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Lancaster County All-Stars Lean On Home Cooking As Outgoing Manheim Central Seniors Steal The Show In Final Game At Elden Rettew, Help Blank Berks/Lebanon In 22nd Tri-County All-Star Game

Written by: on Saturday, May 25th, 2024. Follow Andy Herr on Twitter.


For a state where some may consider high school football to be a religion of sorts, it’s somewhat surprising perhaps to look around the state and realize that there isn’t a bountiful feast of postseason all-star games played to try and satisfy the appetite. 

But that isn’t exactly the case in south central Pennsylvania if we’re being honest. 

Now, two years into its second decade of existence, the annual Tri-County All-Star Game, orchestrated by the Manheim Touchdown Club, is one of the few gatherings of senior gridiron talent that largely features outgoing seniors hailing from one conference and one conference alone. That of course being the Lancaster-Lebanon League. 

And for a part of the state that likely fits right in like a perfect puzzle piece when it comes to viewing the lights on Friday nights to be nothing if not divine in nature when talking about the counties of Berks, Lebanon, and Lancaster respectively, any time that fans have an opportunity to go to their version of church –or stadium of choice as it were — and take in a scholastic football game, even during Memorial Day weekend, they’ll likely be right there in the pews. Er, bleachers. For that reason, especially here in the 22nd edition of the contest played on Friday night at Elden Rettew Stadium in Manheim, this version was looked forward to perhaps more than most considering that last year’s game was (wisely) cancelled during the halftime ceremonies as an urgent medical emergency took place in the grandstands that understandably didn’t leave anyone with a burning desire to continue onward following what looked to be a dire scene at the time. 

Nevertheless, with the battle lines so clearly having been drawn in red ink beginning with last year’s all-star game affair that split players from Berks and Lebanon county schools up against a squad hailing entirely from Lancaster in the aftermath of the initial year of the 37-team mega-conference that the L-L League had suddenly morphed in to during the fall of 2022, the hope on this unseasonably warm spring night was that this 2024 contest of the Tri-County All-Star Game would make up for lost time given the untimely, aforementioned situation during last year’s playing a year ago. 

Simply put, for those with a keen rooting interest in Lancaster’s exploits in particular, this would prove to be something well worth the wait. Not to mention, if you fancy yourself a Manheim Central Baron above all else, your evening wasn’t a bad one spent at the ol’ ballpark either. 

Almost right from the get-go, it was evident that this 2024 Lancaster’s all-star crop was out to make this their evening without much in the way of negotiation from the opposition. And with Manheim Central senior quarterback and first-team 4A All-State honoree, Zac Hahn, operating the controls of the offense, Lancaster’s initial drive of the evening was nearly flawless. 

Case in point, while ignited by a 44-yard strike from Hahn who rolled right and out of the pocket before finding an open Quintin Pfautz of Ephrata for the long gainer through the air, the hosts already found themselves inside the red zone at the Berks/Lebanon 8-yard line in short order. From there, the duo of Hahn to Bode Sipel –something the masses have witnessed at Elden Rettew plenty of times before—allowed the home side to draw first blood following the Manheim Central pair’s 9-yard touchdown connection as another Barons’ player, kicker Drew Greiner, booted home the PAT which made it a 7-0 Lancaster lead with 8:23 remaining in the opening frame. 

But that would only prove to be a precursor of sorts for the night yet to come. 

Sure enough, after holding Berks/Lebanon to just one first down on their opening offensive series of the contest, Lancaster went right back to work just as they had before, beginning the drive at their 35-yard line. And just like the drive previous, this too would result in a seven-point addition up on the scoreboard by the end of it. 

Ironically, just like during their initial drive too, the Lancaster advance was kick-started by way of a long pass. For Dean Herr, after having a shot at scoring the game’s opening touchdown reception cruelly slip through his fingertips just a few minutes earlier, the Lampeter-Strasburg senior certainly opted to go with a flair for the dramatics when it came to his sweet measure of atonement as Herr was able to come down with a 30-yard acrobatic reception –while working against what would be called defensive pass interference—from the right arm of Garden Spot’s Kye Harting, now running the show for Lancaster from the quarterback spot, with the Lancaster threat now standing at the Berks/Lebanon 25-yard line following the big strike. Yet not even a 15-yard reversal in field position following a penalty called against Lancaster later on did much in the way of slowing down the inevitable as the Dean Herr-laden drive was crystalized following his 40-yard touchdown reception on a 3rd & 25 play from Harting as Greiner’s second straight PAT made it a 14-0 count in Lancaster’s favor which is where things would remain standing following the 51 seconds bleeding off the first quarter clock in due time. 

