Lampeter-Strasburg Holds Off Valiant York Suburban Charge As Pioneers Conquer Trojans, March Into District 3-4A Semifinals
When the leaves on the trees start to turn colors and the howling, brisk winds of autumn begin to reappear into our little slice of heaven here in the state of Pennsylvania, it usually means that our oldest nemesis, dreaded winter, is hot on our heels. But thoughts of freshly, laid white powder and slippery black ice aside, the seasonal turning of the guard also indicates that high school playoff football is right around the corner as well. Granted, unless you are a true sadist, everyone would much rather prefer the latter. And should you call yourself a high school football fan who also happens to occupy a residency somewhere within District 3’s massive footprint, chances are that you’ll inevitably hear someone ask the age-old question that usually goes a little something like this, “Is this the year where someone from York-Adams steps up and makes a statement in the postseason?”
Now, if you yourself are from around these parts and have stuck around long enough to at least grab a cup of coffee, you know that the York-Adams League is often much-maligned, whether it be fair or foul, routinely being the subject of many a punch line. Sure, while the league’s track record has been let’s just say less than stellar at this stage of the game historically, this year may be one example where history does not provide a true and accurate read on the future yet to unfold. Case in point, the York Suburban Trojans.
To say that this year’s Trojan squad has stepped up and stepped out from the shadows would be a sentiment best described as dramatically undersold. Yes, while not only did the 2019 Trojans enter this weekend with a winning record, a distinction that only this year’s team and two other Trojan squads within the last six years can lay claim to, they have been far better than that. Yeah, far better as in a perfect, 10-0 record to be more exact. And when you sit down and actually study their overall resume, it’s hard to find anything short of a pimple on the façade that the Trojans have been able to put forth so far this year.
Unbeaten record aside, the proficiency in which York Suburban has been able to conduct their business this season is nothing short of astounding. Consider this, while some teams struggle to not only find the end zone, much less first downs from time to time, the Trojans have seemed to have no issues whatsoever knowing where the large, painted portions of the football field are located every time they take the field considering that Suburban had scored no fewer than 30 points this season heading into their first playoff game at home on Friday night. Not only that, but the Trojans hadn’t exactly spent much time biting their fingernails either this year considering no team had been able to get within single digits of them once the final gun went off on a Friday night, with their closest margin of victory coming in an 11-point triumph against Gettysburg four weeks ago. And for all their efforts put forth to date, the Trojans were rewarded handsomely for their work in earning the #1 seed and homefield advantage in the District 3-4A field, a loaded bracket which features such esteemed names as Bishop McDevitt and Berks Catholic to name just a few.
But there was one other team still left residing in that very same bracket that was sure to pose plenty of problems for the remaining troops should they continue to advance into the later rounds. It just so happened that they were also York Suburban’s opening draw.
They compute the District 3 brackets by way of a mathematical formula. And while the formula in and of itself inherently contains many good qualities due to it being the end-all be-all when push ultimately comes to shove, there’s one category it simply cannot compute: The eye test. In that regard, the Excel spreadsheet clearly had never seen Lampeter-Strasburg take the field on and play on a Friday night recently.
In many ways, it was almost comical to see the Pioneers enter the postseason last week while donning the #8 car in the ten-team race. But, all that put to the side, L-S clearly wasted little time in proving that their #8 seed was wildly undervalued as the Pioneers raced past arguably the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s hottest team entering the postseason last week, the ELCO Raiders, to the tune of a 34-7 opening round triumph. And if that wasn’t already enough, L-S was able to do prevail last Friday night without the services of their top two quarterbacks listed on the depth chart in Sean McTaggart and Conner Nolt respectively. So, in many ways, the totality of the Pioneers’ 2019 campaign has largely looked and felt like just another successful fall on the gridiron given their proud history and perennial prowess with L-S seen storming into yet another year of playoff football with a 7-3 overall record to their name amidst the grueling, unforgiving grind of Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 football.
So, if nothing else, the stage had clearly been laid out on Friday night in York County for either the Pioneers or Spartans to not only advance onto next week’s semifinal round, but also for either side to make some noise and perhaps raise some eyebrows along the way depending on who were to prevail at the end of 48 minutes.
In the end however, while they were certainly challenged along the way, the Pioneers were able to venture into enemy territory on Friday night and claim the area as their own.
