Cocalico Surges Past Cedar Crest As Eagles Set Their Sights On Manheim Central In Semifinal Round
35 days. That’s how long it had been since the Cocalico Eagles and Cedar Crest Falcons last saw each other on the football field. And if you were to ask Cedar Crest, those 35 days probably felt more like 35 years. Why? Well, let’s just say the first matchup between these two birds of prey certainly did not go the way of the Falcons.
Back on that early October evening, Cocalico was able to play the role of an unwelcomed house guest at Earl Boltz Stadium as the Eagles were able to knock Cedar Crest from the ranks of the unbeaten in dominating fashion. In that game five weeks ago, Cocalico struck early and often as the Eagles racked up nearly 500 yards on the ground, 29 first downs, and went 2-2 through the air just for good measure en route to an emphatic 55-6 triumph.
Despite the humbling loss to Cocalico that evening, Cedar Crest was able to right the ship and bounce back in the face of adversity. A theme that would end up encapsulating the entire 2017 Cedar Crest season. After such a crushing defeat that could have easily derailed their stellar 5-0 start, Cedar Crest was able to right the ship against another run-heavy team in Solanco the following week as the Falcons walked away with a 42-21 victory. After their feel-good victory over the Golden Mules from the southern end of Lancaster County, more adversity struck when the Falcons were dealt another tough defeat, this one at the hands of Manheim Central as the Barons rolled to a 42-6 victory. Once again however, Cedar Crest was able to get back up off the mat and dust themselves off as the Falcons put the Manheim Central loss behind them as Coach Rob Wildasin’s Falcons were able to ride into the postseason on a two game winning streak, securing the #6 seed in District 3 5A playoffs.
Conversely, “bouncing back” was not necessarily a phrase that would be used to describe Cocalico’s regular season. Despite a setback to archrival Manheim Central in the opening stages of Lancaster Lebanon League Section 2 play, the Eagles had soared through the rest of their regular season slate en route to an impressive 9-1 record. Offensively the Eagles were a juggernautthrough the first ten weeks of the season. Cocalico was able to score over 50 points in eight of their ten regular season games,including a high-water mark of 84, for an overall eye-popping average of 50 points per game all while remaining stout defensively as the Eagles only yielded a shade over 10 points per game. Needless to say, Cocalico had rightfully earned the #3 seed bestowed upon amongst an absolutely gnarly District 3 5A field.
Regular season success aside, rematches in postseason play can be a tricky task. And it just so happened that a rematch was in store when the Eagles and Falcons locked talons on a bitterly cold Friday night in Denver with Cedar Crest looking to avenge the 49 point defeat that Cocalico had administered just 35 short days ago. Unfortunately for Cedar Crest, the number 35 was once again familiar. This time however, it would be the difference on the scoreboard between the two teams at the end of 48 minutes.
Cocalico got the ball first on the chilly evening and knew exactly what to do with it. Using their bread and butter gameplan of ground and pound football, the Eagles steadily moved their way down the field chewing up a big chunk of the first quarter clock along the way. Despite their success that was eventually paid off in a touchdown, Cocalico still had to answer the call when the Cedar Crest defense presented the Eagles with a series of third and fourth downs in the opening march, all of which were successful.
The fourth down conversion after a 3rd & 3 attempt that was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by the tandem of Zak Kinard and Adam Loehr. On the aforementioned fourth down attempt, Cocalico sophomore quarterback Noah Palm called his own number getting just enough to move the sticks to give Cocalico a fresh set of downs at the Falcon 29 yard line. From there, a 16 yard connection through the air from Palm to Adin Frey put the Eagles down at the Falcon 21 yard line. Shortly thereafter, Cocalico’s senior battering-ram fullback Brandon Brubaker put the punctuation mark on the impressive Eagle start with a 1 yard jaunt across the goal line to put the Eagles up 7-0 after a drive that took up 8:09 of the opening quarter. “We had a nice drive,” Cocalico head coach Dave Gingrich said simply when describing his team’s initial advance. “It was a great drive into the wind and we made a lot of good plays. That was a good way to start the game.”
Eager to retaliate back with an answer of their own, a Cedar Crest rebuttal seemed to be in the cards given the first handful of Falcon plays. And after a few impressive runs down the field by Kendell Shand, Logan Horn, and AJ Apple, the Falcons found themselves knocking on the door at the Cocalico 26 yard line. Despite their initial surge, the drive was met with resistance when the Eagle defense rose up on 3rd & 2 from the 27 yard line when senior defensive lineman Tyler Hertzog got through the line and tackle the Falcon ball carrier short of the line to gain forcing a 4th & 1 attempt.
Unlike their counterparts, Cedar Crest would not be as fortunate in converting their opening fourth down of the ballgame. On a night that felt like it was being played somewhere just north of the Artic Circle, ball security can take on a whole different dimension. Never was that on display more than Cedar Crest’s 4th & 1 attempt as a Falcon fumble bounded it’s way up into the arms of Brandon Brubaker who raced 66 yards to the house for the scoop and score to put Cocalico up 14-0, or so it appeared. Unfortunately for Brubaker and his Eagle teammates, the TD was taken off the board with a block in the back penalty as Cocaico was forced to set up shop just shy of midfield. Although the scoreboard no longer read 14-0, the clock operator did not have to wait long to reinsert that same score as Noah Palm raced 58 yards along the Falcon sideline on the option keeper to give the Eagles the two touchdown margin now confirmed at 14-0 with just 9 seconds left to go in the opening quarter.