But even before the second stanza came into existence, another Manheim Central Baron had something to say about the goings on out on the field. 

For Sonny Callahan, he too would make the most of the final game played on his school’s home turf as the soon-to-be Manheim Central graduate picked off a Berks/Lebanon pass on the first play of the ensuing possession, setting Lancaster up yet again with auspicious field position and then some once the quarter officially changed. 

Yet auspicious or not, Lancaster’s third drive of the night would not yield any new points. At the same time, however, neither would Berks/Lebanon’s as a fourth down stop gave the ball back to Lancaster with a hair under four minutes having expired off the second quarter clock by that point in time. 

In this instance, Lancaster wouldn’t let an opportunity pass them by. 

Sparked by another long chunk play through the air, this a 14-yard diving reception hauled in by Lancaster Catholic’s Josh Acker to get things in motion, the blue-jersey-wearing troops were poised to crack through yet again. And in keeping with one of the prevailing themes of the evening at large, Manheim Central players being the key catalysts, it should’ve been a shock to no one whatsoever that one of the better running backs in recent Barons’ lore, Brycen Armold, was able to find his way into his home endzone one more time in his high school career as Armold’s 7-yard TD scamper that preceded Drew Greiner’s third PAT of the night upped the Lancaster cushion to a sizable 21-0 difference which they were then able to carry with them on into the second half on Friday night once the final 6:08 ticked off the second quarter clock. 

But to their credit, even though much didn’t go in their favor at throughout the initial 24 minutes, Berks/Lebanon appeared to be reinvigorated and refocused coming out of the halftime respite. 

Case in point, a nice 15-yard slant route thrown by Fleetwood’s Jack Riffle –who far and away got the lion’s share of the work in terms of Berks/Lebanon quarterbacking duties on the night– to Berks Catholic’s Bill Hess, got the red squad off on the right foot for the opening play of the second half. From there, they went to the ground game which proved to be a wise inclination considering how Conrad Weiser’s Sevon Parham would promptly rattle off a 30-yard gainer through the Lancaster defense to get the ball on the other side of the field and onto the Lancaster 40-yard line. Unfortunately though, while Berks/Lebanon was enjoying their most productive drive of the evening at that point, this series would ultimately peter out and die around the midfield stripe as Berks/Lebanon was forced to punt it away to Lancaster.

Now, if the Berks/Lebanon defensive unit could turn things around and somewhat slow down the hard-charging Lancaster offense which had largely run roughshod over them up until that point, a tide may indeed be changing. Well, for his part, Reading High’s Michael Odeyemi deserved plenty of kudos thrown in his direction as the Red Knights’ 250lb defensive lineman came away with a sure tackle to halt Lancaster’s initial offensive drive of the second half on a 3rd & 1 play which led to Zac Hahn trotting back onto the field in punt formation for the home side. 

But perhaps Berks/Lebanon had found something to which they could manipulate when it came to working against the Lancaster defense considering how productive their previous series had been. Here again, while sparked by a nice sprinkle of totes from his running back spot courtesy of Fleetwood’s Czion Brickle, added with a dash of Mason Musitano and Mason Semmel receptions by way of Fleetwood and Hamburg respectively, it seemed for all the world that Berks/Lebanon would at long last finally reach paydirt.

Until they wouldn’t. 

At this point, it would almost be anticlimactic if a Manheim Central Baron didn’t play a significant role in some form or fashion, right? Well, as if to be right on cue, Bode Sipel would indeed heed the call and come up not just with an interception, but an interception return for a touchdown to boot, as Sipel’s second TD of the evening, this coming from his defensive back position via an 87-yard Pick 6, made it a 28-0 cushion for Team Lancaster following yet another Drew Greiner PAT with a measly 48 seconds left remaining in the third period.  

