Manheim Township Makes Another Statement With Resounding Win Over Cocalico
No matter what the sport and no matter what the competition level, all coaches will tell you that every team they lead is different in the sense that no two teams are ever truly alike. And while the very notion of the word “different” has the ability toconjure up nothing but negative connotations, there are certain teams that are simply transcendent above all the rest and are quite simply, different.
You see, every now and then, a unique group of individuals come together that share all the same dreams and aspirations along with the necessary work-ethic and talent to earn the rightful distinction of being called the “best ever.” When talking about Manheim Township football, you don’t have to go very deep in the Blue Streak history books to find that very team.
By now, chances are that you already know their story. But hey, when you achieve things that none of your predecessors have ever done before you, the accomplishments are worth repeating. For years, the Blue Streaks had always been respectable and formidable challenge within the ranks of Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 1 and District 3 at large, but were never quite able to shatter through that perceived glass ceiling that hung above their heads and make a splash that everyone could take note of. Until last year.
Yes, the 2017 edition of Township was certainly one for ages. Starting the year off with bang by toppling an old Midpenn nemesis in Central Dauphin, a program that the Streaks had yet to defeat in the regular season since 2010, it was clear that these Blue Streaks were out to prove that they were indeed a cut above. Among their accomplishments along the way in the regular season last year, Township throttled bitter-rival Hempfield in the Black Knights’ house to the tune of 56-0 before following that performance up later on with a 45-7 thrashing of neighboring rival Warwick just one year after the Warriors beat Township for the first time since 2002. On a Hail Mary pass no less.
And then of course came the business of book-ending “The Streak.”
On a quintessential late-October Friday night last year, Manheim Township was able to knock off the Wilson Bulldogs by virtue of a 38-14 decision. Sure, that may seem like a rather pedestrian accomplishment, but not when you consider the fact that no other team that had resided in L-L Section 1 had been able to defeat the mighty Bulldogs in the regular season since the 2007 Blue Streaks. Come District 3 playoff time, the Streaks showed no signs whatsoever of slowing down. In fact, Township was able to go back-to-back against those same aforementioned goliaths in Central Dauphin and Wilson respectively before advancing to their first, and likely far from last, District 3 championship game.
On that night, the Blue Streaks were truly golden as Township came away with the shiniest of trophies after a hard-fought 17-14 triumph over perennial powerhouse Cumberland Valley to advance to the 6A state semifinals.
And while Township would eventually see their remarkable season come to a close against nationally-recognized Pine-Richland on that frigid December afternoon in Altoona, the Streaks ended up giving the eventual state champions their stiffest test of the season before falling by virtue of a 28-7 decision, thus capping the best season that the school located in Neffsville had ever seen before.
There’s just one problem. Don’t bother telling that to the 2018 Blue Streaks.
Granted, Friday night only marked the halfway point of the regular season, but if the first-half is to serve as any indication of what is to come down the final furlong, this year’s Manheim Township squad is eager to write their own story and not be overshadowed by their 2017 exploits.
Entering Friday night’s monster matchup against the Cocalico Eagles, a tough-as-nails program in their own right, the Blue Streaks already had already tallied wins that would make most teams green with envy. Starting off the season with the stage all to themselves on a rare Saturday night affair at Landis Field on the outskirts of Harrisburg against an alarmingly-talented CD East outfit, Township showed no flinch whatsoever as the Streaks kept a lid on the explosive Panther offensive attack all night long, coming away with a win in Week 1 before going on to post shutout victories over Dallastown and Penn Manor respectively along with a meaty triumph on the road at Central Dauphin sandwiched in between just for good measure.
Yet even though the Streaks came into the weekend flying highand rightly so, they knew full-well that their opposition was not one known to back down from a challenge.
Ask any high school football fan that has a rooting interest into the happenings of District 3 about who some of the top programs are that reside in the mid-state are and you’re likely to get the same list of usual suspects. One answer you might not get that you undoubtedly should would be Cocalico.
Often overshadowed and overlooked by a larger audience thankstheir long-time L-L Section 2 ‘mates, Manheim Central, the Eagles of Cocalico have steadily and consistently built themselves into a perennial District-championship caliber program that contains all the right elements that translate to successful autumns year in and year out. And just like Manheim Township, 2017 for Cocalico was no exception.
