Ephrata Makes A Statement, Creates Shockwaves As Mounts Trounce Annville-Cleona To Remain Atop Section 3 Standings
They often say that the world of high school sports is a cyclical one. In other words, most every program is never truly immune to the peaks and valleys that many often experience and ultimately go through as various waves of students work their way through the hallways and onto the athletic fields over the span of time. So, in its purest essence, it certainly seems fair to say that the only constant in high school sports is change.
As one can imagine, and perhaps even experienced in their own playing days themselves, not every group is carved out from the exact same cookie-cutter mold. Quite often, the results yielded can vary just as wildly as the changes in the seasons. In that regard, don’t be so surprised if you find yourself bumping into Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich and Ephrata head coach Kris Miller on the street or in the supermarket around town these days and find them singing a few lines from “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang.
Coming into the season, the 2019 campaign appeared to be one destined for a crescendo-like effect for Annville-Cleona. Entering the year having won none fewer than six games a season in their scholastic football careers, this veteran-laden group of proven and seasoned Dutchmen appeared to have all the trimmings of a team ripe for taking the section crown back from Lancaster-Lebanon Section 3 powerhouse, Lancaster Catholic, especially considering the fact that the Dutchmen finished the 2018 race hot on the Crusaders’ heels inside the Section 3 standings in posting a 7-2 record in Section 3 with an embarrassment of riches set to reenter the fold once again for A-C.
On the other side, a true renaissance is currently underway for the Ephrata Mounts football program from top to bottom. For years, five to be exact, the Mounts experienced nothing but pure, unbridled frustration given the five straight 0-10 seasons which Ephrata was forced to trudge through from 2013-2017.
But that all changed on Saturday September 1st, 2018.
On that day, the football gods finally shined brightly upon the Mounts as everything appeared to go Ephrata’s way in a 61-14 shellacking of Northern Lebanon, a game which was moved away from Northern Lebanon’s campus and down to Ephrata given the torrential downpours experienced the night before, for a true hometown victory which finally put the much-needed punctuation mark on the Mounts’ ongoing 52-game losing streak at the time.
However, that wouldn’t be the last the world would hear from the Mounts.
Following their historic win over Northern Lebanon, the Mounts fought tooth and nail just six days later, ironically enough against Annville-Cleona as fate would have it, before the Dutchmen ultimately prevailed courtesy of a last-second Hail Mary to top Ephrata 41-35. But from the Annville-Cleona loss on, Ephrata went on to finish the year by winning four of their last seven, even flirting with the District 3 playoff bubble down the final furlong, a sight nonetheless remarkable given the Mounts’ most recently collected resumes. And with a deep talent pool from which to play with that has just now started to emerge following a successful tenure down in the youth ranks, it appears that the Mounts have finally arrived in terms of not only competing, but now also truly battling for section supremacy.
So, with all that being said, it should have come as no surprise to no one that Friday night’s tussle at War Memorial Field between Annville-Cleona and the homestanding Mounts provided the winner with an opportunity to sit at the top of the Section 3 standings at 2-0 alongside the aforementioned Lancaster Catholic Crusaders come night’s end, in a matchup between two teams ready to make a big leap at challenging the throne.
In a game that was dripping with so much intrigue coming into the evening, the opportunity for fireworks to be dialed up between the two sides appeared to be rather favorable. Well, it wouldn’t take very long for Annville-Cleona in offering up a firm stamp in order to validate that very notion.
After starting off at the Ephrata 49-yard line on their opening possession of the evening following a targeting call whistled against the Mounts on the game’s opening kickoff, Annville-Cleona began the evening by turning to their bread and butter of running the football. And after just two plays of keeping it on the ground, the Dutchmen already found themselves knocking on the door at the Ephrata 11-yard after a long gainer on the quarterback keeper from A-C senior triggerman, Junior Bours. From there, the Dutchmen needed just two more plays to finally cross the chalk line as a 16-yard Trevor Porche touchdown burst up the gut gave the visitors from Annville the early 7-0 advantage with just 56 seconds having ticked off the first quarter clock.
