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Wilson Overcomes Sluggish Start, Soars Past Penn Manor To Keep Perfect Record Intact

Written by: on Saturday, September 21st, 2019. Follow Andy Herr on Twitter.


They are most commonly referred to as “trap games.” You know, they’re those sometimes mysterious, anxiety-filled games that tend to crop up on the schedule often sandwiched somewhere in between two Titanic-like contests that serve as monumental bookends. The scariest part of the matter?  Undoubtedly it’s the fact that not any one program is truly immune to falling into the general malaise that can sometimes come with either getting caught looking out the rearview mirror — or even the windshield for that matter – all while failing to place two hands firmly on the steering wheel, putting the gas pedal down to the floorboard, and taking care of the immediate task at hand.

As far as the Wilson Bulldogs were concerned, Friday night’s trip to Millersville seemed to come with all the trimmings of a scenario drenched in the aforementioned.

When you think of some of the top programs that dot the Lancaster-Lebanon League football landscape, any conversation that fails to put Wilson at or near the top of the list needs a serious reevaluation. In terms of sheer history, you can’t do much better than the iconic franchise that hails from West Lawn. Yes, the only member of the Lancaster-Lebanon League that ironically does not call either one of those two counties home.

Like clockwork, high expectations and equally high excitement levels seemingly run stride for stride at the dawn of every season for those with a vested interest in the Bulldogs vaunted program. And quite honestly, how could they not when you factor in the already overcrowded trophy case, the unbeaten seasons lumped upon unbeaten seasons, the small army of former ‘Dawgs who suit up every Saturday across all the various levels of the collegiate ranks, and of course the very select few who have gone on to find fame and fortune at the ultimate level, the National Football League. And wouldn’t you know it, the overall forecast for Wilson’s 2019 season, the 75th campaign in their already-storied history, appeared to have all the makings of yet another special run through the autumn months.

When looking at Wilson’s schedule for the 2019 slate, there were several games which caught the eye and truly popped out like sore thumbs. However, there were arguably none more that truly resonated than the two home games inside a three week stretch with contests marked against Manheim Central and Manheim Township respectively. For good reason too when consider the fact that the Barons were able to upend the Bulldogs in Manheim just one season ago en route to the PIAA-5A state finals last December. Oh yeah, then there’s also that September 27th home date against the Blue Streaks and a game that would likely go an awfully long way in determining L-L Section 1 supremacy this season when coupled with the significant underpinnings of possibly determining homefield advantage throughout the District 3-6A playoff race as well.

As far as the first event was concerned, mission accomplished in a big way for Wilson last Friday night as the Bulldogs feasted upon the bewildered Barons, getting their sweet revenge dating back to last year in an eye-popping 49-14 takedown of a fellow Pennsylvania high school football powerhouse.

However, standing in between those gigantic two contests was a trip to Chryst Field on the campus of Millersville University and a date to tangle with the Penn Manor Comets.

For Penn Manor, the 2019 campaign has already provided the Comets with a wave of emotions even though the season is still shy of being one month old. Going back on opening night, the Comets were able to stampede their way to Witmer and come out the other side with an 19-13 road victory against the Conestoga Valley Buckskins, a win which had already tied Penn Manor’s entire season output from just one year ago.

Since then however, the massive ongoing reconstruction project currently underway on the Penn Manor campus has appeared to serve as an apropos metaphor for the school’s football team given their three consecutive setbacks since the CV contest, two of which have come in a combined total margin of defeat tallying 100-7.

Yet even for all of their recent struggles, the Comets knew that when they stepped into the dressing room on Friday night that they had the rightful opportunity to wash and scrub away all of that recent frustration should they be able to rise up and snatch a signature victory away from Wilson for a Comets program frothing at the mouth to return to the prosperity enjoyed during the Todd Mealy era not all that long ago in the earlier part of the decade.

Yet even after encountering some early speedbumps thrown in their path by the hometown Comets, this too would prove to be a night dominated by the visitors from West Lawn.

On Penn Manor’s opening offensive series, the Comets’ initial march of the evening was put to an untimely halt just three plays into the drive when an errant Penn Manor pass was tipped into the sure-hands of Wilson defensive back Eli Rotenberg as the Bulldogs’ senior secondary man raced all the way down to the Comets’ 29-yard line with his new prize, setting Wilson up with a golden opportunity to deliver a quick haymaker. And truth be told, most in attendance more than likely felt that Rotenberg’s early theft was a surefire sign of the events yet to unfold.

Not if you were to ask the Penn Manor defense however.

Despite succumbing to a handful of powerful Avanti Lockhart runs which opened up the initial offensive series of the night for the Bulldogs that steadily moved the ball down the field bit by bit when coupled with the surrendering a 3rd & 2 from the nine yard line which was picked up when Wilson junior quarterback Kaleb Brown found a waiting Eli Rotenberg who sat down on his route at the Comets’ four yard line for a fresh set of downs, the Penn Manor defense finally found its footing. In fact, the Bulldogs would only be able to travel just one yard further on the drive as the Penn Manor defensive unit stood tall, forcing a 21-yard field goal booted through the uprights by Wilson junior kicker Jack Wagner which gave Wilson the early 3-0 lead with 7:51 to play in the opening quarter.

