Lebanon Fends Off Pesky Ephrata As Cedars Rebound From Disappointing Cedar Bowl
When the Cedar Crest Falcons and Lebanon Cedars begin their offseason training and winter conditioning programs, the collective focus for both squads is undoubtedly centered on the opening week of the season. And for good reason. Sure, the opening week of the season is met with great anticipation regardless, but around Lebanon County, particularly around Lebanon city itself, Week 1 takes on a whole different meaning.
It’s called the Cedar Bowl and it’s quite the spectacle. Just ask Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk. “It has every phase of a playoff game,” Yonchiuk stated when describing the annual clash between the Falcons and Cedars. “There were 8,000 people at least there last week. It’s insane.” And while bragging rights for Lebanon city are routinely on the line every Labor Day weekend between these two neighboring schools, it’s been Cedar Crest who has been able to beat their chest over the last half decade as the Falcons have laid claim to the last six in the series. Last week in the 2017 edition, it seemed early on that Lebanon might be able to change their fortunes in this neighborhood tussle as the Cedars found the endzone on their opening possession before Cedar Crest rolled on from there en route to a 42-14 victory.
After a disappointing result such as that, especially in the first game of the season that is met with the highest of excitement, it can be dangerous as teams prepare for Week 2 as the ever-present possibility of a letdown which Coach Yonchiuk elaborated on. “You can have what I call the ‘football hangover.’ How do you respond win or lose?” That was exactly the task facing Lebanon this past week as the Cedars began prep for Ephrata’s trip into downtown Lebanon to Alumni Stadium, an Ephrata program that has the unfortunate distinction of carrying around a losing streak that dates back to Halloween 2012.
Almost immediately, it appeared that Lebanon would be able to run away and hide from their guests Friday night. After Cedar senior defensive lineman Keon Swaby was able to pounce on an Ephrata fumble, Lebanon’s offense took to the field under the direction of fulltime junior quarterback, part time magician, Zakee Sailsman. Coach Yonchiuk has seen his fair share of quality quarterbacks in his time as Cedar coach. A group that includes the likes of James Capello who parlayed his success as a Lebanon Cedar into an Iowa State Cyclone, and Mark Pyles who was an all-state quarterback in his own right now playing collegiately as a linebacker at Bucknell. Even with a list like that, the head Cedar didn’t mince words when describing the talent of his junior signal-caller. “He’s like electricity in a bottle,” Yonchiuk went on to say. “He gets moving around and guys will just whiff at the air. He has a very live arm and threw all four scores tonight. He’s a handful because you need a 12th guy when you play him. He has to definitely be one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in our state.”
Sailsman wasted little time showing off what he and his offensive mates are capable of as the junior QB went up on the Cedars’ first play from scrimmage where he found junior wideout Jahlil Young for the 32 yard pickup down to the Ephrata 3 yard line. Sailsman went back to air where fellow senior Jeremiah Beckley was there to snag the pass, needing just one hand, as the highlight reel touchdown reception put the hometown Cedars up 7-0 with 9:28 left in the opening quarter.
Following an Ephrata 3 & out on the Mounts’ ensuing series, Lebanon struck fast once they got their hands on it as Sailsmantallied his second TD toss of the night, this one to senior receiver Luis Aquino-Rios, as the Cedar lead quickly sprung to a 14-0 bulge with still 7:05 left in quarter one.
There was still plenty of time left in the game’s opening 12 minutes to put another score on the board and the Cedars did just that as Sailsman fired touchdown strike number three of the early evening to Jahlil Young from 22 yards out on a 4th & 3 attempt as the Lebanon lead swelled to 21-0 which remained when the final 3:05 ticked off the clock of the game’s opening quarter.
As the second quarter got underway, all signs pointed to Lebanon increasing their advantage as the Cedars were on the attack yet again. Although this Cedar drive would start off promising with a long gallop along the sideline by Leighton Rivera, courtesy of fantastic downfield blocking by the wide receiving corps, Sailsman was able to show off his mobility as the junior took off on one of his patented scramble drills to advance the ball down to the Mount 20 yard line.