From then on, volleys were seemingly traded back and forth at will for the rest of the evening.
After setting up shop at their own 20-yard line on their opening series of the night, Ephrata was able to move the ball down the field with a methodical gameplan of dinking and dunking their way past the A-C defense before the Mounts were faced with a 3rd& 18 attempt on their own side of the field following a nice tackle for loss authored by A-C’s Evan Heilman. Yet even when finding themselves placed well behind the sticks, the next play from scrimmage provided a glimpse into the events yet to unfold as Ephrata senior quarterback Caden Keefer executed the perfect play call of running a screen against the swarming Dutchmen defenders as Keefer was able to connect with junior wideout Brock Boyer for the 61-yard pitch and catch combination for the Ephrata touchdown, allowing the Mounts to tie things up at 7-7 with 7:02 left to play in the opening stanza.
Yet even for as well as their offense had been playing up until that point in the ball, the Ephrata defense was equally as stingy in the early going on Friday night.
After forcing Annville-Cleona into a three & out following a successful goal line stand administered by the A-C defense on Ephrata’s second series of the ballgame, the Dutchmen lined up to punt it away to the already scorching-hot Ephrata offense. That was of course until Sammy Knowles got into the fray as the 5’8 senior defensive back raced in from his spot on the Mounts’ coverage unit to block the would-be Annville-Cleona punt, having the ball bounce harmlessly out of the back of the endzone for the impromptu safety, giving the Mounts their first lead of the contest at 9-7 with just 54 seconds left to tick off the first quarter clock.
Remember that white-hot Ephrata offense? Yeah, not much would slow it down on Friday night. Not even a brief break in between quarters.
Once the second period got underway, Caden Keefer and the Ephrata offense continued to remain on the prowl, seemingly picking up large chunks of yardage as they pleased against the A-C defense. But for as conventional and ho-hum as things appeared to be for the Mounts’ offense, Ephrata’s offensive staff reached deep into their bag of tricks and came up with a hook & ladder play shortly thereafter on the Mounts’ next drive as Keefer found a waiting Sammy Knowles, who then pitched it to a streaking Tyler Nelson, as the junior offensive lineman started a massive party in the endzone as the 25-yard Keefer to Knowles to Nelson touchdown gave Ephrata the 16-7 cushion with 9:09 still left to play in the first half.
At this stage of the game, it had appeared that nothing much could slow down the Ephrata offense. That is of course except for the Mounts themselves.
Following a three & out authored by their defense on the ensuing Annville-Cleona offensive series, the Mounts found themselves setting up shop near the midfield stripe once again with the opportunity to land yet another upper-cut. However, just when everything had to be going rather swimmingly for the Mounts, trouble was afoot as an ill-timed Ephrata fumble bounded up in the arms of Annville-Cleona’s Tyler Long, as the Dutchmen’s senior defensive back raced 46 yards back to the Ephrata 5-yard line, giving A-C the golden opportunity to punch right back.
However, in football, much like in life, the game giveth and the game taketh away.
Unable to solve the riddle of the Ephrata defense through the first two plays of the series, Annville-Cleona found themselves staring at a third and goal at the Mounts’ 7-yard line. Yet even when it had seemed as if a Dutchmen touchdown was surley in the cards, Ephrata’s Castor Shuman was there to say, “No sir,” as the Mounts’ 5’10 junior defensive back snagged the A-C fade in the corner of the endzone while isolated on his own island in one-on-one coverage, emphatically silencing the A-C charge right at the doorstep.
So, with an added boost of momentum thanks in large part to the work of their defense, the Mounts’ offense went right back to work at their own 20-yard line with six minutes and change left to go in the opening half. And after a beautiful swing pass tossed from Caden Keefer to a hard-charging Miracle Wratto who had emerged out of the Ephrata backfield, the Mounts suddenly found themselves knocking on A-C’s door with the ball now resting at the Dutchmen’s 33-yard line. Ironically, not even a pair of third down attempts could mow down the Mounts on this series as a Keefer dump-down pass to senior wideout Tucker Parmer kept the drive alive for the Mounts before Keefer called his own number on 3rd& 8 before getting tripped up at the A-C 5-yard line following the 13-yard scamper. From there, Richard Greer had the honors as the powerfully-built 5’11 168lb sophomore running back bulldozed his way across the goal line for the 5-yard touchdown run, giving Ephrata the 23-7 advantage with 2:08 left to play in the half.
