Dream Comes True For Manheim Township As Blue Streaks Sink Cumberland Valley For First Ever District Title
The saying goes that opposite attract. Well, in the case of the 2017 District 3 6A championship game, that phrase rang true in spades. Just in terms of history, the Manheim Township Blue Streaks and Cumberland Valley Eagles could not be placed at further ends of the spectrum if they tried. For Township, Saturday night’s tussle at Hersheypark Stadium marked the first title bout in program history, while the District 3 finals feels like a game that can always be penciled into Cumberland Valley’s preseason schedule every year as the Eagles were set to do battle in their 21st championship game. A simply staggering number that serves as a true testament to the dominating brand of football the Eagle program has played on the West Shore for decades.
But luckily for Manheim Township, the old records and now discolored newspaper clippings had nothing to do with this game and this season for the Streaks. Always a perennial program that finds itself at or near the top of the Lancaster Lebanon Section 1 standings year in and year out for decades in their own right, the Blue Streaks had always struggled to crack that ceiling and truly break through on the playoff stage. Until this year.
Overused cliché terms like “destiny” to be put to the side, this group of Blue Streaks has been more deserving than those seven letters put together to describe them. Make no mistake about it, Manheim Township has gone out and earned everything they have gotten this season. Perhaps never was that more the case than in their opening victory of the season when the Streaks were able to defeat Central Dauphin, a program they had never beaten, as the Blue Streaks went on to claim victory with the 17-14 takedown of the Rams.
Having already crossed off one team that gotten the better of them in years previous, the Streaks went about their business in LL Section 1 flying to an undefeated section championship season, including 56-0 and 45-7 drubbings over their two biggest county rivals in Hempfield and Warwick during that stretch. Fittingly, the road victory over Warwick helped set the stage for one of the most highly anticipated games of the entire season in District 3, against a team that had also had Township’s number over the last several seasons, the Wilson Bulldogs.
Township left little doubt that night in Neffsville as the Blue Streaks were able to turn the clock back to 2007, handing the Bulldogs their first Section 1 loss in a decade by virtue of the 38-14 victory. After resounding wins over Lebanon and Penn Manor to finish out the regular season, the Streak were faced with the task of mounting up and facing both Central Dauphin and Wilson yet again in the postseason, with payback undoubtedly on the minds of both the Rams and Bulldogs. And just as they had done all season long, the Streaks proved that 2017 has been no fluke as the Streaks prevailed over both Central Dauphin and Wilson once more, setting up Saturday’s title game against arguably the bluest of blue-bloods in the Cumberland Valley Eagles.
When discussing the 2017 season for the Cumberland Valley Eagles, perhaps it is best to go back to 2016 and to Hersheypark Stadium. Last season, the Eagles found themselves on the doorstep of clinching their 14th District 3 title but not before a 28-0 second half performance from Wilson that would dash their dreams of playing beyond Thanksgiving Weekend.
With that disappointing second half likely serving as the fuel behind this year’s offseason training regimen, the 2017 Eagles have returned to form looking like the famed CV teams of yesteryear. The Eagles were able to start the year off with a sizzling 4-0 mark out of the chute before a 20-14 setback at the hands of longtime rival Central Dauphin. After the CD loss, Cumberland Valley went on to post another impressive 4-0 stretch that included victories over State College and CD East, before the Eagles were tripped up by the dominating force known as the Harrisburg Cougars in the regular season finale. After outscoring playoff opponents CD East and Hempfield by a combined tally of 90-16 to begin the postseason, Cumberland Valley likely felt like right at home playing in the familiar confines of Hersheypark Stadium on championship Saturday night, seeking redemption for last year’s title game hiccup.
It became rather evident once the game got underway that both defenses came to play and both Manheim Township and Cumberland Valley had their opening drives end in 3 & outs before CV would take over for their second series at their own 27. Although starting off by going three plays and out is never what any teams wants, CV’s next possession would end up being even less ideal when Township’s James Starer brought the heat from his defensive line position, forcing the fumble which was recovered by Township, setting the Streaks up in magnificent position for an early body blow.
After a successful 4 & 1 conversion by Township quarterback Luke Emge, Emge then showed off his stellar touch throwing the football as he lobbed a pass towards the back of the endzone where Xavier Roman was able to come down with it thanks to a magnificent diving catch to put the Blue Streaks in front first 7-0 with 4:43 left to play in the first quarter. An early score which served notice that Township was not intimidated by their first time in front of the big stage and bright lights.
