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Lampeter-Strasburg Gets Defensive, Stymies Kennard-Dale As Pioneers Await Date With Bishop McDevitt In District 3-4A Title Game Black Friday Night

Written by: on Saturday, November 20th, 2021. Follow Andy Herr on Twitter.

 

In sports, much like in life, there’s an old familiar phrase that says, “Water eventually finds it level.” Yeah, true enough in terms of the earth science technicalities of things I suppose, but that’s not always the case in the world of playoff-era sports. Well, at least not particularly in the case of Friday night’s District 3-4A semifinal game between Kennard-Dale and Lampeter-Strasburg that is. Far from it actually.

To be totally fair though, when talking about what has evolved into the wild and wonderful world of Lampeter-Strasburg Football of recent memory, this whole song and dance has turned into something that surely like its old hat by now. In a sense, it’s remarkable really. For a program that hadn’t won its first District 3 title until the year 2007 -much less even won a playoff game period until that very same year ironically- the L-S program that the youth in both the Lampeter and Strasburg communities have grown up with have been engrossed with nothing but elite-level success. Winning seasons? That’s a layup. Competing for the L-L section title? Slam dunk.  Making the postseason? Easy money. Winning and going on a deep run once inside the playoffs? Ok, the road there is admittedly a bit more difficult indeed, but the Pioneers have basically run roughshod over the competition in whatever their respective classification be save for a small handful of worthy adversaries on a perennial basis. In fact, ever since the implementation of the six-classification system that the PIAA adopted and put into effect starting with the 2016 football season, L-S has failed to make it into at least the semifinal round of the 4A bracket only once. And since everyone’s retention span seems to last only as long as a Twitter timeline these days, let’s remember that the Pios are the current back-to-back District 3-4A champions, taking the title home with them in 2019 and 2020 respectively. And right on cue, here the Pioneers are yet again, swashbuckling their way into the final four once more, lugging a 10-1 overall record with them into their matchup against the visitors from the southernmost high school located in the entire state of Pennsylvania on Friday night. And oh by the way, if that wasn’t already enough, consider the fact that L-S hasn’t been held under the 50-point threshold in any contest since the very first day of October during this run. Um, yikes.

On the other side of the field, this is an entirely new world that the Kennard-Dale Rams have found themselves residing in this season. Much in the same vein as Lampeter-Strasburg’s aforementioned 2007 campaign, 2021 marks the first season in which the program hailing from Fawn Grove has been able to pick up the school’s first postseason victory. Not only that, but that win over Donegal last week wasn’t some one-off occurrence for this group of Rams. No, not when you consider the fact that it appeared to be a business as usual approach to the task at hand given that Kennard-Dale found themselves on the short end of the stick only once this year, coming in a two-point setback at the hands of Octorara on the opening night of the season, 18-16. But make no mistake about it, this year’s 10-1 overall record has been nothing short of a seismic shift in terms of on-field success relished in those parts.

As a whole, over the last decade or so, varsity football wins have been in short supply for Kennard-Dale. In fact, it wasn’t even all that usual to see the Rams finish the year with either an 0-fer or just one lone tally in the win column come season’s end typically. However, since head coach Chris Grube took over control of the program starting with the 2016 season, the steady yet meteoric rise exhibited by the Rams has been nothing short of remarkable. No longer an after-thought in York-Adams Division Two, Kennard-Dale has gradually morphed into a steady and consistent threat to their fellow brethren, a feat perhaps best exemplified by their 6-4 record at the end of the 2019 campaign- the program’s first winning record since 2009.

Yet to their credit, the bright lights and attention haven’t appeared to have had any effect on this squad despite all their newfound notoriety and publicity as the Rams have successfully kept their nose down and have gone about their business with nothing but flying colors. And at the end of the day, while many may have anticipated a semifinal round bout between two squads that would feature nothing but the bluest of blue bloods given the enormously high stakes, Kennard-Dale had no issue whatsoever when it came to bucking -or ramming if you will- that notion entirely. In short, the high waters of playoff football had not yet swallowed up Kennard-Dale and their magnificent run. Instead, the Rams’ ship had been able to rise along with the tide. Take that, science.

But much in the same way in which the Pioneers have been able to play this entire season, Lampeter-Strasburg was able to demonstrate over the course of the next 48 minutes as to why they are whole different force of nature altogether.

In fact, it didn’t the hosts long at all in terms of landing an early haymaker. To be more concise, the first punch was thrown on the second play from scrimmage on Friday night as an errant Kennard-Dale pass sailed its way into the mitts of senior defensive back, Giovanni Malatesta, as Malatesta’s 40-yard sprint following his theft allowed the Pioneers’ offensive troops to set up shop at the Rams’ 10-yard line. Speaking of two plays, that’s precisely how long it took L-S to find the end zone shortly thereafter as a 5-yard Payton Cunningham touchdown run allowed the Pios to draw first blood at 7-0 following Andrew Reidenbaugh’s PAT with 10:51 still left to play in the first quarter.

