Lampeter-Strasburg Answers Challenge, Reclaims Milk Jug As Pioneers Race Past Solanco
For as many rivalries as the Lancaster-Lebanon League has to offer, only a very select few have the attractiveness of having a trophy up for grabs. Yet for those that do, there is simply none better than “The Milk Jug.”
In a sense, it signifies two of the most fundamental elements of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: Agriculture and Friday night football. And in all seriousness, you can’t find two better schools within the L-L League better suited to have the honor of fighting over the prestigious milk jug than Lampeter-Strasburg and Solanco.
Aside from the gentle rolling hills and vast farmlands within the borders of both school districts found within the southern end of the county, the football played between the Pioneers and Golden Mules takes a back seat to no one considering both programs routinely find themselves in the upper echelon of the Section 2 standings perennially. And this year yet again appears to be no different for either program.
Coming into 2019, hopes were once again sky-high in Lampeter for another successful season by their Pioneers. And for good reason too considering junior signal-caller Sean McTaggart was set to reenter the fold under the center following a scintillating sophomore season leading the Pioneers. Unfortunately, some in the Pioneers’ camp might have found themselves tempering expectations somewhat after L-S’ stud quarterback went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1 against Spring Grove.
No matter though when head coach John Manion and the L-S staff then handed the keys of the high-powered L-S offense over to incumbent QB, Conner Nolt.
Through the first seven weeks of the season, Nolt has indeed flourished while directing the Pioneers’ attack. In fact, under the junior QB’s direction, L-S rolled out of the gates to a torrid 5-0 start this season before ultimately getting tripped up in back-to-back weeks entering Friday night’s contest against Hempfield and Manheim Central respectively. Yet even through it all, L-S continues to remain as one of tallest of giants residing in the District 3-4A playoff picture with the Pioneers comfortably sitting amidst the crowded scene as they headed into Friday’s tilt against their neighbors to the south.
Speaking of those neighboring foes hailing from just down the road in Quarryville, they too entered Friday night by carrying a 5-2 overall mark with them. And although the Mules’ 2019 campaign has been appeared to be somewhat more like a roller coaster when compared side-by-side with L-S, Solanco figures yet again to be angling towards another postseason appearance this season, undoubtedly making for an incredibly tough foe right out of the box for some unfortunate District 3-5A outfit that is tasked to line up opposite of them.
But playoff discussion and possibilities set to the side for just a moment, there was much more pressing matters to tend to on Friday night at JK Mechanical Field in Lampeter. Namely where the Milk Jug would claim residence for the next 365 days. And although it took until the fourth quarter for the picture to ultimately become crystalized, L-S would end up sending the Golden Mules out to pasture by night’s end.
When watching the Lampeter-Strasburg offense go to work, one thing quickly becomes apparent. That being that the Pioneers clearly love to go on the attack and use up-tempo. So, with that in mind, it probably should have come as a surprise to no one in attendance that it took L-S all of 1:06 to draw first blood on Friday night. However, that is precisely what happened when Conner Nolt dropped back to pass with the Pioneers facing 3rd & 9 at their own 36-yard line before finding a wide-open Austin Stoltzfus blazing past the Solanco secondary as the L-S junior duo accounted for the 64-yard touchdown bomb right out of the chute, propelling L-S out to the 7-0 advantage with still 10:54 left to play in the opening quarter. More from the Nolt-Stoltzfus tandem coming later.
Ironically, for as few secrets as L-S keeps close to the vest, so too does Solanco. In fact, you need not know nothing more about the manner in which the Golden Mules conduct their business than considering this. Solanco threw just four passes on Friday night. Needless to say, Solanco loves to get their offensive line lathered up while sticking the football in the gut in one of their trademark stalwarts residing in the backfield. Sure enough, 2019 appears to be no different in that regard considering the Golden Mules boast an absolute bully at fullback this season in senior battering-ram, Nick Yannutz. And with Yannutz shouldering most of the load on the ensuing series, Solanco’s first of the ballgame, the Golden Mules were able to trudge forward down inside the L-S redzone. From there however, the sledding proved to be far more difficult as the Golden Mules were ultimately turned away on downs following a pair of magnificent stops authored by the L-S defensive troops on 3rd & 3 and 4th & 2 successively.