Once the second quarter got underway, Cumberland Valley found themselves methodically working the ball down the field, hoping to use their always successful ground and pound method as the vehicle to help knot things up. Faced with a 4th & 3 from the Township 18 yard line, the Eagles turned to their ultra-reliable back in Penn State commit Charlie Katshir to help carry the load which he was able to do as Katshir bounced outside for the 7 yard pickup to get CV down to the Township 11. That would be all the further the Eagles would get on this drive.
On 3rd & 10 from the 11, CV’s Jared Plessinger fired a pass towards the goal line, but Township’s Riley Morgan was there with the blanket coverage, knocking the ball away forcing Cumberland Valley to bring out the field goal unit. And like their third down attempt just prior, this play too would not be to Cumberland Valley’s liking as Township was able to block the field goal with Grayson Sallade picking the loose ball up off the carpet as the sensational Blue Streak senior was chased down just past midfield to flip the field position drastically in MT’s favor.
Just like on their first scoring drive of the contest, Manheim Township would see the Dial A Down marker display the number 4 which meant that the Streaks would have to conjure up some more magic to keep the drive alive with no margin for error. And just like on their initial scoring series, this Luke Emge to Grayson Sallade 9 yard pass and catch combination was good enough for a fresh set of Blue Streak downs with the ball now resting at the Eagle 14 yard line.
From there, Township was able to capitalize as Emge’s second TD toss of the night, this one to junior wideout Hilton Ridley, put the Streaks up by two scores as Ridley was able to hang on and withstand a hard hit and claim the 20 yard touchdown reception as his reward as Township went in early command 14-0 with 4:05 left to go in the half.
Needing to answer now in a precarious position in terms of the scoreboard, Cumberland Valley called upon who else, Charlie Katshir, and the Eagle senior was more than willing to accept the charges to help bail them get them out of harm’s way. His first splash play of this drive was a long reception from quarterback Jared Plessinger as the Eagles now had an extra pep in their step knocking on the door at the Township 31 yard line. Seeing how successful that play was, CV went back up top to Katshir again who came down with a fantastic diving catch in the endzone for the 31 yard TD snag to cut Township’s lead in half at 14-7 with 2:10 left in the half.
Township would try to add some more points with time dwindling down, but a Jake Palmer interception put a stop to that for Cumberland Valley, and after a last second heave toward the endzone fell incomplete, the Blue Streaks went into the intermission leading 14-7.
Manheim Township would get the ball coming out of the break and immediately went on a long, time-consuming drive to start the second half of action. In fact, the Streaks would get all the way down to the Cumberland Valley 16 yard line, but were ultimately turned away with no points to show for it as the field goal attempt sailed wide of the uprights.
No matter. After the Township defense held the Eagles to a 3 & out on their ensuing possession, the Streaks went back to work at the Cumberland Valley 48 yard line looking to inflict more damage on the scoreboard.
Just like on their last series, the Streaks methodically sliced and diced their way down the field before a 3rd & 2 attempt from the Eagle 13 yard line. Once again, Township was up to the task as a Luke Emge inside slant to Hilton Ridley was good enough to move the sticks and have the Streaks on the verge of kicking the door down as the third down conversion put MT on the 4 yard line. From there however, their drive was met with resistance from the Cumberland Valley defense. A stellar play by CV’s Chris Arrington on a tackle for loss on 2nd & goal led to Zach Snow’s knockaway on 3rd & goal, sending the Township field goal team back onto the field.
This time, the boot through the pipes was successful as a Jack Rodenberger 27 yard field goal made it a 17-7 Manheim Township lead with 21 seconds left on the third quarter clock. And although time was short, Cumberland Valley still had enough time for some late third quarter magic.
After taking over at their own 34, a long pass to yep, Charlie Katshir, helped pave the way for Cumberland Valley to perhaps had an immediate answer once the final quarter began. And that just so happened to be the case as a 22 yard jump ball TD pass from Jared Plessinger to Cole McCoy trimmed the Township lead to 17-14 after the first play of the final quarter.
Just as they had all night, successful third and fourth down conversions would prove to be the secret sauce for Township on all their scoring drives. This one too was no different. Staring down the barrel of a 3rd & 3 from their own 46, a Luke Emge flip to Grayson Sallade out of the backfield was good enough for nearly 20 yards as the Streaks had moved across midfield to the CV 38. One down, one to go.
