Annville-Cleona Crashes The Party As Dutchmen Knock Off Octorara In Braves’ L-L Debut
In football, much like in life, there are new beginnings and then there are truly new beginnings. For the Octorara Braves, this year in athletics will bring with it a drastic in change in scenery. Why? Well, perhaps it’s best to rewind the clock back to October 20, 2016 in order to investigate further.
On that October day just two short years ago, the Octorara School District was formally approved for full-time membershipstatus in regards to athletic competition within the Lancaster-Lebanon League beginning with the 2018-19 school year, thus ending their official ties the Chest-Mont League. And it appears to be a move that those who occupy the various power chairs in the Braves’ athletic office were certainly very happy to make. “I’m stoked (to be playing in the L-L League) because I like playing schools that are a little bit more matched up with our size,” Octorara head coach Jed King, a Solanco grad, remarkedafter his team’s then-nonleague victory over Columbia last season before summing it up simply by saying, “I love the Lancaster County excitement.”
“We tried to get in probably about ten years ago and we were kind of let down that they didn’t let us in,” Octorara athletic director Gene Lambert added regarding his school’s quest for L-L acceptance on Thursday evening. “I understood it though. Ten years ago there were a lot of economic issues with schools traveling and things like that,” Lambert went on to say. “We reached out again and said maybe this could be the time… I’m thankful just for the league as a whole for accepting us because this is where we need to be.”
And if a change in regular season athletic leagues simply wasn’t enough, Octorara then took it one step further. Yes, not only are the Braves going to be introducing themselves to new faces this year within L-L play, but they will also making the drastic jump away from the confines of District 1 in favor of District 3 come playoff time.
But for all the fanfare and excitement in Atglen surrounding their official opening ceremonies which took place on Thursday night, there was still a football game to be played against an opponent that was just as eager to have a new beginning in their own right.
When combing through the preseason facts and figures in regards to L-L Section 3 play this season and who might be running with the lead dogs this season, one team routinely came to the top of the list—Annville-Cleona. Yet for all the excitement that the Dutchmen had entering this season, things seemed to get off to a somewhat sour note as the Milton Hershey Spartans, always a formidable opponent hailing from the much-ballyhooed MidPenn Conference, raced past A-C with a 39-13 victory on the Dutchmen’s’ home field last Friday night.
It was a game that Annville-Cleona did not soon forget.
“We looked at that very closely,” Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich said regarding the film from last week’s performance against Milton Hershey. “You can look at it one of two ways. (Milton Hershey) is pretty phenomenal so we looked at it” Gingrich said mater of factly regarding last week’s opposition while trying to devise a gameplan for his ballclub this week.
And for whatever lessons the Dutchmen found waiting for them once inside those film sessions during this abbreviated week, the instruction seemed to prove it’s weight in gold as the Dutchmen traveled home from Chester County Thursday night with a big-time win in their back pocket.
The guests would get the ball first on this historic night and immediately start to introduce themselves to Octorara in the most fitting way possible- by running the rock. And although Annville-Cleona’s first series would ultimately end with a turnover on downs on the edge of the redzone, the tone had already been set for the rest of the contest.
Ironically enough however, A-C’s first score of the night would come by way of the air as Annville junior quarterback Junior Bours hooked up with Tyler Long on the 48 yard slant for the first score of the evening, making a for a successful 1-play drive as A-C jumped out a 6-0 lead with 4:24 left in the opening quarter.
With the ball back in the hands of their offense under the capable direction of junior QB Janson Schempp, Octorara took over at own 30 yard line and proceeded to march down the field with it before the drive would ultimately end with a sweet 37-yard field goal, having just enough juice to get past the crossbar, booted home from senior kicker Dylan Smith with just 38 seconds elapsed off the second quarter clock as the Braves were able to trim the Annville-Cleona lead down to size at 6-3.
From there however, Annville-Cleona put things into another gear and started to create some much-needed distance between themselves and the hometown Braves on the scoreboard.