For as high as the L-S offense was undoubtedly feeling considering their emphatic opening argument offered on the first series of the night, their second series would end with an equally as loud thud when the Pioneers put the ball ground with Solanco’s Caden Fuller pouncing on the loose pill, as the Golden Mules’ junior defensive lineman gave the ball back to his offensive mates with the ball now resting on the L-S 42-yard following the takeaway.
While many teams like to take deep shots at the endzone right away following such a drastic shift in momentum, Solanco chose to stick to their bread and butter of pounding the rock at will. Turns out that the football gods would shine upon them as the Mules were rewarded in doing so as Yannutz promptly bolted for an 18-yard gallop up the gut on the first play of the Solanco drive. Yet again however, the Solanco offense would have a hard time negotiating with the L-S defense over the next handful of plays as the Mules were turned away once more, this time courtesy of a Pioneer takeaway, as L-S junior linebacker Brady Cole darted in unabated into the Solanco backfield, forced a fumble, before senior linebacker Christian Garver fell on the loose pigskin, giving the ball back to the L-S offense at their own 44-yard line following the change in possession.
On this next drive, L-S would once again remember the directions to the endzone.
After getting off to a solid start on the first play of the drive thanks to a 12-yard quarterback draw courtesy of Conner Nolt, Nolt then took to the air before finding junior wideout Alex Knapp racing along the Solanco sideline for a nice pitch and catch which ushered the Pioneers’ attack down even further into Golden Mule territory. From there, Nolt was able to make good on his second TD of the still relatively young evening as the Pioneers’ junior triggerman hooked up with Beau Heyser sitting out in the flat with the sophomore tight end being able to do the rest from there as the 33-yard Nolt to Heyser touchdown strike allowed L-S to enjoy a two touchdown cushion at 14-0 with 1:18 left in the opening stanza.
With Solanco now staring up at the scoreboard and seeing themselves in a 14-point hole, there figured to really only be one feasible way in order for the Mules to go about eating the elephant if you will: Give the ball to Nick Yannutz and chew that deficit down to size, bit by manageable bit. Sure enough, the reliable formula ended up working like a charm on the Mules’ ensuing series as Yannutz once again provided the heavy lifting, surging the Solanco march down to the L-S 1-yard line behind a litany of powerful runs administered earlier in the drive. Ironically enough however, senior Grady Unger would earn the spoils of Yannutz’s hard running as Unger’s 1-yard quarterback sneak got Solanco on the board with the score now standing at 14-6 in favor of L-S with 9:33 left in the half after the PAT try was no good.
And in an ironic twist of fate that perhaps no one truly saw coming given the first half’s previous events, the eight-point Pioneer advantage is exactly where things would remain when the two squads retired to their locker rooms for the halftime intermission.
While Solanco would end up getting the ball first coming out of the recess, their possession would prove to be short-lived. Why? Thanks to yet another takeaway compiled by the L-S defense of course with junior linebacker Brady Cole stealing this one, a turnover which gave the ball back to the potent L-S offense with a relatively short field from which to work with the ball sitting at Golden Mules’ 36-yard line.
Yet for as hot as the L-S offense looked to be on their opening drive of the contest, their initial series of the second half would prove to be far less than fruitful than its predecessor as the Pioneers would be able to pick up nary five yards on the drive, ultimately giving it back to Solanco on downs after a 4th & 8 attempt sailed incomplete.