Needless to say, the time was now if Annville-Cleona had any remaining aspirations of reeling Ephrata back into their grasp as the game neared its intermission. Thankfully for the visitors from Lebanon County, they were able to do precisely that.
After being thrown into a 16-point hole, the Dutchmen were able to claw back out in seemingly no time whatsoever as an ultra-quick Junior Bours to Caden Horning connection got the ensuing Annville-Cleona drive kick-started after just one play. From there, Bours went right back to the friendly skies as he found Tyler Long racing down the Dutchmen sideline for 47-yard touchdown bomb just before the first half horn, allowing Annville-Cleona to whittle the Ephrata lead back down to a much more manageable nine-point deficit at 23-14 heading into the half.
That is of course what everyone in attendance likely thought as well.
Even despite the fact that the Bours to Long touchdown strike took place with only 1:19 set to melt off the first half clock, that proved to be more than enough time for the Ephrata offense to strike. At least on Friday night it was.
After taking over at their own 28-yard following the ensuing kickoff, Ephrata quarterback Caden Keefer continued his stellar first half of play by going back up top to Sammy Knowles as the Mounts’ dynamic senior duo accounted for a 22-yard chunk play right out of the chute as the Mounts now suddenly found themselves residing on the midfield stripe. From there, Knowles continued to work his way open against the A-C defense as the 5’8 senior wideout was found strolling down the Annville-Cleona sideline before hauling in the 39-yard touchdown lob thrown by Keefer as the Mounts proceeded to steal momentum right back from their guests with Ephrata darting into the halftime dressing room with firm ownership of the 30-14 advantage.
Unfortunately for the Dutchmen, there didn’t appear to be much impeding the progress of the Ephrata offensive steamroller on this night. Not even a halftime respite.
Coming out the break, the Mounts authored an absolutely picture-perfect drive, chewing up 80 yards of offense while spitting out nearly half of the third quarter clock once all was said and done, as a 29-yard touchdown reception from Keefer to Knowles put Ephrata in front, 37-14 with 7:35 showing on the third quarter clock.
But just as they had during a critical juncture back in the first half, Annville-Cleona was able to put together an answer just when they needed it most.
After a 33-yard pitch and catch from A-C senior quarterback Junior Bours to Evan Heilman got the ensuing Dutchmen drive underway, another sweet toss from Bours, this one to fellow senior Romeo Varela, put the Dutchmen back on the Mounts’ doorstep with the ball now resting at the 5-yard line. Fittingly, for as much as his handiwork had allowed Annville-Cleona to effectively march that far down the field up until that point, Junior Bours would then have the honors of finishing things off as his 1-yard touchdown via the quarterback sneak closed the Ephrata lead down to a 37-20 count following the unsuccessful two-point conversion with 5:37 left in the third.
Just then, it was time for a miracle. Both literally and figuratively.
After taking over at their own 27-yard line following the Bours touchdown, Ephrata’s dazzling junior running back, named none other than Miracle Wratto, proceeded to take off around the left side of the line and found nothing but green, artificial turf in his unimpeded pathway as the 73-yard Wratto touchdown jaunt gave Ephrata the immediate rebuttal after just one play from scrimmage, putting the Mounts up 44-20 just 34 seconds later.
Yet even with time quickly winding down on third quarter proceedings, Ephrata felt as if they still had more work left to do.
After a scintillating three and out thanks to the efforts of their defensive mates, the Ephrata offense trotted back out onto the field as the Mounts found themselves 69 yards away from paydirt. They would.
After another Keefer strike through the air, this one to 5’10 freshman running back Andre Weidman, the Mounts had quickly and effectively marched their way down to the A-C 38-yard line. And after a Keefer to Richard Greer pass then ushered the Mounts down to the Dutchmen 15-yard line, Miracle Wratto was able to finish things off once again for the Ephrata offense as Wratto’s 9-yard touchdown run, his second in as many possessions, propelled Ephrata out to the gargantuan 51-20 lead before the final 15 seconds eventually bled off the third quarter clock.