After a big kick return by A-C’s aptly named Trevor Porsche, the Dutchmen proceeded to set up shop at the Octorara 37 yard line, already knocking on the door. And if ever a game ball could be awarded to an entire unit in just one drive, it would be this offensive series with the Dutchmen’s offensive line exerting their will and sheer strength along the line of scrimmage. Case in point, a handful of 3rd & 4th shorts converted within the drive which saw the A-C option-based attack humming along nicely.
It seemed only fitting then that later on in the drive a 3rd & Goal at the Octorara 1-yard line would turn into points, thanks once again to that aforementioned offensive line, as the big boys up front helped pave the way for junior quarterback Josh Speraw’sQB keeper across the chalk line which saw the Dutchmen extend their lead to 13-3 with 6:31 to play in the first half.
On their next offensive series, it was more of the same for the Little Dutchmen. Riding behind that tried and true “ground and pound” methodology, A-C began to mount a drive which started at their 36 yard line following a successful defensive stand. And march 64 yards to paydirt they would as Josh Speraw capped the drive off with a 2 yard TD scamper to put Annville-Cleona up by what felt like the gargantuan 20-3 cushion with 2:57 to play in the half.
But Octorara had other ideas.
Faced with the grim reality of having only mustered 3 points with over 20 minutes of football having already been exhausted, the Braves decided to try something new. Needless to say, the experiment worked like a charm as Octorara’s Nick Mattingly called his own number on his first play from behind center on the sultry Chester County evening as the junior signal-caller proceeded to show off his wheels by racing 80 yards to the house, making for an emphatic 1-play drive as the Braves had suddenly shrunk the A-C lead down to 20-10 with 2:36 left in the half.
However Annville-Cleona would quickly show that two minutes and change was still plenty of time for their potent offensive attack.
Following suit on the ensuing Annville-Cleona drive, A-C quarterback Junior Bours kept the ball on an option keeper and darted 74 yards with the endzone as his destination as the Dutchmen’s rebuttal to the late half Octorara score took less than a minute as Annville-Cleona was able to bound into the locker room a little extra pep in their step by virtue of their 26-10 halftime advantage.
After an exchange of back to back fumbles by both squads which led to a shaky start for both squads coming out of the halftime dressing rooms, it would eventually be the home-standing Braves who would be able to right the ship and get into a groove first once the second half got underway.
For as much as both teams demonstrated a propensity and a desire to run the football in this Thursday night showcase, Octorara decided to go up top with Janson Schempp now carrying the keys to the offense as the Braves’ multipurpose offensive weapon was able to connect with physically-imposing junior wideout Matt Keating for the big pass and catch combo as the Keating reception brought the Braves down all the way down to the Octorara 28 yard line. On the very next play, Schempp was to demonstrate that versatility by jolting for a 19-yard gallop to get the Braves knocking on the door, now inside the 10 yard line.
From there, the sledding got slightly more difficult as the Dutchmen’s defensive unit was able to rise up and keep Octorara out of the endzone before ultimately succumbing to Mr. Schempp and his prowess for directing the show as the Octorara QB was able to plunge across the goal line on 4th & Goal from 3 yards out as Octorara was able to cut into A-C’s lead at 26-16 with 7:31 left in the third.
And even when it seemed that perhaps Octorara was on the verge of kicking the door down and inching ever so closer than the arm’s length distance that they had been subjected to nearly all night, Annville-Cleona was able to put a stop to that rationale with a rebuttal nearly each and every time. Sure enough, A-C’s ensuing drive would turn into one those of answers.
Riding behind that bruising Annville offensive line and the tough, hard-nosed running style of junior fullback Trevor Porsche, the Dutchmen were able to steadily move the ball the down the field with Octorara unable to come up with a remedy to stop it. The dam finally seemed to burst on the drive when A-C’s Tyler Long bolted all the way down to Octorara 3 yard line, with the visitors from Lebanon County envisioning yet another score. Indeed, the vision would shortly come to life as a 3-yard QB keeper by Junior Bours allowed Annville to double up their hosts with A-C now out in front 32-16 with just 2:58 to play in the third quarter.
