Lancaster Catholic’s Perfect Record Remains Intact As Crusaders Roar Past Ephrata
It’s often been said that those who do not learn from history are likely doomed to repeat it. Well, in the case of Lancaster Catholic first-year head coach Todd Mealy, “doom” may not exactly be the term that applies in this specific example, but he and the Crusader faithful are certainly hoping that his previous coaching acumen translates into this his new gig of leading the esteemed purple and gold inside the Red Rose city.
A historian in his own right, owner of a PhD within the field of study to be exact, Mealy is back on the sidelines this season, serving as the commanding general of a Lancaster-Lebanon League football outfit after directing the Penn Manor program to newfound heights between the years 2007 to 2014. When all was said and done, it would prove to be a stint which routinely saw the Comets in the now-former District 3 AAAA playofffield, with hard-fought challenges for the Section 1 title serving as the norm for nearly a decade in Millersville. And with a clear appreciation for the past and how it can correlate to the future, Mealy viewed this as a golden opportunity to lead arguably the L-L’s most successful football franchise since the turn of the century.
“I want to coach football and this was something that was presented to me when I was not coaching,” Mealy said of the opportunity to be the head boss at Lancaster Catholic. “When I got done with my residency requirement at Penn State for my PhD, I was available to coach.”
“Lancaster Catholic is a really good fit because I have a Catholic-school background having gone to Bishop McDevitt,” Mealy went on to say. “I’ve lived in Lancaster since 2001 including the city for half that time. My whole coaching staff that was with me at Penn Manor is with us now at Lancaster Catholic now so everything seemed to align just right and this seems to be a good fit for all of us.”
As mentioned, you’d be hard-pressed to a football program within the District 3 footprint that has been as successful as Lancaster Catholic over the last decade plus with the Crusaders boasting scores of Lancaster-Lebanon League section titles along with some impressive District 3 championship hardware as well. But nothing carries more weight than a state championship, and Lancaster Catholic just so happens to have two of those gold trophies sitting proudly behind a glass case at the school on Juliette Avenue as well. All in all, it’s an impressive list of accomplishments that Coach Mealy is eager to embrace after the departure of legendary head coach Bruce Harbach.
“I had the benefit of being here so I’ve gotten to know the school and gotten to know the kids and vice versa so that made it an easy transition rather than just coming in and having no one know me,” Mealy said regarding the last few years prior to his elevation of head coach this season. “Bruce (Harbach) and I were friends. We got along and the kids saw that we got along. We still communicate with one another and I give the kids messages from Bruce so it’s all very good.”
“There’s no added pressure stepping into the kind of program that this is because I have a sense of what it takes having played at McDevitt and having had success as a coach at McCaskey and Penn Manor. I put my best effort in, so I’m able to have peace of mind because I know I’m giving it my best effort.”
Speaking of history, Lancaster Catholic’s opposition on Friday night, the Ephrata Mounts, seemed to be a program that simply could not escape its long and arduous past over the last handful of seasons. Mired by having the dubious distinction of carrying the state’s longest ongoing losing streak heading into this seasonat 51 games in a row, the Mounts were finally able to knock the 500lb gorilla off their back in style two weeks ago by exercising all the demons of old with a 61-14 thrashing of Northern Lebanon for their first varsity football victory since late October 2012, fittingly in front of a home crowd that has continued to steadfastly stand by their program with unwavering support.
But they did not stop there.
With newfound momentum, the type that had not been recognizable around these parts since prior to the second-term of the Obama Administration, the Mounts traveled northward to Lebanon County last weekend to tangle with one of the favorites to win L-L Section 3 this season, Annville-Cleona, only to come away with a defeat in the cruelest of ways, as a Dutchmen Hail Mary pass heaved at the final gun sent Ephrata back home down Route 322 with a heart-wrenching 41-35 setback. However make no mistake about it. The message had clearly been sent and distributed to the rest of the Lancaster-Lebanon Leaguethrough the early part of this season—-This is no longer your older brother’s Ephrata football program.
And so, on Friday night at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field, a site affectionately dubbed as “The War,” the Mounts welcomed the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with another goliath just seven days later by entertaining Lancaster Catholic in a collision-esque L-L Section 3 matchup.
After a trading of defensive stands from both sides to begin the contest, the hometown Mounts went back to work with the ball resting at their own 31-yard line after turning the visiting Crusaders over on downs. It would prove to be a drive described as a quick day at the office as senior running back Colton Goodman received the option pitch and proceeded to dart 69-yards to the endzone on the first play of the series as Ephrata made an emphatic opening statement to begin the contest by jumping out 6-0 following a missed PAT with 6:19 left in the opening quarter.