That would prove to be the last threat on this drive however as a fumble later in the possession gave the ball back to Ephrata, 90 yards away from the endzone. Needing to find a rebuttal to Lebanon lead, the Mounts began to charge. After a nifty zigzag scramble run by sophomore quarterback Caden Keefer that saw him span nearly the entire width of the field at one point, Ephrata set up shop at the Lebanon 34 yard line after Keefer’s long gallop. Facing 3rd & 8 in the series, Keefer saw daylight and called his own number once more, picking up another first down to the 18 yard line. Later on in the drive, Ephrata was able to push across the goal line as Keefer fittingly scrambled in from 5 yards out to give Ephrata the crucial score before the intermission as the scoreboard read 21-7 Lebanon with 1:27 to play in the opening half.
With Ephrata all but assured of riding the wave of momentum into the second half, Lebanon was looking to have the final say of the half to steal the momentum right back into their locker room. After a nice return on the ensuing kickoff by Lebanon’s Christian Manzolillo put the ball into Ephrata’s side of the field, Sailsman threw his fourth touchdown pass of the night, his second to Jeremiah Beckley, as the Cedars rode into the break on a high note leading 28-7.
While it may have seemed that Lebanon’s late score could’ve been the dagger, Ephrata did not flinch.
After a Cedar 3 & out to start the second half. The Mounts began to march. A quarterback keeper by Nate Young got the drive ignited as the Mounts were now inside the Cedar 40 yard line after just one play. Facing a key 3rd & 4 later in the same drive, Young kept it once again, moving the chains down to the 25. Ephrata was then able to make the most of their opportunity as Adam Smith raced 14 yards untouched to the house whichmade it 28-14 Lebanon with 8:27 to go in the third.
But the Mounts weren’t done yet. On Lebanon’s next offensive possession, Ephrata’s Bryson Rhee was there to put a stop to things as the junior defensive back read his keys and earned himself a 20 yard pick 6 and suddenly Ephrata was within a score at 28-21 with 7:25 to play in the third. And more importantly, a true sense of belief now clearly evident on the Mounts’ sideline.
Although Lebanon would march deep into Ephrata territory on their next series, the Mounts stood tall and turned the Cedars away on downs, giving the ball back to Ephrata with the chance to tie things up.
Things didn’t look good early on for the visitors in their search for another score as Jordan Torres tallied a sack on the first play of the drive for the Cedars, but Ephrata kept plugging away leaning on key 3rd & 4th down conversion runs by Adam Smith to extend the drive and keep the ball moving down the field. Unfortunately for the Mounts, their last 4th down attempt of the drive would not prove to be as successful as Lebanon’s DZaire Hill was there for the enormous defensive play knocking down the 4th & 11 attempt as the ball fluttered toward the goal line with the final quarter just underway.
With the ball back in their hands, the Cedars were on the move, hoping that this would be the drive that would squash any hopes of a Mount comeback. Aided by key quarterback scrambles by Zakee Sailsman and a nice run by Leighton Rivera, the Cedars eventually reached the Ephrata 3 yard line. That would turn out to be all the further they would get as the Mounts held on downs, giving the ball back to their offense with the length of the field to go and time of the essence.
Just as they had done their previous time out on the field, the Cedar defensive got a stop when they had to have it, forcing Ephrata to punt deep in their own territory with just 2:08 left on the clock.
From there, the Cedar offensive line and workhouse running back Josh Kauffman were able to salt the game away by pounding it ground, highlighted by a key 4th & inches play with just over a minute remaining to give Lebanon the victory, snapping a losing 9 game losing streak in the process, as the Cedars prevailed on their home turf 28-21.
When you’re trying to end a long losing such as Lebanon was Friday night, any way you can get over the top is special and Coach Yonchiuk was certainly happy for his band of Cedars. “When did need to make a stop, we made it. When we had to run the ball to get the first down to win the ballgame, we were able to do that. Ephrata kept fighting. You gotta find a way to win a game like this.” And bouncing back from last week’s Cedar Bowl? “It was tough this week with the rain the one day and the thunder so you have to get off the field. We didn’t get to condition like we’d like to and that affected us I thought, but they still played hard and did what they had to do to find a way to win. A good senior leadership group, which is what we have, they found that way.”
NEXT UP: Lebanon will try and use this victory as a springboard into next week as the Cedars search for a winning streak when they welcome the E-Town Bears who are riding high with a 2-0 start this season, having yet to allow a single point through the first two contests.
Although Ephrata came out on the short end of the stick against Lebanon, there were positive things that Ephrata can definitelytake with them as the Mounts build their program back up brick by brick under the leadership of second year coach Kris Miller. The Mounts will look to take the lessons learned from this week into their annual backyard scrap with the Warwick Warriors, a team fresh off a 69 point performance against Garden Spot.
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