At Long Last, Northern Lebanon Tastes Sweet Victory As Vikings Stymie Pequea Valley For First Win Of The Season
As hard as it may be to believe, last week in Pennsylvania high school football marked the midway checkpoint of the regular season. And as is the case each and every season when the temperatures start to drop, the action on the field only continues to heat up with teams from all around the commonwealth trying to chase those precious few playoff bids. In fact, Friday night around the Lancaster-Lebanon League was a prime example of that very fact. Across all three divisions, first place was on the line with Wilson battling Manheim Township in Section 1, Manheim Central and Cocalico renewing acquaintances in Section 2, and Lancaster Catholic matching wits with Annville-Cleona down in Section 3.
So while there were clearly plenty of intriguing matchups of which to choose from, there were other equally big games on the docket. Case in point, Pequea Valley making the roughly 90 minute bus ride up to Lebanon County to tangle with Northern Lebanon in a game between two combatants eager to pick up a badly-needed and quite frankly, much-deserved win this season.
Through the first five weeks of the season, it’s been fair to say that this year has taken on some uncharacteristic twists and turns for the proud Viking football program that resides in Fredericksburg. And in some cases, at no fault of their own.
Coming off an unquestioned string of dominance that is best exemplified by three L-L League Section 3 titles in the last four seasons, an achievement that truly stands on its own merit, the Vikes entered Friday night’s contest with an 0-5 overall mark, including a 61-14 defeat at the hands of Ephrata earlier this season. A victory which oh by the way just so happened to end a 52 game winless drought for the Mounts, the state’s longest ongoing such streak at the time. However that game in and of itself illustrates just how rare this season has been for the Northern Lebanon Vikings.
Originally scheduled to be played at the friendly confines of Northern Lebanon back on August 31st, heavy rains rolled through the central Pennsylvania area that afternoon prior to kickoff, ultimately forcing the field to be deemed unplayable and consequently shifting the contest to Ephrata’s turf field complex instead, coupled with an early morning Saturday wakeup call to add a little extra salt in the wound. However even with all the adversity placed in front of them that could easily derail most teams, the Vikings have remained undeterred through it all by continuing to show up and battle each and every week, including a hard-fought 19-14 contest against up-and-coming county rival ELCO last week, just seven days after falling to Annville-Cleona 62-13, serving as finite evidence.
It just so happened that their opposition standing on the other sideline Friday evening also had a similar story to share.
For Pequea Valley, it became obvious right from the jump that this season would be one that would test the Braves’ collective mettle. Already beset with the unfortunate fact of low numbersfrom which to work with, the Braves entered their season-opening game on the road at Kennard-Dale even further behind the proverbial 8-ball by not having the talents of junior quarterback John Smith who was sidelined with an injury. And unfortunately for those that call Kinzers home, the Braves would ultimately fall to K-D that night by virtue of a 33-0 decision before going on to start the 2018 campaign with an identical 0-5 mark as well. However just like their counterparts on Friday night, Pequea Valley has also continued to navigate this season’s choppy waters by turning in their best performances to date the last two weeks, including a nip-and-tuck Brave Bowl 19-6 defeat to neighboring rival Octorara last time out.
And so, with both teams clearly playing their best ball of the season and poised to come out on the other side of their early trials and tribulations, Pequea Valley and Northern Lebanon were prepared to get after one another with both teams chomping at the bit to finally quench that long-awaited thirst of victory for the first time in 2018.
In many ways, you’d be hard-pressed to find a much better start to a game than the one authored by Northern Lebanon Friday night. Starting off at their own 32-yard line to begin the contest, the Vikes immediately went to work with a nice mix of run and pass to throw off the Pequea Valley defense. And when faced with their first tumultuous test of the evening in the form of a 3rd& 13 attempt, the NL offense was able to pass with flying colors as NL junior quarterback Ethan Borcky was able to roll right, eluding the oncoming Pequea Valley pursuit, before firing off a dart across the middle to Alex Folmer, as the junior duo helped move the chains in the Vikings’ favor as NL was able to cross the midfield stripe down to the Pequea Valley 42-yard line. As fate would have it, Northern Lebanon’s proficiency on third down throughout the entirety of their initial series would prove to be the catalyst behind their early success, perhaps none best exemplified than with the Vikings facing a 3rd & 10 from the PV 20-yard line. On the play, Northern Lebanon decided to get tricky with it, and reaped the successes in doing so, as Alex Folmer received the end-around handoff before racing 20-yards to the endzone with the pigskin in tow as the home-standing Vikings were able to draw first blood at 7-0, landing an absolutely emphatic first punch that gobbled up the first 5:52 of game time.
Although Pequea Valley would show positive signs on their first possession of the game as well, the Braves’ early advance was ultimately put to a halt by NL junior linebacker Chase Bressler, who was able to stuff a PV 4th & 4 attempt at the Viking 28-yard line. However just like their opposition, Northern Lebanon would also fall victim to a turnover on downs on their ensuing possession, giving the ball back to the Pequea Valley offense just before the first quarter clock expired.
But that wouldn’t exactly be the worst thing in the world.
Playing with an already inspired effort to that point in the contest, the Viking defensive unit was able to rise up and contribute a little scoring of their own as a Spencer Linton interception was returned into a 78-yards Pick 6 as the senior defensive back was able to put the blue-clad Vikings up by a two touchdown advantage at 14-0 following the PAT with 10:49 left to play in the half.