While many on the outside were waiting, pointing, and hoping to see a possible Manheim Central and Harrisburg rematch in last season’s District 3 5A title game, Cocalico consistently kept going about their business, always remembering to keep knocking on the door by authoring incredible performances each and every week. In fact, probably the most-telling stat from all of 2017 was the fact that Cocalico was able to outscore their L-L Section 2 brethren last season, arguably one of the toughest divisions in all of Pennsylvania scholastic football, by a total 393-135, offering proof that the punishing ground-attack employed by the Eagles is one built to stand the test of time. And while Cocalico would eventually fall just one point shy of making a District 3 finals appearance last season after dropping a 21-20 contest to you guessed it, Manheim Central, the Eagles of 2018 have also been able to make a name for themselves throughout the halfway mark of this season by entering the night with perfect and somewhat surprising 4-0 record considering all the losses the Eagles suffered at the hand of graduation.
And so, with the stage set in a game dripping with intrigue, both the Eagles and Blue Streaks were set to embark in one of the biggest contests taking place across all of central Pennsylvania Friday evening.
Ideally, you’d like to get off to a fast start in any game, but especially in a matchup of this magnitude. Well, check and mate for Manheim Township on this night as the Streaks did indeed start fast. 15 seconds fast to be more precise. Starting off thegame at their own 36-yard line, Manheim Township junior quarterback Harry Kirk dropped back to pass where he would find a wide open Brett Benjamin all by his lonesome running free behind the Cocalico secondary as the ultra-quick 64-yard Kirk to Benjamin jab helped Township land the game’s first punch as the Streaks went in front 7-0 before fans even had a chance to get settled into their seats.
Needless to say, getting off to a quick start was right at the very top of the priority list for Township. “We knew that (Cocalico) was all ball control and we had to maximize our offensive possessions,” Manheim Township head coach Mark Evans said. “We won the toss and we wanted to go on offense right from the beginning.”
“They do such a great job with their veer,” Evans continued on while lauding the offensive proficiency of the Streaks’ counterparts Friday night. “Dave (Gingrich) does an awesome job. Their kids are hard-fought…We just knew that we had to maximize every offensive possession that we had.”
Sure, it’d be easy for most teams to fidget and squirm at the first sign of adversity, especially when adversity strikes before you have the chance to even break a sweat, but most teams are not made of the same DNA as Cocalico. And never more was the no flinch element of Eagle football on display than the on the Blue Steaks’ second offensive series.
With their backs up against the wall and Township threatening to go in front by two scores early on after a 17-yard swing pass from Kirk to Jaden Floyd which set up a 4th & 2 attempt, the Eagle defense, namely junior linebacker Cody Shay, rose to the challenge by turning the Streaks over on downs, albeit deep in their own territory. Right then and there, Cocalico immediately went back to doing what they know best. Running the football. Sparked by a nifty 37-yard pitch on the outside perimeter to junior running back Ronald Zahm, the Eagles had crossed midfield for the first time with the ball now resting at the Township 40-yard line. Yet even though Cocalico would be able to poke and prod their way down the field to the Township 11-yard line, the Blue Streak defense ultimately had the final say by forcing Cocalico to settle for a field goal attempt that was successfully booted home by senior kicker Danny Engle to trim the Township lead to 7-3 with just 59 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
But that would prove to be more than enough time for Manheim Township freshman wideout Anthony Ivey to make a remarkable first impression.
With the ball bounding his way on the ensuing kickoff, the young and ultra-talented 9th grader got his mitts on the loose pill, the first time he ever had touched the ball in live varsity action, and proceeded to take off running through the Cocalico coverage unit with the endzone as his final destination as Ivey’s 82-yard kickoff return swung the pendulum of momentum clearly back onto the Township sideline with Streaks now in front 14-3 with just 45 ticks left to melt off the first quarter clock. “He’s sneaky,” Coach Evans said with the grin of a Cheshire cat Friday evening when describing the new offensive weapon in his arsenal. “Those were his first varsity touches tonight and I think it was pretty glorious.”