The beginning of Friday night’s game only grew more precarious for Lancaster Catholic after that. On the ensuing kickoff, the Crusader return was muffed, giving the ball back to Ephrata with the Mounts just 35 yards away from paydirt with the opportunity to jump in front by two scores early on. And although Ephrata would march down as far as the Crusader 6-yard line, the Mounts were eventually turned away on downs following an incomplete pass on 4th & Goal as the Crusader defense made a key early statement.
Despite getting the ball back following what turned out to be a successful defensive stand by one of the L-L’s top units, the Crusaders had a long way to go on their next offensive series if they had any aspirations of offering a rebuttal to Ephrata’s opening score.
Standing in the long-shadows of their own goalposts, Catholic looked to Alex Cruz to get them out of danger and the juniorrunning back quickly answered the dinner bell by promptlybursting through the line with a 40-yard gallop on the first offensive play of the drive as the Catholic offensive appeared to finally get into a rhythm. Not only were the Crusaders in rhythm following the Cruz jaunt, but they were soon making sweet music shortly thereafter as lightning-quick junior running back Jeff Harley motored 49-yards to the house on a key 3rd & 5 attempt as the Crusaders responded to the early Ephrata salvo to go in front 7-6 with 1:25 left in the first quarter.
It would be a lead they would never relinquish.
Despite the early adversity thrown at them by Catholic, Ephrata continued to press on and keep their nose to the grindstone by promptly responding to the task at hand. With the ball deep in their own territory on their ensuing offensive possession, Mounts’ junior quarterback Caden Keefer took off running on 3rd& 6 and rumbled 21-yards down the War Memorial turf to get the Mounts out near midfield. On the very next play, the Mounts were able to cross the midfield stripe as a quick 12-yard passing connection from Keefer to sophomore wideout Castor Shuman put the ball on the Crusaders’ 43-yard line.
From there, all signs pointed to Ephrata being able to retaliate with an answer of their own, and it certainly appeared that was in the cards on 3rd & 12 from the Catholic 45-yard line in the early moments of the second stanza. Unfortunately for those supporting the purple and yellows of the home team on this night, it was not to be as a wide open receiver was just overshot, on a route that likely would’ve likely ended in the endzone with an Ephrata touchdown. And so, following a Mountaineer puntafter the failed 3rd down conversion, Lancaster Catholic set up shop at their own 18-yard line with 10:18 to go in the opening half.
If Lancaster Catholic’s next offensive series were to be described using a boxing analogy, the most appropriate term would definitely be “body blow.” Aided by a methodical series of jabs using their punishing ground game, the Crusaders’ offensive line was starting to see the fruits of their labor pay off as the Catholic running plays only increased in size as the drive moved along. Case in point, a 12-yard burst up the gut by Alex Cruz which got Lancaster Catholic out near midfield. From there, the pipe appeared to burst as junior quarterback Gavin Sullivan called his own number and race 44-yards down deep into Ephrata territory with the Crusaders now threatening at the Mounts’ 6-yard line. And yet although the Ephrata D would refuse to yield over the next few plays, another Jeff Harley jet-sweep, this one of the 5-yard variety, would break dam once and for all on this drive as Harley’s second TD of the night made it a 14-6 Lancaster Catholic lead with 5:40 left in the half.
In years past, this would be the point in the game where Ephrata opponents would be able to more or less name their score at the conclusion of the evening. Those days however are long gone when going up against the Mountaineers.
Never was that more evident than on the ensuing kickoff as Ephrata’s sophomore speed-demon, Taj London, proceeded to blaze 68-yards through the Crusader coverage unit to get the Mounts in business at the Catholic 32-yard line. And on the very first play from scrimmage, it appeared that Ephrata had found an answer to the Catholic turnaround. Ultimately however, all the excitement would end in an incomplete pass that just slipped through the hands of a would-be receiver, likely resulting in what would have been another walk-in touchdown, fell to the harmlessly to the turf as the Crusaders were able to dodge yet another bullet from a very game Ephrata squad.
From there however, Catholic proceeded to put their foot down and take matters into their own hands as a heavy Crusader rush on an Ephrata 3rd & 10 resulted in a strip and fumble recovery by Catholic’s Luke Weatherhold as the Crusaders went back to work with the ball sitting directly on top of the midfield stripe.
As fate would have it, this too would be a drive that would have an end result of Lancaster Catholic points. Aided by a beautiful pass thrown by Gavin Sullivan that soared through the night sky and landed magnificently into the bucket created by the waiting hands of senior wideout Luke Miller, the Crusaders suddenly found themselves knocking on the door once again at the Mounts’ 1-yard line following the 38-yard Sullivan to Miller connection. Running back Nevin Roman would have the honors from there as the Crusaders’ sophomore tailback walked in from 1-yard out to make it now 21 unanswered points from thevisitors as Lancaster Catholic led 21-6 with 4:11 left in the half.
