Golden Mules Regain Their Footing In Dominating Fashion By Dismantling McCaskey
Without question, each and every offseason brings with it some interesting themes and storylines to follow that often tantalize the palate. Well, as it relates to the Lancaster-Lebanon league football community, this past offseason was perfectly defined by just one word—Change.
You see, when the Octorara School District officially applied for full membership status and was welcomed aboard with open arms back in the fall of 2016, it would not be an immediate entrance. Instead, the Braves from Atglen would be forced to fulfill the last few years of their deal with the Chest-Mont League before entering the L-L in the fall of 2018, having their football program land in Section 3 once there. And while the addition of Octorara was certainly a change that nearly everyone could rally around and get excited about, even some of the long-standing league members had movement on their mind.
Coincidently, the conclusion of the 2017 football season brought with it the end of another two-year cycle of contracts. And after taking a step back and evaluating their programs from a 40,000 foot view, Lebanon and Ephrata also decided to join the Section 3 fray by dropping in from Section 1 and Section 2 respectively. On the surface, that might not seem to present much of an issue. But oh, on the contrary my dear Watson.
With the addition of the Braves, Cedars, and now Mounts into the Section 3 picture, those who occupy the football powerchairs in the league office were faced with the dilemma of 10, yes 10 schools, now residing in the neighborhood known as Section 3. Their solution to help ease the schedule imbalance? Crossover games between Section 1 and Section 2.
If nothing else, it has quickly become apparent that there has been one clear winner that has emerged as a result of the league’s mandatory decision—-The fans.
Just try some of these on for size: Perennial state powers Wilson and Manheim Central going toe to toe, consistent league juggernauts Cocalico and Manheim Township squaring off in a battle between two undefeated squads, as well as a tasty game between Lampeter-Strasburg and Hempfield last week that helped adorn the L-L football slate the last three consecutive weeks. And even with all those intriguing games already in the books, there might not have been a more attractive game birthed from the crossover idea than the one that took place this Friday night in Quarryville between McCaskey and Solanco.
If ever there was a game that was pure and ripe with the overwhelming theme of opposites coming together, it was this battle between the Red Tornado and Golden Mules. Aside from being the two schools that are most associated with Lancaster city and the rural farmland of Lancaster County itself, the brand of football played between the two schools could not feature more contrasting styles.
For years, McCaskey had found success by employing an up-tempo, spread ‘em out style of ball to get their always-electrifying playmakers the ball in the space, which is a direct clash when you consider the tried and true ground and pound methodology consistently authored by Solanco.
Yet even for all their shared differences, both the Mules and Tornado came into the night with the same narrative.
Look around the L-L League and District 3 at large, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that came out of the gates firing on all cylinders better than Solanco this season as the Mules stormed out of the chute en route to a sizzling 4-0 start, scoring no fewer than 38 points in those four contests to begin the year. And then the last two weeks happened.
No doubt about it, the Golden Mules had to endure two of the most agonizing losses in back-to-back fashion the last two weeks after seeing a late game lead slip away against Conestoga Valley, only to follow that up by falling victim to E-Town after a last-second touchdown pass their last time out against the Bears.
“Adversity,” Solanco head coach Tony Cox said reiterating the theme he offered to his troops this past week. “I tell the guys all the time that football is life. There’s going to be challenges in life, just like in football. You’ve just got to keep pushing through, stay focused, keep doing what we’re doing at practice, and eventually things will start turning around for us.”
And as if losing two consecutive games in the final stages wasn’t already enough in the adversity department, there was another challenge afoot as it related to Friday night—-School not being in session due to the observance of Columbus Day. Best rest assured, Coach Cox and his staff were well prepared for that as well.
“I have a structure,” Cox said of the Golden Mules’ itineraryleading into Friday night. “We bring them in about four and a half hours before the game even starts. We go through our routine like we always do on Friday… Keep them moving and keep them focused, so it was no change in having school or not.”
Their opposition on this night certainly was no stranger to adversity themselves. Coming into the weekend with a 1-5 overall record, including dropping their last three in a row, the Red Tornado had the unenviable challenge of having to prepare for Solanco’s vaunted option-based scheme, on a short week no less, after coming up short against Penn Manor last Saturday night by virtue of a 28-14 decision. A victory which by the way gave the Comets their first win of the season.
So with both teams clearly eager to wipe away their recent frustration, both McCaskey and Solanco lined up for a unique 7:30 start with both sides looking to head down the final stretchof the regular season with an added boost of momentum.
However one thing would become perfectly clear right from the jump—This would be Solanco’s night.