On K-D’s ensuing offensive series, the Rams were yet again met with strong resistance from the L-S defensive unit.

After having their 3rd & 1 attempt get stuffed at the line of scrimmage courtesy of the local football terror known as Beau Heyser, a short Kennard-Dale punt appeared to spell doom for the visitors as L-S was able to take over at the Rams’ 30-yard line following the exchange in possession. But to their credit, the Kennard-Dale D was able to bow their necks and effectively block L-S from landing a potential knockout punch as the Pioneers were forced to settle for a field goal despite the short field as a 32-yard boot through the uprights by Reidenbaugh made it a 10-0 affair in favor of the hosts with 5:57 still left in the opening stanza.

Yet just when it had appeared that K-D may have been able to finally find their footing on Friday night, L-S wasn’t exactly interested in allowing the Rams’ momentum to carry on for very long after that.

On this drive, Kennard-Dale’s third offensive series of the ballgame, the Rams were finally able to pick up their initial first down of the evening thanks to a 4-yard run by junior running back, Garrett McCleary, effectively making the chain gang down on the field put forth their first traditional movement of the frigid evening. As mentioned though, the Pioneers’ defense continued to play the role of extremely rude party hosts to their opposition as an 8-yard sack courtesy of L-S sophomore edge rusher, Drexton Frank, quickly followed suit. Then, as if that wasn’t already enough, an interception snared by senior defensive back, Weston Weaver, allowed the Pios’ to then work on an extremely short field yet again following Weaver’s 34-yard interception return which provided the L-S offensive attack to begin their proceedings at the Rams’ 12-yard line.

But just as they had been able to do not all that long ago, the Kennard-Dale defense was able to protect their squadron from a gigantic momentum swing just when the Rams needed a breather the most.

All told, it wasn’t exactly all that easy though considering that L-S was able to plot their way down to the K-D 1-yard line. However, that lone yard proved to be all the difference as an inopportune L-S fumble, recovered by the Rams in the end zone, allowed Kennard-Dale to wipe the sweat beads off of their collective brows as the touchback not only saved them from allowing additional L-S points, but it also allowed them to start their offensive series at their own 20-yard line once the second period got underway with the Pioneers’ lead holding firm at a 10-0 count.

Granted, although it largely felt as if Lampeter-Strasburg had largely dominated the first dozen minutes of the evening, the effectiveness of Kennard-Dale’s defense rising to the challenge when the opportunities presented themselves simply could not be washed away. And yet again, just when they needed it once more, the K-D defense was able to save the Rams’ bacon inside the second frame as well.

On L-S’ first offensive series of the second quarter though, this wasn’t simply just a K-D defensive stop that had no frills. No, this was a moment in time where the Rams were able to play with reckless abandon. To start things off, K-D’s Jed Peters was able to secure himself a 16-yard sack as the Rams’ senior DB was able to put the Pios’ offense well behind the chains. From there, his defensive backfield mate was able to do him one better as an interception nabbed by fellow senior, Jacob Copenhaver, allowed the K-D offense to begin this series with the ball nearly resting on the midfield stripe.

But in this instance as well, the L-S defense had no desire in letting Kennard-Dale feel good about things, forcing the Rams to punt it away following yet another quick three and out.

Ironically, this next offensive series that was about to transpire would also mean that it would be L-S’ first with what they would had to have considered terrible field position given where all of their previous marches began previously. No matter though.

After getting this attack in gear by way of a 15-yard sprint out of the backfield by sophomore running back, Jonathan Mellinger, the Pios’ offense was back in gear with the ball now sitting at the L-S 45-yard line. From there, a key Berkeley Wagner to Beau Heyser connection on 3rd & 2 was just enough to move the sticks, giving the Pioneers a fresh set of downs to work with. And as it turned out, that would be all the further L-S would need to travel before authoring yet another scoring strike as a gorgeous ball thrown by Wagner down the seam to Giovanni Malatesta was good for the 33-yard touchdown assault as Malatesta was able to come away with a magnificent over the shoulder catch while working amongst traffic. And with that touchdown bomb, L-S was able to see their advantage balloon to a 17-0 margin with 5:51 left to go in the opening half following the PAT.

If you’re sensing a theme here of L-S thwarting nearly every Kennard-Dale opportunity of getting into a rhythm here, you’re not wrong. In fact, let the Pioneers’ Hunter Hildenbrand allow you to fulfill the notion once more.

On the ensuing Kennard-Dale possession following the Malatesta touchdown grab, Hildenbrand was able to stave off yet another Rams’ threat by coming away with a diving interception right in front of the L-S bench. Then, after moving over to his wide receiver position while on offense following the takeaway, the L-S junior was able to cap off what he himself had helped create as a perfectly executed tunnel screen to Hildenbrand serving as the target was good enough for a 35-yard touchdown reception, effectively allowing the Pios to soar into the locker room with ownership of the 24-0 cushion once the final 32 seconds ticked off the second quarter clock.

In the third quarter, L-S went right back to work.

