touchdown hookup of the first half, as the Crimson Tide earned themselves a critical score just before the half buzzer with the teams returning to their respective dressing rooms with ELCO on top 28-14 following the successful two point conversion from McCleary to Elliott once again.
Yet even with their newfound momentum at the conclusion of the first half, Columbia would soon discover that the 15 minute intermission did nothing to slow down the ELCO offensive attack.
In fact, it would take barely any time at all for the Raiders to make their point loud and clear as a 40-yard jaunt by Luke Williams got the Raiders all the way down to the Tide’s 8-yard line for the first highlight of the second half. And from there, Williams would be rewarded handsomely for his efforts with a 3-yard TD run up the gut which ballooned the ELCO lead to 35-14 with just 1:26 having expired off the third quarter clock.
For as much as ELCO’s offense was by and large the story of the night, and rightly so, the Raiders were certainly no slouch defensively on Friday night as well, helping set the offense up in great field position following countless Crimson Tide offensive possessions that would end in punts. And on their first defensive series of the second half, it was more of those same exact elements at work when junior linebacker Erik Williams stormed through the Crimson Tide offensive line, earning himself a sack on a 4th& 10 which would signal the conclusion of the Columbia series as the Raiders proceeded to set up shop at the Crimson Tide 45-yard line.
And just as they had all game long, the ELCO ground game would continue to reside in simply another stratosphere. Aided by a key 30-yard run Luke Williams once again, the Raiders found themselves nestled comfortably inside the Crimson Tide redzone. From there, the Raiders would swell their lead to a comfortable four score advantage as a 3-yard Braden Bohannon sneak upped the ELCO advantage to 42-14 with 6:39 to go in the third.
Even with the deficit now standing at a monstrous 28 points and time of the essence, the Tide continued to show off their moxie by promptly moving right down the field on their ensuing offensive possession, having their efforts culminate in a 19-yard TD toss from Matt McCleary to Ryan Redding with Redding returning the favor to his quarterback on the 2 point conversion double reverse pass, as the Tide was able to trim the ELCO lead to 42-22 with the third quarter coming to a close.
However, the onset of another quarter of play brought with it the very real possibility of seeing ELCO conclude another drive in the endzone. And if you’re sensing a theme here, you’d be correct. That’s right, after yet another methodical march down the field, a 2-yard QB sneak by Braden Bohannon on 4th& goal increased the ELCO advantage to 50-22 with 9:52 to play following a dose of “Philly Special” from the Raiders on the two point conversion.
But just as they had done on their last possession, the Crimson Tide offense would answer the bell once again with their backs up against the wall. Sparked by a nice run up the middle by junior running back Gabe Davilla, the Columbia offense was cooking. And after a 14-yard slant from McCleary to Terrance Elliott which put the Crimson Tide on the doorstep, Matt McCleary was able to kick the door in with a vengeance by way of a second-effort 1-yard TD run which made it a 50-28 ballgame with 5:21 to play following the unsuccessful two point conversion.
Although the damage had clearly been done to that that point in the contest, ELCO’s final offensive series was not without its highlights as evidenced by the hard and determined running behind the tackles from Raiders’ senior fullback Austin Funk, who helped engineer a lengthy drive down the field with time running out. Ultimately however, the night would come to an end with ELCO returning home with a playoff berth in their possession after a resounding closing argument, defeating Columbia 50-28.
Perhaps the most mind-boggling stat that came out of this one that helps serves as an indicator into ELCO’s dominance? Consider the fact the Raiders threw exactly one time Friday evening — A feat which came on a two point conversion no less. Certainly an achievement that left even those in charge in sheer amazement.
“Never,” ELCO head coach Rob Miller said with a light-hearted chuckle when asked if had ever been involved in a game with that statistic. “It was pretty neat that our line was up to the challenge and just continued to grind the ball. Our guys ran so hard. Braden Bohannon, Luke Williams, Jordan Fernandez, and Austin Funk at the end. It was awesome.”
NEXT UP: With their win on Friday night, ELCO wraps up a District 3 4A playoff bid, with a home game back at the friendly confines in Myerstown all but a certain. And while a return to the postseason has certainly been a long time coming for the program, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility to think that this year will be the first of many return trips to the postseason for the Raiders in the years to come behind so many young and talented weapons littered across the field.
“We’re where we wanted to be in terms of our goals,” Miller said. “We wanted a better team culture and we wanted a better football experience. These guys are going to have it now. It’s something that hasn’t happened here in a long time and it’s really a special thing for them to achieve those goals and we still have a couple weeks together. We’re where we want to be.”
For Columbia, the Crimson Tide’s season came to an end on Friday night following their defeat at the hands of the Raiders. But as mentioned, this season was not without its share of highlights – A factor that bodes well for the long-term success of this blueblood program. Entering next season, the Tide return nearly their entire roster, including an embarrassment of young talent at the skill positions heading into next fall. And while offseason training regimens defined by mantras and catchphrases will have yet to be discussed and implemented, perhaps one phrase above all else appears to ring out when speaking on Columbia Crimson Tide football. “The future is now.”
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