The Golden Mules wasted little time in getting off to a fast start on Friday evening as evidenced by the outstanding opening kick return by Mikey Grech, which got the Mules out near the midfield stripe at their own 46-yard line. On their opening possession, Solanco leaned on the bruising running style of sophomore fullback Shaneef Carter who quickly became theprimary beneficiary of the massive semi-truck sized holes that the offensive line was opening up, gashing the Red Tornado up the middle for big chunks of yardage, helping usher the Solanco attack down as far as the McCaskey 1-yard line. From there, senior quarterback Joel McGuire was able to call his own number and plunge his way in for the first score of the night, giving the home-standing Mules the 7-0 advantage with 8:45 left in the opening quarter.
It would be a lead they would never relinquish.
For as much as Solanco made an early game statement with their first drive of the game, the Solanco defense was out to prove a point as well. And never was that more apparent than with senior linebacker Cole Lewis’ interception on the first defensive series, setting the Mules up with prime field position to make an even bigger dent on the scoreboard with the ball resting inside the Red Tornado redzone following the turnover.
It would take Solanco all of two plays to find the endzone from there as Shaneef Carter was able to barrel his way across the chalk from 10-yards out, immediately increasing the Golden Mules’ cushion to 14-0 with 7:58 still left to play in the opening stanza.
Although Solanco’s second defensive possession would not yield a second takeaway, it was still ultimately deemed effective as it would lead to a McCaskey punt. And with the Mules setting up shop once again at their own 46-yard line with the offense looking razor-sharp, another score appeared to be in the cards. Sure enough, it was.
Ironically enough, it would be a pass that helped ignite this Golden Mule drive, their first pass of the night to be exact, as Joel McGuire was able to hook up with senior wideout Mikey Grech along the McCaskey sideline, who was able to sky over his defender and haul in the catch to secure the 39-yard connection, putting Solanco inside the 10-yard line. On the next play, the cat-quick two-play drive was ultimately capped off instyle with a run around right end by senior running back Cole Lewis from 7-yards out as the Solanco lead quickly grew to 21-0 with 6:31 still left to go in the first.
Even with the McCaskey ship was clearly taking on a lot of water at this point, the Red Tornado continued to stick with it, ultimately being rewarded for their efforts by engineering their best offensive drive of the night on their ensuing possession. Aided by a 9-yard pitch and catch on a 3rd & 2 from junior quarterback Isiah Thomas to senior wide receiver Noah Santiago, the Red Tornado were able to move the sticks for their initial first down of the contest. From there, McCaskey was able to cross the midfield stripe following a 4th & 6 conversion off a Thomas dart thrown to senior wideout Patrick Rushemeza via the slant, putting the ball on the Solanco 35-yard line. Yet even though this drive had clear signs of promise to it, the Solanco defense would ultimately put a stop to any good vibes McCaskey may have been enjoying.
With the Red Tornado offense starting to get into a groove, someone from the Solanco defensive unit needed to rise up and make a stop. Enter senior cornerback Sam Buckwalter.
Just when it seemed that McCaskey would steal the momentum right back from their hosts and make a game of things, Buckwalter said no sir by coming up with interception to thwart the McCaskey attack, giving the ball back to the Golden Mule offense, albeit at their own 11-yard line.
Even still, it wouldn’t take Solanco very long to demonstrate that this too would be a drive that would end with an addition to the scoreboard. Aided by a monster run around right end by senior running back Nafis Moore which got things underway, the Mules were already in business as Moore’s gallop brought Solanco all the way down to the McCaskey 30-yard line. After that, another punishing attack through the line of scrimmage courtesy of Shaneef Carter was good for a 19-yard burst, ultimately closing the book on a dominating first quarter of football defined by Solanco with the Mules knocking on the door again.
The start of the second quarter wasn’t too shabby either for the gang from Quarryville. Yes, on the very first play of the second period, quarterback Joel McGuire was able to connect with Mikey Grech in the corner of the endzone with Grech completing the toe-tap just beyond the pylon, now extending the Solanco lead to 28-0 with 11:51 to play in the half.
And just as they had done to start the first quarter, the Solanco defense was able to get a stop their first time out on the field in the second stanza as well.
In fact, it would take the Golden Mules all of one play defensively as sophomore defensive back Zed Baker read his keys and jumped in front of the McCaskey route perfectly as the multi-sport star was able to come away with Solanco’s third takeaway of the evening, all via interceptions, a mind-boggling13 minutes in to the contest.
Following the Baker interception, the Golden Mules wasted little time in finding the endzone once again. After a 31-yard burst around the left side by Nafis Moore off the option pitch which ushered Solanco down to the McCaskey 4-yard line, Shaneef Carter was able to do the honors from there as the Mules’ sophomore fullback surged in for the 4-yard score, completing the two-play drive, making it a 35-0 Solanco advantage with 10:22 still to play in the half.