When playing deep behind enemy lines, getting off to a fast start is often a task that takes on the upmost importance. In that vein, L-S certainly payed close attention and didn’t deviate very far from the script considering the Pioneers were able to wedge the Trojans into an uncomfortable place, forcing York Suburban into a punting situation at the conclusion of the Trojans’ first drive of the evening, allowing the Pioneers to set up shop albeit underneath the shadows of their own goalposts.
Never to worry though, not when you have a lightning bolt coming out of the backfield like Alex Knapp at least. And right on cue, the 5’8 175lb L-S junior running back took the handoff and ran around the right side of the Pioneers’ offensive line, finding nothing green artificial turf laid out before him as Knapp’s 85-yard touchdown jaunt on L-S’ initial play from scrimmage gave the visiting Pioneers the 7-0 advantage with 8:12 left to play in the opening quarter.
After the initial haymaker landed by L-S, most everyone in attendance was curious to see as to how exactly the undefeated and #1 seeded Trojans would respond to an early bout with adversity. The good news there was that Suburban had the ability to call upon arguably the most dangerous running back in all the York-Adams League, Savion Harrison, in order to help stem the tide and provide the remedy. Sure enough, the shifty, elusive, and jitterbug of a senior tail back galloped out the gate for an 18-yard pickup on the first play of the Trojans’ ensuing series. Yet even with Harrison clearly possessing the ability to take one to the house at a moment’s notice, the early momentum generated on the York Suburban drive was quickly laid to rest, thanks in large part to a sack administered by L-S’ Christian Garver on a 4th & 10, as the senior linebacker burst through the Trojan line and stole the hopes of dreams of a possible Suburban rebuttal all within the blink of an eye.
And while it would take the Pioneers considerably much longer than it had on their opening series of the ballgame, their second drive of the evening would also eventually end in the end zone as well.
That said, it wasn’t without its struggles however. Case in point, a 3rd & 5 play at the York Suburban 42-yard line picked up by way of the jet sweep with Owen Fikkert toting the rock, as the 180lb junior running back dashed his way to a fresh set of downs with the Pioneers now finding themselves on the Trojans’ 35-yard line following Fikkert’s 7-yard scamper. From there, there were even more obstacles to overcome in the Pioneers’ march such as the case when junior running back Drew Harris was able to plow his way forward narrowly past the sticks on 4th & 1 with L-S now flirting with the prospect of entering the red zone. And get in the red zone they would shortly thereafter as a magnificent screen pass drawn up by the Pioneers’ offensive brain-trust resulted in Conner Nolt hooking up with Beau Heyser for the chunk play which ushered L-S down to the York Suburban 6-yard line. But not even a false start penalty would get in their way as an 8-yard Alex Knapp touchdown run, his second of the young evening, propelled the visitors from Lancaster County out to the two-touchdown buffer with L-S jumping out in front 14-0 with 1:51 left to go in the first.
If their current situation had already felt like déjà vu given the events that just had preceded it moments earlier, it would certainly be hard to find fault with the Trojans for feeling that way. After all, having to regroup shortly following an Alex Knapp touchdown run was an assignment that York Suburban was forced to undertake on their previous offensive possession. But the aura of having been here before likely took on an uncomfortable, yet all too familiar aspect considering Savion Harrison blew past the initial line of Lampeter-Strasburg defenders for a 43-yard jaunt which moved the Trojans down to the L-S 30-yard line after again, the first offensive play of the drive. Why all too familiar? Perhaps because L-S would once again hold York Suburban on downs on this drive as well following an absolutely magnificent play from the L-S linebacking corps breaking up a sure-fire York Suburban first down, allowing the Pioneers to regain possession at their own 25-yard following the exchange in possession.
This time however, the Trojans would be able to stand tall and refuse to yield to the high-flying Pioneers. Even still, it wasn’t exactly all that easy considering York Suburban was hit with another body blow on the ensuing L-S possession, a 3rd & 11 conversion from Conner Nolt to Austin Stoltzfus, as the 13-yard pickup between the Pioneers’ junior duo moved the ball out near the midfield stripe. Fortunately for the Trojans however, Michael Bentivegna was there to thwart the L-S drive, making a sensational read from his defensive back spot to break up a key 3rd & 14 play which resulted in an L-S punt back to York Suburban.