So, with Solanco now receiving a gift courtesy of the hard work attributed to their work defensively, the Mules’ offense went right back to what they know best. You guessed it, giving the ball to Nick Yannutz. Yet for as hard as all 11 members of the Solanco offense were working in tandem, they would not be an outfit opposed to turning down any extra help offered by L-S. In that regard, Solanco received a massive gift on the drive as the Pioneers were dinged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a stop on 3rd & 19 with the ball deep inside Solanco territory. And while the penalty itself would not be enough to give the Mules a fresh set of downs outright, quarterback Grady Unger had no quarrels moving the sticks himself whatsoever as Unger’s successful sneak on 4th & 2 allowed Solanco to keep the drive alive. From there, Yannutz continued to provide the yeoman’s work on the series as Solanco’s senior fullback rumbled his way for a nine-yard gain on 3rd & 5 shortly thereafter, moving the Mules down to the Pioneers’ 23-yard line. Seems only fitting that Yannutz should find the endzone at this point, right? As if to be right on cue, Yannutz then blasted his way up the heart of the L-S defense for the 16-yard touchdown jaunt with a gritty Grady Unger dive on the two-point conversion try added on top, knotting things up at 14-14 with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
That’s when L-S proceeded to turn the lights out.
With Solanco refusing to make any bones about how what they planned to do for the remaining quarter and change, it was a paramount that the Pioneers find some sort of footing heading down the stretch in order to possibly create some distance between themselves and their pesky houseguests. Oh boy would they ever. About 27 unanswered points worth as a matter of fact.
Following a sensational kick return by L-S’ Austin Stoltzfus following the Solanco score, the Lampeter-Strasburg offense continued to play fast. And while aided by a monstrous 3rd & 1 conversion courtesy of senior running back Bryan McKim toting the rock in the infant stages of the Pioneers’ ensuing possession, Conner Nolt proceeded to up top for his third touchdown toss of the evening, this one to Alex Knapp, as the lethal Nolt-Knapp pairing from 41 yards out allowed L-S to go back in front just 1:47 following the previous Solanco touchdown.
But they weren’t done there.
Following an unsuccessful fake punt attempted by the Mules at the tail-end of their ensuing series, Nolt and his fellow L-S offensive counterparts appeared to put the game on ice right then and there as Nolt teamed up with Austin Stoltzfus once again for a gorgeous 55-yard touchdown strike across the middle with the Pioneers tasked with a 3rd & 18, good for the pair’s second touchdown connection of the evening, putting L-S back on top by two scores at 28-14 with 8:48 left to play following the PAT try tallied by Andrew Reidenbaugh.
And for as well as the L-S offense had now appeared to be humming along following Nolt’s fourth touchdown toss of the ballgame, it seemed only fitting that the L-S defense get in on the act as well. In that regard, enter Christian Garver to center stage as the senior rose up from his defensive line spot, snagged the interception, then promptly dashed in for the 32-yard pick 6 which put L-S up 34-14 just 30 seconds later after the unsuccessful PAT try.
From there, L-S would be able to add one more down the homeward stretch a mere five minutes later as a powerful 5-yard touchdown blast right up the gut of the Solanco defense from L-S’ Bryan McKim ending the scoring on the night with the Pioneers now comfortably out in front, 41-14.
Yet while Solanco would continue to rally the troops and mount up for one last drive inside the final 3:43 on Friday night, the Pioneers would be the ones to fittingly punctuate the previous two hours of action as senior defensive back Jacob Kopelman had the honors by snaring an interception on the game’s final play, capping L-S’ acquisition of the Milk Jug in 2019 with an resounding exclamation mark as the Pioneers were able to prevail in a 41-14 decision over their archrivals.
NEXT UP: After securing the prestigious Milk Jug on Friday against Solanco, the Pioneers will be tasked with the assignment of becoming road warriors over the final two weeks of the regular season as L-S will play away from Lampeter in their next two outings against E-Town and Cocalico respectively. No worries though. If L-S is able to handle their business much in the same vein in which we have grown accustomed to seeing from the Pioneers the last several years, L-S will very likely to be returning to the friendly confines of JK Mechanical in a few short weeks. This time in a District 3 playoff game.
For Solanco, there certainly cannot be any rest for the weary for those in the Golden Mules’ camp. Why? After their setback against L-S on Friday night, the Mules will finish their final three-week gauntlet against arguably the two best programs that Lancaster-Lebanon Section 2 has to offer, Cocalico and Manheim Central in successive fashion, before the Mules hope to saddle up for another game in the postseason three weeks from now.
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