In a sense, for an offense that seems to have the ability to strike at any given moment in time, the Pioneers’ initial drive to start the second half was one where the black-clad guests put on their hardhats and continued to pound away. In fact, the march itself came complete with its own instances of successful third and fourth down conversions. Case in point, a 10-yard sprint from Malatesta on a 4th & 3 attempt at the K-D 39-yard line which allowed the Pios’ offensive march to continue onward. From there, yet another bruising run on a 3rd & 2 play helped sprung by the L-S offensive line ushered the L-S attack inside the Rams’ red zone. And finally, in an exclamation point manner, a Berkeley Wagner 19-yard touchdown stroll on the quarterback keeper helped pushed the L-S lead out to 31-0 with 6:56 left to play in the third, capping off the 60-yard plot down the field.

And over the course of the final six minutes and change, that is precisely where the margin would remain once the final quarter got underway.

Once inside the fourth quarter, it finally seemed as if Kennard-Dale may have finally been able to crack through the glass wall known as the L-S defense. After a nice handful of chain-moving runs thanks to the handiwork of Kennard-Dale sophomore running back, Hayden Klimm, it appeared as if the Rams would at long last be able to crack their goose egg up on the scoreboard. Instead, this drive too would be met with the strongest possible resistance given a sack tallied by way of Weston Weaver on a K-D reverse play to start things off. From there, it was time for yet another takeaway as an L-S strip sack fumble resulted in sophomore linebacker, Jackson Heeter, coming away with the loose pill to slam the door on what was arguably Kennard-Dale’s most successful march of the entire night.

And in the end, especially given the stellar body of work in which they had put forth over the course of the entire ballgame up until that point, the L-S shutout would remain intact once the dust had finally settled -the Pioneers’ fifth such performance this year alone- as the Pioneers were able to move on to their third straight district title game next week against Bishop McDevitt by virtue of their emphatic 31-0 performance against Kennard-Dale on Friday night.

Needless to say, given just how dominant this Lampeter-Strasburg team has been throughout the majority of this season -save for their opening week loss at the hands of Warwick perhaps- all signs point to this group of Pioneers being locked into the process and going about their business with the upmost attention to detail given the product they have routinely put out on the field come Friday evenings. Rest assured, it’s not something lost on the head man either.

“For the most part, yes,” Lampeter-Strasburg first-year head coach Victor Ridenour said when asked if this team has essentially been “on” in terms of their respect to the overall grind every day of the week heading into games this season. “We had one day this week where we had a decent practice, but I’d say our focus wasn’t where it typically is, but then they responded on Thursday with a great practice,” admitted Ridenour. “They’re not a team that’s going to let something like that slip by,” he added of his guys and their apparent laser-focus. “They knew they didn’t practice that well and they were able to refocus.”

And in the end, perhaps that’s the most telling part about this Lampeter-Strasburg program as a whole. Even when they may not necessarily be clicking on all cylinders, they still seem as if they are always head and shoulders above the competition found standing on the opposite sideline from them on a weekly basis. But to suffice to say, that will be put to the test and then some come next Friday night.

 

NEXT UP: So, who do the Pioneers draw in next week’s title fight? Why, none other than Bishop McDevitt of course. And to be fair, yet another L-S & McDevitt matchup appeared to be in the cards almost from the outset of this season given that both the Pioneers and Crusaders have largely been mirror-images of one another considering the sheer dominance they’ve been able to inflict upon almost all their respective opponents this entire season. Yet even though next week’s District 3-4A title has all the earmarks of a collision course matchup, Ridenour, much like his players, hasn’t been paying much attention to anything other than his team’s opponent on a weekly basis.

“I knew that they have a really good football team,” the L-S head coach said postgame of his next opponent in Bishop McDevitt. “They had a really good team last year and I know they feel slighted that they got left out of the playoffs and I can certainly understand that, but it’s literally week-to-week,” he added. “Our kids have done a great job of focusing on, ‘We’ve got to play this team this week.’ They don’t get themselves too far ahead at all and we don’t as a staff either. I haven’t looked at any McDevitt film,” Ridenour acknowledged. “I couldn’t tell you what they do other than remembering what they did a couple years ago when we played them.”

Regardless, surely both the L-S and Bishop McDevitt staffs respectively will work to compile stellar game plans over the next couple days ahead that will undoubtedly help this much-anticipated matchup live up to all its billing next Friday night at Rocco Ortenzio Stadium on the outskirts of the state’s capital city.

For Kennard-Dale, although Friday night’s loss at the hands of L-S was surely a bitter pill to swallow, the Rams’ 2021 success should most definitely be celebrated. For a team that not all that long ago struggled to win games period, K-D’s advancement to the final four of the district playoff bracket in such a short amount of time cannot be overstated enough. Hopefully, if nothing else, the 2021 campaign will help serve as the foundation and not the ceiling for a Kennard-Dale program that has more than paid its fair share of dues when it comes to enjoying the type of success in which they were able to compile this season.

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