If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re not wrong. The Solanco offense simply could not be stopped on Friday night. And never more was that on display than on Solanco’s ensuing offensive series as Joel McGuire was able to blaze a path to the endzone from 40-yards out untouched on the option keeper, completing yet another two-play drive, which made the score 42-0 in favor of the black-clad Mules with 5:06 still left to go in the half.
For as much as McCaskey struggled to move the ball offensively, it quickly became apparent that they would need a takeaway in order to generate some sort of momentum on this already difficult evening. Fortunately for the visitors from Lancaster city, their beloved Red Tornado would be able to do precisely that on the ensuing Solanco series as a Golden Mule fumble was recovered by the Red Tornado, setting McCaskey up with fantastic field position, just past midfield.
Already working with a short field and momentum now in their back pocket, quarterback Ben Desmarais was able to hook up with Carlos Arestegui as the McCaskey junior duo was good for 23-yards, putting the ball inside the Solanco redzone for the first time all evening. From there, Desmarais was able to lob one up into the night sky before the ball returned back toward the Earth only to find the waiting hands of Christian Vazquez in the back of the endzone, as the 18-yard TD toss got McCaskey on the board, making it a 42-7 Solanco cushion with 1:34 to play in the half.
But that would be prove to be plenty of time for Solanco to strike one more time.
After taking over at their own 41-yard line following the ensuing kickoff, the Golden Mules were able to work their abbreviated two-minute drill like seasoned veterans, ultimately moving the ball down inside the McCaskey 10-yard line before kicker Hayden Fox was called upon to finish up the half as the senior’s boot through the uprights at the horn made it a 45-7 Solanco lead at intermission.
And just as they had done to begin the contest, the Solanco offense was on the prowl coming out of the dressing room to begin the second half as well.
After forcing a McCaskey punt on the Red Tornado’s first offensive series that went array courtesy of a bad snap that hindered the operation, the Golden Mules would find the endzone after just one play as a 22-yard gallop by Nafis Moore reopened up the floodgates with Solanco now going over the 50 point threshold, making it a 51-7 Golden Mule lead after the PAT was blocked with 9:19 to play in the third.
Looking for even further proof as to just how dominant Solanco was on Friday night? Consider this, their first punt of the evening did not come until the clock read 3:20 left to go in the third quarter.
Ironically enough, the same Solanco punt of the evening would ultimately lead to points at the conclusion of McCaskey’s next series as a 37-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Sam Hershey on the final play of the third period got McCaskey into double digits, albeit with the scoreboard reading 51-10 in favor of Solanco.
But once again, Solanco would have an answer for that as well in the form of a 75-yard return by Nafis Moore on the ensuing kickoff which helped pave the way for a 5-yard touchdown run by Zach Turpen which increased the Solanco lead to 58-10 with 9:16 to go.
Yet even with the outcome of the game already a foregone conclusion, the Golden Mule reserves also relished their opportunity to shine under the Friday night lights as evidenced by the hard-running of sophomore running back Mason Hecker which drew roars of approval from the Solanco faithful. And with just enough time left on the game clock to tally yet another score, sophomore running back Ronnie Fulton was able to cash in on the action, closing the scoring out with a 6-yard TD run to put the exclamation mark on Solanco’s resounding 64-10 final decision over McCaskey.
And while the difference was formally decided over the span of 48 minutes of action, the fact of the matter was that this game was already won throughout the week by virtue of the hard work put in by the Golden Mules in preparation for McCaskey. Perhaps no more so than the look presented by the scout team this week in practice to try and emulate the explosive weaponsfeatured in the Red Tornado arsenal.
“We used a lot of 1’s at receivers this week just to give us a good look because (McCaskey) is very fast and very athletic,” Coach Cox admitted after Friday’s night triumph regarding the rationale as to who went on scout team duty leading up to the game. “We were trying to give our defense the best look as we possibly could to give us a better shot for Friday night.” And with the ultimate separation coming in the form of 54 points, it’d be fair to say that the experiment worked like a charm.
NEXT UP: Make no mistake about it. Friday night’s victory was one that was sorely needed for Solanco as the Mules prepare for a daunting stretch run that includes heavy-hitters Lampeter-Strasburg, Cocalico, and Manheim Central respectively. But if you think the Golden Mules have their sights set on anything other than bitter rival L-S this upcoming Friday night in the annual “Milkjug” game, think again.
“I’m worried about L-S right now,” Coach Cox said simply. “It’s our senior night and our last home game. I hope we can come out and be successful.”
For McCaskey, it’s no rest for the weary on this ride, especially when you live in the arduous world of L-L Section 1 football. But nevertheless, the Red Tornado will look to snap out of their current losing skid against Hempfield next week before closing the season against behemoths Manheim Township and Wilson respectively in back-to-back weeks.
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