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the only tangible bit of drama left unattended would be whether or not Lancaster would be able to author a shutout against their neighbors to their geographic north. But hey, why not add another score for your troubles while in the process, eh? 

As if to be played on rewind in harkening back to their opening drive of the evening, a long Zac Hahn bomb to Quintin Pfautz proved to be the spark that also would help send this Lancaster drive into orbit. In this latest instance, the Baron to Mount hookup was good for a 48-yard incision into the Berks/Lebanon defensive heart down to the 22-yard line which helped set the table for a 21-yard Hahn to Aaryn Longenecker touchdown strike in the back of the endzone, proving once again that cats and dogs can indeed find commonality now and then considering the rivalry –albeit one built on respect– that has metastasized between Manheim Central and Cocalico over the years and the irony found in the pair’s touchdown connection that made it a 35-0 bulge with all of 7:04 remaining in the contest after Greiner’s fifth PAT through the pipes. 

Here, with the outcome nothing more than a formality at this point, the timing was of the utmost essence if Berks/Lebanon could indeed crack that goose egg they had been staring up at all evening long. And for a moment in time, it seemed as if they would be able to achieve said feat. 

While his overall volume of receptions may not have been all that bountiful in terms of the amount of them in sheer number, Hamburg’s Mason Semmel certainly made the most of his opportunities for his side in the receiving department in terms of magnitude of catches all evening long as the Hawks’ star wideout came away with another long gainer here late in the final period, this of the 28-yard variety from Riffle, helping to usher Berks/Lebanon onto the Lancaster side of the field and to the 43-yard line. From there, Berks/Lebanon’s eventual team MVP of the night, Sevon Parham, ripped off a 23-yard jaunt around the right end not long afterward, moving the pill down to Lancaster’s 7-yard line and a score feeling all but certain. 

But even when they knocked on the door, Berks/Lebanon would eventually get turned away, even if they walked away on their own. 

Here, with the ball resting at the Lancaster 3-yard line, far and away the deepest penetration that Berks/Lebanon had been able to garner all night long up until that point, the only thing that could stop them was well, them. And “them” happened to come up with an ill-timed, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which then moved Berks/Lebanon in reverse and backward to the 17-yard line. And as if that the penalty wasn’t already bad enough, having it take place following third and the goal was especially detrimental as Berks/Lebanon was now staring down the barrel of fourth and goal near the backend of the red zone. Unfortunately, for the group of fans who had traveled the furthest distance to get there to Manheim on this night, their side would indeed come up empty-handed here as an incomplete pass inside the final two minutes eventually allowed Lancaster to put the finishing touches on a resounding 35-0 victory over the Berks/Lebanon side once all was said and done. A performance that yes, while it was complete as the score would lead one to believe, was undoubtedly buoyed in no small part by a handful of outgoing Manheim Central Barons who not only had a direct hand in 29 of Lancaster’s 35 points tallied on the evening when you factor in all the touchdowns and extra points combined, but also the pair of interceptions nabbed throughout the contest as well just for good measure. And for the final cherry on top, their triggerman with his sights now set on the IUP quarterback room in the fall, Zac Hahn, would go on to capture Team Lancaster MVP honors after the evening too. 

Suffice to say, if the Manheim Central contingent and Lancaster crew as a whole had planned to go out with a statement in this their final high school football game that they’d ever play in front of their home fans, both in town and county alike, this 22nd playing of the Tri-County All-Star Game was nothing if not a resounding success for them. 

But even if this game ended with an essential white-wash in one team’s favor as it had here, that certainly does not diminish the value that this triumvirate of counties that come together to make up this nearly 40-team behemoth of a conference should see when it comes to high school and the logistics surrounding the opportunity to play just one more time. Sure, it’d be easy to send the seniors out without much fanfare following their last football games played at their various schools in the fall. That’d be easy. But in these parts, high school football is a routine ritual that almost always draws a crowd. Yes, even in May. And yes, even on the official, unofficial kickoff to summer. There are now 22, going on 23 years of evidence to back that notion up. 

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