However as Manheim Township soon discovered, the task of putting away Cocalico is far easier said than done.
Ironically enough, it would be a pass that would get Cocalico in gear on their next offensive series as a Noah Palm pass to a wide open Ronald Zahm streaking across the middle made a quick and effective 44-yard incision into the Township defense with the Eagles now residing inside the MT redzone with the ball now resting at 19-yard line. From there, senior running back Austin Landers was able to tote the rock down to the Blue Streaks’ 8 before Noah Palm called his own number as the senior QB’s 8-yard TD keeper trimmed the Township lead down to 14-9 following the failed 2pt conversion play with 8:49 left to play in the opening half.
With the element of momentum now hanging delicately in the balance, the Blue Streaks went back to work at their own 20-yard line. Although it may have been impossible to know at the time, perhaps the game’s most defining play came with Township facing 3rd & 10 and the prospect of punting the ball away to the dangerous Veer-attack a very real possibility. Yet once again, Anthony Ivey played with a poise well-beyond his years as the dazzling MT freshman wideout snagged a bubble screen from Harry Kirk and proceeded to race 19-yards down the field with it, giving the Streaks a much-needed fresh set of downs at their own 39-yard line. With the Township offense now clearly starting to get into a groove, Cocalico dialed up the pressure with a free rusher coming unabated on the blitz off the edge. No matter for Harry Kirk. With pressure coming from his right-hand side, Kirk proceeded to keep his cool while rolling left, eluding the rush, and firing a dart into the waiting hands of senior wideout Hilton Ridley as Kirk’s stone-cold 42-yard dime to Ridley ushered the Streaks all the way down to the Cocalico 6-yard line. Yet while the Eagle defense would wall-up over the course of the next few plays, the Streaks would be able to break the dam on 3rd & Goal as a 5-yard Harry Kirk to Mickey Stokes connection via the fade in the back corner of the endzone made it a seemingly gargantuan 21-6 Blue Streak advantage with 4:48 to play in the half.
Even though Cocalico would go on to author one of their trademark offensive marches which consumes equal time yardage and game clock on their next offensive series, the Eagle advance would eventually be stopped after a sensational play defensively by Township’s Josh Emge as the Blue Streak junior was able to get incredible push from his defensive line spot, snuffing out the Cocalico 3rd & 1 attempt with just 20 seconds left to go in the first half.
But in a first half that was defined by cat-quick strikes by Manheim Township, it seemed only fitting that the Streaks would close the book on the game’s opening 24 minutes in the same exact manner.
Taking over with at their own 36-yard line with just 19 seconds to their benefit, Township began to test the waters of the Cocalico defense with Kirk firing an absolute laser beam across the middle to multifaceted Cameron Horst with Horst hanging on despite getting crunched for his strong-willed efforts, with Township now across the midfield stripe at the Cocalico 49 after the 15-yard gainer. Once again, Kirk continued to stand in the pocket and fire off another missile down the seam, this time to Brett Benjamin, who would also take his fair share of punishment from the Cocalico secondary, but not before coming down with the 27-yard reception, moving Township down to the Cocalico 22-yard line. And with the offense successfully operating the “19 second drill” offense, senior placekicker Jack Rodenberger was able to cap the half off in style for Township by promptly drilling the 38-yard field goal at the first half buzzer with Township trotting into the locker room with the commanding 24-9 advantage.
While the second half didn’t open up quite as exciting as its predecessor with both teams taking turns exchanging punts to begin the final 24 minutes, it would be Manheim Township’s, orchestrated by MVP-worthy special teamer Jack Rodenberger, which flipped the field the position in Township’s favor by pinning the Eagles back at their own 5-yard line with the third quarter approaching the midway point. From there however, Cocalico would only continue to move backward as a holding call occurring in the endzone led to a safety as the relentless Blue Streaks defense scored the rare deuce to increase the Township’s advantage to 26-9 with 7:29 to go in the third.
