Bishop McDevitt Races Past Lampeter-Strasburg As Crusaders Return To District Title Game
When discussing the top high school football programs from Central Pennsylvania, there’s no denying that the Bishop McDevitt Crusaders are among the first names mentioned once the conversation begins. Without question, McDevitt’s historic resume stands alone. Besides annually sending a laundry list of talented players to various levels of college football following their time with the high school just east of the capital city, not to mention an even more select few that have gone on to achieve stardom in the NFL ranks, the Crusaders boast a baker’s dozen in terms of PIAA District 3 titles, and one state championship trophy behind a glass case just for good measure. And they’ve been even more impressive over this past decade.
Consider this, from 2009 thru 2015, Bishop McDevitt had appeared in every single district title game for the classification in which they resided, coming away with an even more staggering 6-1 mark in those title tilts. Come November, it seems that two things are all but a certain on the banks of the Susquehanna. The days getting shorter and the Bishop McDevitt Crusaders football program playing deep into the postseason.
But last year was not like most years. For the first time since 2008, the usual Crusader romp through the District 3 playoffs took an unexpected halt in the semifinal round thanks to a frantic, almost improbable, comeback effort from the Shippensburg Greyhounds who rallied from a two touchdown deficit with two minutes remaining to stun the masses and snap McDevitt’s 25 game District 3 playoff winning streak. And lo and behold, the Greyhounds just so happened to be making a visit back to Bishop McDevitt to start the 2017 postseason. “It was big for us last week,” Bishop McDevitt head coach Jeff Weachter said simply regarding the motivation for his squad to go into battle with Shippensburg yet again. “I thought we pressed a little bit early because we were too excited for that game last week but we settled down and played well.” The Crusaders did indeed play well last Friday night as McDevitt was able to get past Shippensburg this time around with a 43-22 takedown of the Greyhounds. Their prize? A very dangerous Lampeter-Strasburg team Friday night at “The Roc.”
Battle tested. If ever there was a term to place upon a football team, none would be more apropos than that to describe the L-S Pioneers. Despite coming into this weekend with what may have appeared to be a rather ho-hum 7-4 record, the devil was truly in the details. L-S hails from the unforgiving neighborhood of Lancaster Lebanon League Section 2 which is arguably the best football division in the mid-state. In fact, three of L-S’ four losses in conference play came at the hands of District 3 5A playoff teams, two of which were Manheim Central and Cocalico who earned the #2 and #3 slots right behind the behemoth known as Harrisburg in the 5A field respectively. Without a doubt, playing up in classification for the majority of their schedule greatly benefits L-S once they secure a bid in the 4A playoff bracket. And just like their opposition on this Friday night, L-S was looking to make amends for a semifinal hiccup last year with the reward for both schools being just as sweet this time around. A trip to Hersheypark Stadium on Black Friday afternoon and a spot in the District 3 4A championship game.
Bishop McDevitt would get the ball first on this night and never looked back from there. Aided by two monster third down conversions on their first possession, the Crusaders were able to draw first blood. The first saw junior signal-caller Chase Diehl step up in the pocket and deliver a strike to fellow junior Nazir Burnett as the Crusaders were able to pick up 21 yards down to the L-S 31 yard line. McDevitt continued on the attack by converting a 3rd & 20 this time around as Diehl stood tall behind the protection of his offensive line once more and rifled off another dart, this one to T’nyis Becker, as the “Vegas Gold” clad Crusaders picked up 21 yards to move the sticks once more. From there, Diehl was able to cap off the 6:02 opening march with a 4 yard touchdown toss to Burnett as McDevitt struck first.
Unphased, L-S was eager to show off their offensive firepower on their first series as well. As it turned out, the Pioneers would also convert their fair share of third downs on their opening possession just like their counterparts. Faced with a 3rd & 9 from midfield, senior quarterback Todd Shelley hooked up with Kris Pirozzi for the big 23 yard pickup down to the Crusader 27 yard line. Facing a 3rd & 10 from the same exact spot, Shelley kept it in the air and found his favorite target in Cam Niemeyer as the two Pioneer seniors were able to pick up 15 yards with the ball now resting at the McDevitt 12 yard line. But that would be the end of the initial excitement for L-S.
With the Pioneers threatening to score inside the McDevitt 10, an ill-timed fumble was just what the doctor ordered for the McDevitt defense as junior defensive tackle Carter Christopher pounced on the loose pill to give the ball back to the quick-strike Crusader offense, albeit deep in their own territory.
Normally when taking over possession within the shadows of your own goalposts, the offensive strategy for most teams is to go conservative and play the field position game. Not the case for Bishop McDevitt on this series. Backed up in their own end, Chase Diehl lofted another beautiful pass in the crisp autumn air with Nazir Burnett being the victor of his one on one battle down the sideline as the Crusaders had suddenly flipped the field, now at the L-S 40 yard line, after the big chunk play as the first quarter came to a close.
It didn’t take McDevitt long to find the endzone once the second quarter got underway. Facing a 3rd & 1 from the L-S 21 yard line, the Crusaders called upon senior running back Qualik Davis who was able to bounce outside of the pursing Pioneer defense and race 21 yards to the house to put McDevitt up 13-0, with the extra point being blocked, as 10:26 remained on the first half clock.
With the McDevitt defense forcing a punt on L-S next series, the Crusaders set up shop once again deep in their own territory, 82 yards away from paydirt. This drive however would not be near as successful. For what felt like the first time all night, the hard-charging L-S defense was able to collapse the pocket and get to Chase Diehl as senior defensive lineman Damian Rosa was the first to greet Diehl, causing a fumble which was subsequently recovered by junior Tyler Phenegar for the Pioneers.