This time around the stakes were raised even higher on 4th & 2 with 7:30 to go but once again MT was able to answer the bell as a 20 yard pass from Emge to Hilton Ridley put the Streaks on the Cumberland Valley 10 yard line. From there, Grayson Sallade ran behind his offensive line and receivers blocking as Sallade did the rest, dashing through the hole for the 10 yard touchdown run to give the Township the enormous response which made it a 24-14 ballgame with just 6:50 left to go.
Undaunted, Cumberland Valley circled the wagons and went on the attack once more in order to preserve their season. Unfortunatley for the Eagles, this drive would come agonizingly close, but with no fruit to show for their labor as an interception by Rece Bender at the 1 yard line helped save the day, at least for the moment, for the Blue Streaks.
Although Manheim Township would get out from underneath the shadows of their own goalposts, the drive would eventually stall out as a punt back to Cumberland Valley meant that the Township defense would have to be on high alert the rest of the way if the Streaks were to make this a historic night.
Cumberland Valley would get the ball back at their own 46 and immediately went to work on their hurry-up. Although it may have seemed to be an unlikely sight, Cumberland Valley tossing the ball all over the yard, the Eagles worked it flawlessly.
On 3rd& 5 from midfield, as pass from Jared Plessinger to Cole McCoy got the Eagles over the midfield stripe and down to the Blue Streak 33 yard line, forcing Township to call time and regroup the masses. From there, Plessinger to Connor Strous for 9 yards, and a Plessinger to Stone Huffman hookup got Eagles down to the Blue Streak 20. Aided by a defensive pass interference call, the Eagles then saw the ball move to the MT 10 yard line, still needing a quick store and subsequent onside kick recovery if the building blocks for a memorable late game comeback were to take shape.
The first part of that equation would indeed come to life as a 3 yard TD run by Charlie Katshir out of the Wildcat made it a 24-21 ballgame with just 1:22 showing on the clock.
Although Cumberland Valley came away with the touchdown piece of the puzzle, the onside kick would not be as successful as the bounding ball found its way into the hands of Township quarterback Luke Emge, a late addition to the hands team. “We’ve been practicing pressure situations all year long,” Manheim Township Mark Evans explained. “We practice the hands team. We haven’t had to use it and Luke Emge was an add-on for Tommy Cesarone, one of our seniors who was really sick today. Luke just jumped in there. Sure enough they kicked it right to Luke and that’s why he’s a baseball player. He did it without a baseball glove.”
After their onside kick recovery, the outcome was all but decided. It was just then a matter of having the final seconds tick away. Once they did, the Manheim Township Blue Streaks had won their first ever District 3 title, fulfilling a dream that came to Coach Evans earlier in the season. “About nine weeks ago, maybe even longer than that, I said to the guys we’re going to play in Hersheypark Stadium against Cumberland Valley and we’re going to win 17-14 with a Jack Rodenberger field goal,” as Coach Evans recalled his vision. “Sure enough, dreams do come true. The score was a little off, but I’m not going to quit my day job,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m staying and coaching football for a while.” Just more good news for the long-term future of Blue Streak football to piggyback off an already memorable night that will be relived for years and years in the quiet village of Neffsville. “Phenomenal,” Coach Evans went on to add. “These guys are great. They make me so proud.”
NEXT UP: With their victory, Manhiem Township’s memorable postseason ride continues to live on as the Blue Streaks will head westward to tangle with one of the best teams in the entire country, the Pine Richland Rams next Saturday at 1pm at historic Mansion Park. It will be without question Township’s stiffest test to date, but Coach Evans and the Streaks are eager to go up against a program that won it’s season opening contest 41-0 before a nationally televised audience on ESPN. “Just get out to work on Monday,” Coach Evans said simply after the victory about the week ahead. “They knew we’d be playing for Monday. Now we’ll go out to Altoona at Mansion Park at 1 o’clock on Saturday and let’s go take our shot.”
For Cumberland Valley, another strong season just ends shy of District 3 title hardware as the Eagles have now suffered back to back heartbreaking defeats the last two years in the championship game to Wilson and Manhiem Township respectively. And although the Eagles will have to replace a bevy of talent off this year’s roster, the DNA within the Cumberland Valley is far too strong for any sort of a slippage to even be imagined. Having made it through the wars of Mid-Penn Commonwealth football again this season and coming out the other side as the #1 seed in 6A, there’s no reason not to think that the Cumberland Valley Eagles will hit the offseason hard yet again in hopes to make it back to Hershey yet again next year on Thanksgiving weekend. This time to add another gold trophy to an already sparkling case.
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