So, with the first half clock suddenly melting away quicker than an ice cream cone left unattended in the afternoon summer sun, authoring some sort of a scoring response was essential if York Suburban had any desires whatsoever of making a game of it past halftime. And with the man of the hour, Savion Harrison, ripping off large chunks of yards at a time against the L-S defense, none seeming to come any fewer than of the 5-yard variety, York Suburban began to methodically chart their way down the field. Yet even with Harrison shouldering most of the burden, the Trojans were forced to call upon other available resources during the drive such as when Suburban sophomore quarterback Cam Brewer was able to connect with senior wide receiver Max Reinecker on 4th& 7 from the L-S 35-yard line for the easy pitch and catch along the Suburban sideline which breathed new life into the hard-charging Trojan offense. However, even for as well as the Suburban offense was clicking, without a shadow of a doubt the best it had up until that point, the sledding became that much more difficult after L-S junior defensive lineman Parker Owens barreled his way over the York Suburban offensive line for a hogtie-like sack which forced the Trojans to settle for the 31-yard field goal booted through the uprights by way of York Suburban senior kicker, Griffin Smith, making it a 14-3 L-S lead with 2:56 left to go before the intermission.
The thing was, that margin posted up on the scoreboard wouldn’t last for very long though. Oh no. More like 17 seconds to be exact.
On the ensuing kickoff following the Griffin Smith field goal, L-S senior tight end Jacob Kopelman found himself with the ball bounding into his hands and knowing exactly what to do with it as Kopelman rumbled and darted his way in for the 84-yard kickoff return touchdown which upped the Pioneers’ lead to 21-3 while simultaneously stealing any momentum away from York Suburban.
But they weren’t done there though.
With Savion Harrison once again doing the lion’s share of the work in running between the tackles on the ensuing York Suburban possession, this York Suburban drive too would eventually meet an untimely demise as well after a sack tallied by Parker Owens, his second in as many series, would then be compounded by an interception snared by L-S junior linebacker, Brady Cole.
Fortunately for the hometown Trojans and adorning fans, there would be no additional damage inflicted by Lampeter-Strasburg in the first half of play as the Pioneers would storm into the locker with decisive ownership of the 21-3 advantage.
Suffice to say, if York Suburban were to come back and make a game of it in the second half, getting off to a fast start in the infant stages of the second half became critically paramount. In that regard, things couldn’t have started off much better for the Trojans who reemerged from their dressing room with a steely-eyed focus. For proof, just consult the fact that the Trojans were able to hold the Pioneers to a three and out on the Pioneers’ first drive of the second half, something they had not yet been able to do all night long up until that point. And with Suburban now taking over at their own 36-yard line, their handiwork on the defensive side had clearly energized them offensively as well considering the Trojans suddenly found themselves with their deepest penetration of the game up until that point, the L-S 11-yard line, following a dance routine turned highlight reel run from none other than Savion Harrison. In many ways, it seemed only fitting that Harrison be the one to score the first York Suburban touchdown of the evening, with Harrison doing exactly that as the senior’s 2-yard burst up the gut trimmed the L-S back down to an eleven-point deficit at 21-10 with 5:47 left to play in the third.
Shortly thereafter, Lampeter-Strasburg suddenly found themselves standing in the middle of the tracks with a runaway freight train named York Suburban barreling toward them. In fact, it came with all the subtly of a loud locomotive quite honestly.
With L-S taking back over after having witnessed York Suburban tally their first touchdown of the night, the shoe was on the other foot this time as the Pioneers were tasked with having the answer the bell after seeing rocky waters come protruding upon their boat. But the waves only grew choppier and rougher in the immediate aftermath once York Suburban senior defensive lineman Devante Banks was able to come free and register back-to-back sacks to aid in the Trojans’ effort as the combined 10 and 9-yard losses forced L-S to undergo yet another punting scenario.
And much like they had been able to in their previous series, the York Suburban offense was able to keep firing on all cylinders and eventually find the end zone yet again, this time courtesy of a 55-yard bomb from Cam Brewer to Nate Banks on 3rd & 10, as the nifty Banks run after catch and subsequent Brewer two-point plunge sliced the once impressive Pioneers’ advantage all the way down to a modest three point margin at 21-18 once the remaining 2:31 ticked off the third quarter clock.
Once the game entered the fourth quarter, there was absolutely no doubt to anyone in attendance as to who now controlled the game’s momentum. Sure enough, with the York Suburban defense rising up and holding L-S once again after three plays and out, the Trojans offense retook to the field with the opportunity to take their first lead of the night and possibly ride off into the sunset once everything was said and done. In fact, that prospect seemed to take on a much likely possibility once the Pioneers were dinged for jumping offsides on a hard count, allowing Suburban to claim a fresh set of downs which moved the ball past the midfield stripe and into L-S territory.