Although L-S looked poised to get on the board here with a golden opportunity, their hopes were dashed as a fumble of their own gave the ball right back to McDevitt as junior middle linebacker Tate Myers ripped the football away from the L-S ball carrier with the Crusaders eager to make an even bigger dent in the scoreboard.
And sure enough, the Crusaders were on the move once again. The first big pickup on this drive came on an inside screen as Diehl was able to connect with T’nyis Becker for the 15 yard pick up to the McDevitt 43 yard line. Shortly thereafter on 3rd & 2 from Pioneer 35 yard line, Chase Diehl found another reliable target at the wideout spot as this time it was James Lawson who battled his way, dragging Pioneers along with him, to the L-S 17 yard line. That’s all the further McDevitt would need to get as Diehl found Nazir Burnett for the 17 yard touchdown as the pair’s second TD connection of the night gave the Crusaders the 19-0 advantage with just 1:40 left in the opening half.
With his late half hookup with Burnett, Chase Diehl put a bow on his stellar first half going 11-12 for a tick over 200 yards and two touchdowns to boot. “He’s just been playing well all year,” Coach Weachter said of his junior quarterback. “He just gets better and better and he has some pretty good receivers to throw to.”
Although L-S now faced what might have appeared to be a mountain to climb in terms of the score, the Pioneers stuck with it and after two quick Todd Shelley to Kris Pirozzi strikes, L-S found themselves near midfield with the first half clock ticking away. L-S would get as close as the McDevitt 6 yard line on this drive, but the Crusader defense stood tall forcing a Peyton Denlinger 20 yard field goal as the first half expired with McDevitt heading into the locker room leading 19-3.
Big plays had hurt L-S in the opening half. And just as the second half got underway, it appeared that big McDevitt plays would continue to be their Achilles’ heel. On their first play from scrimmage in the second half, Qualik Davis raced 67 yards like a bolt of lightning to the house to put McDevitt up by the now commanding 26-3 score with 10:11 still left in the third quarter.
Needing to score to stay within shouting distance, L-S was able to do just that. After a crucial 4th & 7 conversion from the McDevitt 40 yard line from Shelley to Cam Niemeyer, the Pioneers were knocking on the door at the Crusader 26 yard line. Shelley kept in the air after the conversion as a strike across the middle to Connor Blantz moved the Pioneers down to the McDevitt 14 yard line. The L-S touchdown drive was ultimately capped off by Joey Underwood’s 8 yard dash to get inside the pylon as the Pioneers had closed the gap to 26-10 with 6:34 left in the third.
The mere thought of Bishop McDevitt operating on a short field can be a nightmare ask for opposing defenses. Sure enough, that was exactly the task for L-S their next trip out defensively as the Crusaders fielded the ensuing kickoff at their own 44 yard line. And after a 20 yard scramble by Chase Diehl, McDevitt was poised to strike once again. After the Diehl scamper, QualikDavis juked and hurdled his way all the way down to the 1 yard line as the senior running back was able to finish it off from there as the McDevitt answer made it a 33-10 ballgame with 4:11 left in the third.
For all the proficiency that the Bishop McDevitt offense displayed through the first three quarters, the McDevitt defense was eager to get in on the action once the final quarter got underway. They were able to do so as a 68 yard pick 6 from sophomore defensive back Julian Jordan put McDevitt up 40-10 with 8:50 left to play in the ballgame.
Although the hill was too steep to climb given the time and score, L-S continued to display their resiliency, fighting until the end, as a 17 yard touchdown flip from Todd Shelley to Kris Pirozzi made it a 40-17 ballgame with 6:26 left to go.
Once again, the Bishop McDevitt defense still had time to make one last impression in this one. After holding down a potent L-S defense to about half their season average in terms of points, James Lawson finished off the McDevitt defensive performancewith an interception, fittingly putting the exclamation mark on their superb night at the office. And the head man signed off on his approval. “We beat a good football team tonight,” Bishop McDevitt head coach Jeff Weachter said postgame. “That offense is tough to stop and I thought we did a real good job defensively.”
Although time was winding down and the final decision was all but decided, McDevitt still had plans of last trip into the endzone. And the Crusaders were able to do just that as a steady diet of CJ Reyes-Diggs wrapped up the night as the junior running back finished off a drive that was all his own with a 5 yard walk-in touchdown to send Bishop McDevitt back to Hershey with a 47-17 triumph over L-S.
NEXT UP: With their win over L-S on Friday night, Bishop McDevitt is going back to Hershey for an appearance in the district finals after a one year absence. The Crusaders will lock horns with Berks Catholic, a program eerily similar in terms of PIAA District 3 championship pedigree. This year will mark the Saints’ fifth consecutive trip to Hersheypark Stadium for a district final. In those four previous games, Berks Catholic has walked away with the gold trophy three times, cementing themselves as District 3 powerhouse in their own right. Without question, Berks Catholic and Bishop McDevitt may just be the most intriguing game over District 3 finals weekend. “We’re going to enjoy it,” Coach Weachter said after Friday’s night victory. “We’re happy to get back to Hershey. I’m sure when we trade films either tonight or tomorrow we’ll find out a lot about them.”
For L-S, another playoff season ends just shy of Hersheypark as this now marks the second consecutive year that the Pioneers were forced to exit after the semifinal round. Although the results are no doubt disappointing, the two setbacks have come against a who’s who of the District 3 4A ranks in Berks Catholic and Bishop McDevitt respectively. Although the Pioneers will get stung by some key losses to graduation next year, the Lampeter-Strasburg football program is one that has long since been established having won games in the past that will continue to do so in the future. After two consecutive seasons that have ended after semifinal weekend, you can be sure that Pioneers will have plenty of offseason motivation. A scary thought for the even biggest of beasts in Lancaster Lebanon League Section 2.
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