The Lancaster Catholic defense only continued to hunt their next time out on the field as back to back sacks collected by EJ Pratt and Devin Atkinson respectively helped lead to another Ephrata punt with the Catholic offense returning to the pitch, eager to inflict more damage on the scoreboard before the half drew to a close. And right on cue, the Sullivan-led Crusader offense would be able to do precisely that.
Aided by 17-yard incisions into the Ephrata D thrown by Sullivan to senior wide receiver Phil Bomberger and Luke Miller respectively, Lancaster Catholic found themselves on the verge of Mountaineer territory just a few plays into the series. Ironically, it would ultimately be an 18-yard strike that would prove to be the difference on this drive as Sullivan was able to hook up with Miller once again, this time for the Crusader touchdown, to make it a 28-6 Lancaster Catholic lead with 30 seconds left to go in the half before both teams trotted off the field for the halftime break with the score remaining firm.
Needing to find something coming out of the halftime locker room, the Mounts needed any kind of spark to fan the ongoing flames that were generated by Lancaster Catholic. And right on cue, it had appeared that the Mounts were able to find just what the doctor ordered as a fumble recovery by the Mounts’ Castor Shuman gave ball back to Keefer and the offense just a hair past midfield.
Although likely inspired by the hard-work of their work on the defensive side of the ball, the Mounts would only be met with rock-hard resistance from the Catholic defense following the Shuman recovery as the Mounts were not able to navigate past a 3rd & 22 attempt, punting the ball away to Catholic after roughly three minutes of ownership.
Following the Ephrata punt, Lancaster Catholic found themselves with a similar task as they had faced earlier in the first half—Find the endzone with nearly the entire field in front of them. And just as had successfully done earlier in the contest, the Crusaders would follow up their earlier 94-yard drive by proceeding to pound away at the Ephrata defense with a steady dose of power running coupled with a series of dink-and-dunk-like passes added on top to eventually march 97-yards to paydirt as a 16-yard Alex Cruz rumble through the Mountaineer D made it a 35-6 Lancaster Catholic advantage with just 2:47 left to play in the third quarter.
From there, Lancaster Catholic was able to essentially salt the game away throughout much of the final period only to seeEphrata mount-up and rally the troops one last time as a 22-yard strike across the middle from Caden Keefer to Sam Knowles gave the Mounts one last highlight on the night as the junior duo cut the Crusader lead to 35-12 with just 40 seconds left to go.
However the 35 unanswered points authored by Lancaster Catholic would prove to be the difference on this night as the Crusaders were able to make it an enjoyable bus ride back home to Lancaster City, remaining atop the L-L Section 3 standings with a 4-0 record following a 35-12 takedown of Ephrata.
Although one may likely look at the final score and assume that Friday night was just another example of the same type of Lancaster Catholic dominance that we have come to expect over the last handful of years, the fact of the matter is that Ephrata gave the visiting Crusaders all they could handle, especially in the early going, something Coach Mealy was quick to point out afterwards. “First of all, tip of the cap to Ephrata. (Ephrata) is going to be really good soon,” the Crusader boss said of the opposition. “They play with passion and they play with grit. Apart from whatever we did wrong, Ephrata did a lot of things right, and they deserve credit for that.”
And while Ephrata certainly did not make life easy for Lancaster Catholic on Friday night, the Mounts were able to provide yet another learning opportunity for Coach Mealy and his squad that will be valuable as bigger games loom on the horizon for the Crusaders. In fact, Ephrata’s first score on Friday night was the first time that Lancaster Catholic had trailed all season. “We got down early and then gave the ball up (on the ensuing kickoff) and Ephrata actually got the ball back to go up two scores,” Mealy said rehashing the events of the game’s opening period. “We were able to make a stand at the 10-yard line. Our defense has made plays like that all season so fortunately we were able to find ourselves in that situation, learn from it, and get the win.”
NEXT UP: With their win on Friday night, Lancaster Catholic sets their sights on another L-L Section 3 foe, Lebanon, with a huge date with Annville-Cleona coming after that. Yet while sitting with an unblemished record to this point in the season, it’s obvious that the 2018 Crusaders are by no means the finished product. “We’re still making some of the same sloppy mistakes with penalties, we put the ball on the ground, and turned it over a couple times tonight,” Coach Mealy said in the aftermath Friday night. “We emphasize those things in practice every day. In fact, we assign a coach to watch for that. We’re not perfect, so we have a lot of things to fix. The one fortunate thing is that we’re walking out of here with a win. There’s a lot of things from tonight we can learn, so hopefully we can get them fixed.”
Ephrata meanwhile will go back to the drawing board as the Mounts begin prep for Donegal. Ironically enough, next week’s game against the Indians in Mount Joy will mark the third week in a row that the Mounts will square off with a team that is unbeaten in the L-L Section 3 standings. Following this three week gauntlet, the Mounts have a great chance to rattle off a few more wins this season down the home stretch leading to only more memories as the Mounts continue their inevitable ascension back up the ranks of Lancaster-Lebanon League football.
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