Nearly right from the outset of Cedar Crest’s ensuing possession, the Falcons turned it over when senior defensive back Conlan Kerschner came away with the interception for Cocalico, but the Falcons would experience an even greater loss than just possession of the football on the play. Unfortunately for Cedar Crest, they would have to play the rest of the game without their battle-tested signal-caller Logan Horn who would not appear the remainder of the ballgame after getting dinged up on the interception play.
Although the Cocalico drive following the interception would eventually stall out following a 3rd & 10 pass that sailed incomplete, the Eagles didn’t have to wait long to get their hands back on it. This time with even better field position.
Once again, the cold air coated the pigskin with a sheen that makes it’s especially hard to handle in adverse conditions as Cedar Crest found out once again following the Cocalico punt. This time it was senior defense back Devon Fichthorn pouncing on the loose pill to set Cocalico up at the Cedar Crest 14 yard line. From there, Cocalico called on Brandon Brubaker to carry the mail once again which he did with his second 1 yard TD plunge of the game to put Cocalico up 21-0 with 9:37 left in the opening half.
Although Tanner Miller was probably not expecting to get the lion’s share of the work on Friday evening, he certainly seemed well-prepared for the task at hand as the senior quarterback looked sharp all night given the circumstances. Never was that on display more than the ensuing Cedar Crest which Miller engineered down the field that ended in a 34 yard touchdown pass from Miller to Cole Laney who showed off his basketball prowess with an excellent blockout as the 6’6 senior wideout came down with the jump ball to get Cedar Crest on the board at 21-7 with 6:10 to go in the half.
Undaunted, Cocalico went back to work using their powerful rushing attack to author a response. In what had quickly become the theme of Friday night, a 1 yard Brandon Brubaker march across the goal line put the Eagles back in front by three touchdowns by the 28-7 score which capped off the 64 yard, 2:50 drive.
Following a 3rd & 11 attempt from Cedar Crest that sailed incomplete on the ensuing Falcon drive, special teams weapon Owen Zimmerman trotted back to receive the punt with one minute left in the opening half, chomping at the bit to make his mark on the game. He was able to do so as Zimmerman bobbed and weaved his way through the Falcon coverage unit for the 47 yard punt return but alas, laundry left on the deck brought Zimmerman’s run all way back as another penalty against the Eagles wiped out a second sudden change score. Once again however, Cocalico was able to point the ship back in the right direction despite the ill-timed penalty as a simple 28 yard crossing route from the sophomore duo of Noah Palm to Ronald Zahm ended in a touchdown as the Cocalico put the bow on another impressive opening half against Cedar Crest, leading 35-7 at the intermission.
Much like he was at the close of the first half, Owen Zimmerman found himself around the action at the start of the second half as well. Cedar Crest would get the ball to start the second half, but the opening Falcon march was put to a grinding halt by Zimmerman as the senior defensive back picked off the errant pass to set up his Eagle teammates with possession at their own 48 yard line.
After a nice keeper by Noah Palm on the ground which got the Eagles down to the Falcon 33 yard line, Zimmerman got his turn in the running game as his 12 yard jaunt from there put Cocalico on the verge of the Cedar Crest redzone with the ball now resting at the 21 yard line.
If you’re guessing how this Cocalico drive would end, you’d most likely be right. Yet another 1 yard Brandon Brubaker touchdown put the final score on the board as Cocalico was able to ride the mercy rule the rest of the way to move on in District 3 5A playoffs for a much anticipated rematch with Manheim Central with a trip to Hersheypark Stadium and the District 3 5A title game awaiting the winner.
NEXT UP: With their win on Friday night, Cocalico moves on to face a familiar foe in Manheim Central next week at legendary Elden Rettew Stadium in Manheim. How familiar are they? Besides being Section 2 rivals that have competed tooth and nail against each other the last handful of years within Lancaster Lebanon League Section 2, this will be the fourth matchup of the Barons and Eagles the last two years with two regular season meetings, and now two dates in the postseason as well. As far as the recent history is concerned, Manheim has won 2 of the previous 3 meetings, including a 50-13 triumph in Manheim last year in the semifinal round as well. Although Manheim Central has an undeniable mystique in playoff football, especially at home as evidenced by their 55-0 victory over Waynesboro on Friday night, Cocalico will certainly not be intimidated. “We welcome the opportunity,” Coach Gingrich said after Cocalico’s opening round win. “They came over here and took it to us last time so we’ll find out if we’ve made any kind of improvements. They’re a great team and I would expect that to be a great game Friday night.”
With the defeat on Friday night, Cedar Crest officially closes the book on their 2017 season. Despite the three setbacks that the Falcons had this year, two of which came at the hands of Cocalico, brighter days certainly appear to be on the horizon for fall Friday nights in Cornwall with this year serving as a key building block. Cedar Crest will likely benefit from their move back to the more familiar confines of Lancaster Lebanon League Section 1 play next season considering LL Section 2 is arguably one the best divisions in Pennsylvania high school football top to bottom. And although the Falcons will have to replace some key cogs come graduation in June, pieces such as running back Neisso Dorvil, quarterback Logan Horn, and wide receiver Brody Dunlop are certainly good places to start when Cedar Crest gets back on the field in August.
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