Yet even though time was dwindling down on the third quarter of action, Annville-Cleona wasn’t about to go into the final 12 minutes just sitting on the current lead.
Inspired by another defense stand which was highlighted by a 3rd& 6 attempt that sailed incomplete thanks to the heat brought into the offensive backfield by A-C defensive tackle Hunter LeRoux, the Dutchmen set up shop once again at the midfield stripe looking to inflict more damage.
It wouldn’t take long either as a 50-yard dime from Junior Boursdropped perfectly from the night sky into the waiting hands of senior speed-demon Jalen Price who raced all the way home with it, accounting for a dramatic 1-play scoring response as the Dutchmen now seemed to have things on cruise control with A-C out in front 39-16 with just 57 ticks left in the third.
But for being on such a grand stage, one had a feeling that Octorara was not about to go quietly into the night. And right on cue, the Braves started to mount a late-game rally.
Sparked by a 38-yard pitch and catch combination between the dangerous duo of Jensen Schempp to Nick Mattingly, the Braves suddenly found themselves inside Annville-Cleona territory as the third quarter clock showed all zeroes. Once the fourth quarter got underway, Octorara would have to earn their way into the endzone, which they were ultimately able to do as the 4-yard touchdown strike from Jensen Schempp to Matt Keating made things interesting with the Braves cutting into A-C’s lead at 39-24 with 8:26 left to go.
Granted, while faced with the harsh reality of staring down a two touchdown deficit with the game clock siding with the visitors, Octorara recognized that they needed some help. Fast. And right then as if on cue, the Braves took matters into their own hands by pouncing on a loose ball rolling around on the natural grass surface, thwarting a possible A-C melting of the clock while simultaneously giving the ball back to the Octorara offensive troops near the midfield stripe.
And just like troops given a specific mission from a commanding general, the Octorara offensive unit proceeded to methodically plot their way down the field thanks in large part to a huge 3rd & 4 pick up by Nick Mattingly, now taking his turn directing the offense, which got the Braves down near the A-C 30 yard line. Shortly thereafter in the drive, a Matt Keating reception got the Braves’ O inside the redzone with Octorara mounting a serious threat with the ball now resting at the A-C 15 yard line. From there, the deed was ultimately done by way of a 15-yard TD strike from Schempp to Mattingly which made it a 39-30 ballgame with 4:40 left to go after an unsuccessful 2pt try by the Braves with an onsides kick upcoming.
But alas for those who had arrived to the school nestled right alongside PA State Route 41 hoping to see their hometown team make history, the ensuing onsides kick was quickly gobbled up by the A-C up-men which allowed Annville-Cleona to effectively salt the game away until the final gun as the Dutchmen successfully checked off the first of eight remaining boxes on the path they hope will eventually lead them to a Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 3 title once the calendar turns to November.
“It’s a big deal for them,” Annville-Cleona head man Matt Gingrich said in the aftermath of Thursday night’s triumph in regards to his team’s mental resiliency in the face of a laundry list of extraneous factors that could have easily derailed the Dutchmen’s focus and made this a difficult week to fully and properly prepare for. “We completed two touchdown passes, they played their butts off, and they competed,” Gingrich said while continuing to praise his squad after their first win of the season. “I think it’s a big deal. Any time you can win in high school football it’s a big deal, but this was important to me.”
NEXT UP: Annville-Cleona will look to officially go on a winning streak next week as the Dutchmen return home to take on yet another L-L Section 3 newbie in the Ephrata Mounts who join the fray this year after a stint up the rough and tumble neighborhood known as L-L Section 2.
Octorara on the other hand will look to pick up the pieces as the Braves make the roughly 1 hour 15 minute bus ride from Atglento Fredericksburg to tangle with one of the most successful franchises the last few years in Section 3, the Northern Lebanon Vikings.
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