On the ensuing kickoff following the ill-timed safety, Cocalico chose once more to kick it into the direction of Anthony Ivey who would indeed end up making the Eagles pay once more by darting in and out of traffic all the way down the Cocalico sideline to the Eagles’ 38-yard line to start the drive. Aided shortly thereafter on the drive by a QB sneak authored by Harry Kirk on 3rd & 1 which helped keep the Blue Streak advance on schedule, Kirk was again clutch in a must-convert situation by firing yet another rocket shot down the middle on 4th & 8 to Cam Horst, who hung onto it despite being body-slammed to the turf for his efforts, as the Blue Streaks suddenly set up shop on the Eagles’ 1-yard line following a personal foul penalty tacked on against Cocalico. Although it would take all four downs for Township to finally negotiate the necessary 36 inches against the stingy Cocalico defense, a 1-yard TD sneak by Harry Kirk on 4th& Goal put the Streaks up 33-9 following the Rodenberger PAT with 1:29 left showing on the third quarter clock.
Luckily for the visitors from Denver, the window of opportunity had not yet truly closed on them as of yet as evidenced by the 8 point swing the Eagles were able to muster at the onset of the fourth quarter with Austin Landers rumbling in from 13-yards out on the option pitch on the first play of the final stanza with a Noah Palm pass to Ronald Zahm added in as the cherry on top as Cocalico had quickly made it a 33-17 affair with 11:53 to go in the contest.
Yet even though the early fourth quarter Cocalico score would keep things within a doable distance at 16 points, the Blue Streaks would answer back with their own rebuttal as a key 25-yard field goal knocked in by Jack Rodenberger at the conclusion of MT’s ensuing offensive series would make it a 36-17 Manheim Township lead with now 7:48 left to go.
From there, things only continued to get more arduous for the visiting Eagles as a fumble on their next offensive series, pounced on by Township junior defensive back Matt Mikulka, made the hill even further to climb with time quickly running out on them. However Cocalico continued to fight until the final gun as evidenced by Austin Landers’ 40-yard gallop to the house, his second TD of the night, which sliced the Township lead down to a manageable 12 point deficit at 36-24, albeit with just 3:14 left to play.
But just as good teams are able to do in crunch time, the Blue Streaks were able to salt the game away from there as Township continued to pound the rock at will against the now-gassed Eagle defensive unit, eventually running the clock out and coming away with an enormous 36-24 Section 1 vs Section 2 mid-season crossover triumph.
Perhaps the scariest part about Township’s 5-0 start for the L-L and District 3 to take note of? They don’t even appear to be the finished product just yet.
“We got a little complacent there at the end there with stuff we have to continue to work out,” Coach Evans admitted in the postgame. “That’s part of growing with a young football team and we’ll get better. It’s a pretty exciting group of kids because they’re really buying in.”
“We started talking with this junior class, because they had been involved with such a strong senior class, about leadership last fall with them and challenging them to take their place at the table,” said Evans. “They’ve worked very hard on getting along rather than just going along and that to me is the whole buy in piece that is really special to see this group of young men, the seniors, leading this football team and the juniors responding to it.”
NEXT UP: It’s no rest for the weary for those on this ride as Manheim Township will be tasked with the objective of quickly putting Friday night’s victory over Cocalico in the rearview mirror as the Blue Streaks make plans to entertain Wilson in Neffsville next Friday night with top billing in the Section 1 standings on the line against a Bulldogs squad likely salivating at the opportunity to finally exact some revenge following the Blue Streaks’ sweep last season. But make no mistake about it. Even though this may be a new cast of characters with starring roles on this year’s team, Township has already answered the dinner bell numerous times this season while staring challenges directly in the eye.
“We had three days rest and three days preparation for Central Dauphin who is one of the top tier teams in District 3,” Coach Evans said going back to a speedbump put in front of his team through the first few weeks of the season—-one the Blue Streaks were able to overcome. “This group of kids has been really good about stringing stuff together and I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll come back to work on Monday.”
Likewise, the challenge for Cocalico will be eerily similar to that of their counterparts over the course of the next week as the Eagles also prepare for their chief rival within the division as Cocalico finally returns home for the first time after a month-long road trip. Waiting for them on the other side? A Manheim Central Barons squad fresh off a 50-0 demolition of longtime Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 rival Elizabethtown this past Friday night with the top spot up for grabs in L-L Section 2 as well next Friday night in Denver.
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