If you’re keeping tabs at home, that would make a Northern Lebanon touchdown scored thus far on offense and on defense. Well, naturally that would leave just one remaining phase of the game left to go right? Bingo.
After Pequea Valley was forced into a punting situation following a failed 3rd & 13 attempt at their own 41-yard line, senior utility man Ethan Herb trotted out onto the muddy field awaiting the oncoming Brave punt. And after what started out looking like a fairly innocent punt return, instantly escalated into a 74-yard house call as Herb was able to stroll into the endzone around the left side following the superb job of his wall of blockers out in front, giving Northern Lebanon the suddenly commanding 20-0 cushion with 4:29 left in the opening half.
Needless to say, staring at a three touchdown deficit all while hunting your first win of the season, isn’t likely to give teams the fuzziest of feelings. So needing a spark, any kind of spark in order to ignite the possibility of some late-half momentum, Pequea Valley would also turn to their special teams in order to get the job done.
With Northern Lebanon having to punt the ball away deep in their own territory with the first half clock melting down, the Braves opted to go after the block rather than settling back into return formation. And it would soon prove to be a wise decision as PV interior lineman Sean Gray was able to push his way through the line of scrimmage, getting his big mitts up in the chilly autumn air and blocking the NL punt, allowing the Braves’ offensive unit to set up shop at the NL 15-yard line with two minutes and change left to tick off the first half clock.
It certainly wouldn’t be easy, but the Braves were ultimately able to negotiate past the stingy Viking defense with a key 4th & 11 conversion that was hauled in by junior wide receiver Michael Finger by way of a nifty toe-drag at the NL 1-yard line. From there, quarterback John Smith was able to do the rest of the work as Smith’s 1-yard QB sneak on the very next play allowed the visitors from Kinzers to get on the board, making it a 20-6 affair with just 26 seconds left to expire following the botched 2pt conversion attempt before both squads would eventually retire to their respective dressing rooms with the 14 point bulge remaining intact.
In a word, the second half of Friday night’s L-L Section 3 tilt between Pequea Valley and Northern Lebanon would appropriately defined by defense. In fact, just one first down from scrimmage was shared between the two teams in the third quarter of play. Yet for a 12 minute span that could certainly be described as nothing more than “ho-hum,” it was far from it.
While first downs might have been hard to come by from either offense in the third period of play, Pequea Valley found themselves knocking on the door following gigantic takeaways deep inside NL territory on two separate occasions in the game’s third period following an interception by Michael Finger and a fumble recovery by Zach Shaw respectively. Yet even with their backs up against the wall, the Northern Lebanon defense refused to yield, closing the book on both sudden-change scenarios by forcing PV into 3 & outs both times.
And so with no additional harm done on the scoreboard, the hometown Vikings were now just 12 minutes away from a feel-good victory.
Once again however, the Viking defensive unit continued to reign supreme as the game’s final quarter began to take shape with Northern Lebanon being able to turn away any sort of offensive threat from PV as the game wound down, giving the Vikings their first win of the season by virtue of a 20-6 triumph over Pequea Valley.
“The first win is always the hardest,” Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall admitted following his team’s first victorious postgame huddle since last season. “Our defense played outstanding. They were all over (Pequea Valley),” Wall went on to add. “Our kids deserved a shutout the way they played.”
Perhaps the best news to come out of Friday night for the Viking faithful besides the obvious? This year’s squad may very well finally be hitting their stride as evidenced by last week’s battle against ELCO coupled with getting over the hump on Friday night. “Historically our teams have gotten better as the season wore on,” Coach Wall offered regarding the here and now while looking ahead. “We don’t peak early. We’re ready to go at the end.”
“This was a good test for us,” said Wall. “We’re teaching them how to win. We have 11 new starters on offense and 9 on defense so we’re learning, but tonight was a step forward.”
NEXT UP: With the first win of the season now under their belt, Northern Lebanon will take their show on the road next week with an extra bounce in their step as the Vikings make the trek down Route 343 into Lebanon city to tangle with Lebanon Cedars in a game between squads eager to officially go on a winning streak down the final furlong after Lebanon’s triumph over Columbia this weekend. And while it remains to be seen just how next week and the weeks after that will ultimately play out, you’d be foolish to bet against a battle-tested program like Northern Lebanon that continues to remain laser-focused on the task at hand. “I want us to continue to compete,” the 8th year Viking head coach remarked on what he hopes to see out of his squad as the regular season continues on before adding succinctly, “We have not yet played a full 48 minute game.”
For Pequea Valley, the road ahead certainly does not get any easier for the immediate future. After Friday night’s defeat at the hands of Northern Lebanon, the Braves will go back to the drawing board while preparing to do battle with an angry Annville-Cleona outfit that is sure to come blistering into Kinzers coming off a home loss this weekend to Lancaster Catholic in a battle that was for first place supremacy in L-L Section 3. Yet even though the task of finishing out this season may seem long and daunting for Pequea Valley, rest assured that the Braves will continue to tackle all obstacles and challenges put in their path with the same relentless, attacking spirit that has come to epitomize their program—-A program who’s latter days are sure to be much better than their former days.
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