They say they big time players step up in big time game. Well, take a bow Logan Bradley. He certainly belongs in that category.
With the Pioneers clearly having their backs pushed up against the wall at this stage of the game, making any sort of play to stymie the York Suburban snowball was so dearly critical. And with the Trojans lining up for a 3rd & 12 at the L-S 36-yard line later in the drive, Bradley was able to patrol the defensive backfield magnificently, jumping the Suburban route over the middle and stealing an interception as Bradley’s key theft kept danger away from L-S, at least for the moment. More to come from Bradley later.
After the Bradley takeaway, the Pios were seen moving the ball down the field and into York Suburban territory by way of a series of dinks and dunks, eventually reaching the Trojan 25-yard line while faced with having to overcome a 4th & 5 play. Yet on said play, it would prove to be York Suburban’s turn to make a stand defensively which is precisely what Nate Banks was able to do, as the junior defensive back’s sensational pass break up gave the ball back to the Trojans 75 yards away from a possible go-ahead score.
At least for a very brief and fleeting moment that is.
On the very first play of the ensuing York Suburban possession, the Trojans coughed it up, seeing a swarm of L-S Pioneers in turn jump on the loose pill for an enormous takeaway which gave the ball back to the visitors from Lampeter now 28 yards away from possibly putting a nail in the coffin. And after a pair of Owen Fikkert and Drew Harris runs which moved the L-S cause down inside the Suburban 10-yard line, incumbent L-S quarterback, junior Conner Nolt, called his own number and plowed his way across the goal line as Nolt’s 7-yard touchdown run upped the Pioneers’ lead to 27-18 after the failed two-point conversion play with 4:12 left to play in the contest.
If York Suburban had any remaining magic left somewhere else in the tank, now was certainly the time to bring it out as the Trojans now found themselves down by two scores with time running out on their incredible season. Remember Logan Bradley? Well, the unfortunate part for York Suburban was that he had other ideas as to how this one would ultimately shake out.
With the Pioneers bringing the heat from every which corner given their ability to now pin their ears back and go all-out and bring the heat, a play which had almost resulted in a sack for L-S quickly turned out far better than they could have ever imagined as an errant and ill-advised Trojans’ pass while within the clasps of the oncoming Pioneer troops resulted in yet another Bradley interception, his second in the game’s final stanza, as the L-S defense came up aces once more with the game and their season standing delicately on the line.
And after drawing York Suburban offsides by way of the hard count on a 4th & 2 play following the Bradley interception, the Pioneers were eventually able to run out the clock the rest of the way, marching onto the District 3-4A Final Four next week by virtue of their 27-18 hard-fought triumph over a scrappy York Suburban outfit.
“The defense in that fourth quarter,” the L-L longest tenured coach, L-S’ John Manion, said simply following his team’s wild quarterfinal round victory. “It did not go well for us in the third quarter with the three turnovers in three successive drives. (York Suburban) left a short field twice for us and we finally converted. Our offense was struggling all night.”
“We’ve been proud of them all year for that,” Manion continued while lauding the perseverance of his group. “That’s we were a little frustrated they (his players) were giving in to the adversity midgame. That just isn’t our M.O. It was very nice to see them step it back up in the fourth quarter.”
Yet while holding off a hard-charging team during the middle part of the season is one thing, it’s a whole different thing altogether considering you now find yourself in a “lose or go home” scenario each time you take the field from here on out in the postseason. And even for all their successes yet to date, Friday night’s victory was also newfound territory of sorts for this core group of L-S Pioneers to claim ownership of, an achievement certainly not lost on their head coach.
“Not in that way where they had to hang on and come back strong. Not this year,” Manion said when asked if Friday’s victory was anything he had seen out of his team thus far. “This was a whole new thing. Hostile environment, a team that had every bit of momentum, and our defense held in and made some big plays when it mattered.”
NEXT UP: So, with L-S moving on to the semifinal round after their road win over York Suburban, the Pioneers find themselves pitted against a familiar foe of sorts when look across the field and see Bishop McDevitt standing on the opposite sideline from them on the Crusaders’ home field next week on the outskirts of Harrisburg for the right to play in the District 4A championship game. And if you were to ask the head Pioneer, he wouldn’t pass that opportunity up for anything.
“I’m just looking forward to another week of work with these guys,” Manion said regarding the week ahead. “It’s a fun group to coach. Hopefully we just come back healthy and ready to play next week and keep this upset train going.”
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