However, even with the outcome of the game now largely decided, Ephrata continued to press their foot firmly down to the floorboard as the game moved into the final 12 minutes.
On the very first play of the final quarter no less, the stage continued to belong to the Mounts as junior defensive back Brock Boyer was able to read his keys before rising up and snaring the errant A-C pass, giving the ball back to the Mounts, albeit deep in their own territory at the 25-yard line.
After yet another masterful series engineered by Caden Keefer and the Ephrata offense, Miracle Wratto was able to claim his third consecutive touchdown of the ballgame, this one of the 16-yard variety, as the Ephrata advantage now swelled to 58-20 with 5:39 left to play in the contest.
And although Annville-Cleona would eventually close out the scoring thanks to a marvelous 19-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Chase Maguire on the final play from scrimmage, the damage inflicted by the Mounts had already proved too large to overcome as the Mounts celebrated by proudly singing the alma mater with one another in front of a still-packed house at War Memorial Field as the final score posted up on the scoreboard continued to blaze brightly into the night sky, 58-26.
“After last year the way that game ended (against Annville-Cleona), to have a chance to win the football game, not getting it done and letting them score on a Hail Mary, we were determined all week to not let it get to that point,” an understandably elated Ephrata head coach Kris Miller said afterwards on Friday night. “We knew that if we could get up by two scores that we felt like we could hold on and just hold that momentum.”
“When you play a team like that and the speed at which they play, it takes a series to get up to speed,” said Miller of his team’s response following the early jab thrown by Annville-Cleona in the opening minutes. “But our kids bounced back, scored a touchdown, and then we had momentum the whole time it felt like. It was nice to see the kids have that enthusiasm and stay with it and understand the situation.”
In a way, the early going on Friday night could have easily served as a microcosm when describing the Mounts’ season up until this point. After all, a lot of offseason chatter around the L-L League centered around the Ephrata program and their impending rise this season which could have easily been derailed and scrubbed away following a 61-0 setback at the hands of archrival Warwick on the opening night of the season. But not this group. They’re different. In a good way.
“They understood that it was just one of ten,” Miller said of the mindset regarding his ballclub following the Warwick game. “Warwick is a really good football team. They wore us out. Afterwards, we said, ‘We have to get better and not let that happen.’ We also had to understand that it’s just one of ten,” added Miller. “There was stuff that we did well that we built on and we were able to fine-tune some of the things that we didn’t do so well. Now we have kids playing with confidence.”
“This team has done an unbelievable job of buying in to what we’re doing. They could have very easily in years 1 and 2 just packed it in and say, ‘Forget this.’ Everything we’ve thrown at them this year with the team-building stuff, doing a book study, all of those things, they’ve bought in to it and we’re starting to develop some mental toughness.”
NEXT UP: Following their monstrous win on Friday night against Annville-Cleona, the Ephrata Mounts now find themselves entering into uncharted waters of sorts next Friday night when the Purple and Yellow load up the buses and head into Lancaster city next week for a Titantic-sized matchup against Lancaster Catholic on the road for another intense battle inside the L-L Section 3 race. But if you think the Mounts will spend any great length of time reading their press clippings garnered from this one, guess again.
“That’s what I told the kids,” Miller said of the impending matchup against the Crusaders. “I told them that we’re going to enjoy this tonight. We’ll enjoy it when we come in tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock to run. Then, at 11 o’clock when we leave here for the weekend, it’s on to Lancaster Catholic.”
For Annville-Cleona, the Dutchmen must now pick up the pieces and regroup heading into the next few weeks as A-C preps to take on fellow Lebanon County rival Northern Lebanon next Friday night before embarking on a critical two-week stretch against Columbia and Lancaster Catholic respectively in two back-to-back ballgames that will greatly determine as to how exactly Annville-Cleona will factor into the Section 3 championship race from here on out.
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