After holding the Comets to a three and out on their ensuing offensive series, the Wilson offense returned to the field eager to find the endzone and establish some early breathing room between themselves and their hosts. In short, the Penn Manor defense continued to have a differing opinion.

In fact, the Penn Manor defense remained rock-solid with their backs pinned up against the wall on Wilson’s next offensive series as the Comets were to hold the Bulldogs on downs as a terrific stop authored by two of the Comets’ tri captains on 4th & 1, senior defensive back Josh Gibson and junior linebacker Nick Baker respectively, gave the hometown team some early mojo with the Penn Manor offense trotting back onto the field at the Bulldogs’ 49 yard line.

While the Penn Manor offense was finally able to generate some yards on their own merit their next time with the football, the Comets were certainly were more than willing to accept some additional help courtesy of the Wilson defensive unit as well when the Bulldogs were dinged with jumping offsides on the hard-count, along with a key roughing the passer penalty which moved the ball down well into Bulldog territory. And after a magnificent drawn up screen pass from junior quarterback Luke Braas to fellow junior running back Isaiah Stoltzfus which picked up 21 yards, the Comets now found themselves residing on the Bulldogs’ one-yard line. From there, Stoltzfus was able to lay claim to the honors as the 5’10 174lb tailback plowed his way into the endzone and promptly added a two-point conversion run on top of it to give the Comets the early, surprising 8-3 advantage over Wilson with 3:08 left to go in the first quarter.

From that point on however, Wilson took off and never really looked back.

In fact, it would take the Bulldogs all of one play to make that abundantly clear as a 52-yard scamper down the field by way of Wilson triggerman Kaleb Brown ushered the white and red clad visitors all the way down to the Penn Manor eight-yard line on the ensuing series. And after picking up three more yards on the drive, Brown was able to put the Bulldogs back on top for good with a five-yard TD toss to fellow junior wideout Troy Corson, giving Wilson the upper-hand once again at 10-8 just 1:01 later.

After a series successful defensive stands between the sides in the waning moments of the first quarter and into the early portion of the second quarter, Wilson regained possession in the infant stages of the second frame with desire to make good on that earlier aspiration of generating some early separation up on the scoreboard.

Well, thanks to the efforts of Avanti Lockhart, they quickly would.

After a sweet play on the opening play of the drive co-signed by the dynamic junior duo of Kaleb Brown to Troy Corson which propelled the Bulldogs down to the Penn Manor 33-yard line, that is all the further that the Wilson troops would need to travel before Lockhart burst through the hole opened up by his stout offensive line, made a vicious cut-back against the grain, and found nothing but green artificial turf waiting for him on the backside of the Penn Manor defense as the Bulldogs’ 210lb senior running back barreled his way to paydirt with a 33-yard touchdown jaunt which gave Wilson the 17-8 cushion with 9:38 left to play in the opening half.

From there, it appeared that the floodgates had at long last finally opened up in Wilson’s favor.

After stuffing the Penn Manor offense following the Lockhart touchdown, the Wilson offense picked up right where they had just left off their next time out. Behind a successful method of dinking and dunking their way down the field their next time with the football, the opportunity for a long touchdown toss was finally ripe for the taking as Kaleb Brown promptly hurled a 32-yard bomb to Brady Gibble, with the senior wideout winning his one-on-one battle in the corner of the endzone, as the gorgeous Brown to Gibble touchdown toss now gave Wilson the 24-8 lead with 7:14 to play in the first half.

As the remainder of the second quarter trudged along, it would prove to be much of the same script written by the Bulldogs.

After forcing Penn Manor into yet another punting situation on the Comets’ next offensive series thanks to the sack efforts of Wilson junior linebacker Ethan Capitano on 3rd & 11, the Bulldogs went back to work with their offense looking to make good on one last scoring march before the intermission.

Spoiler alert: They would.

After finding a wide-open Avanti Lockhart standing all by his lonesome out in the flat on the opening play of drive, the Bulldogs had suddenly advanced all the way down to the Penn Manor 35-yard line as the Bulldogs’ senior muscle of a running back was able to bulldoze his way through the Penn Manor defense to signify the drive’s early jab. Yet even despite being met with resistance from the Comets’ defensive unit in the ensuing few plays however, the Bulldogs went back to their most recent fruitful results of going up top and were immediately rewarded in doing so as a 36-yard touchdown strike thrown from Kaleb Brown to Brady Gibble, the pair’s second touchdown combination of the night, sent Wilson into the break with the commanding 31-8 lead as the final 24 seconds eventually ticked off the second quarter clock.

Needless to say, the time was now if Penn Manor was to offer up any sort of resistance in the wake of the ongoing Wilson salvo the Comets now found themselves forced under heading into the second half. To their credit, they certainly recognized the opportunity as the Comets came out of the locker room by opening it up and turning to an onsides kick to begin the half. Unfortunately for them however, the Bulldogs’ special teams unit seemed up to the task as Wilson senior wideout Alex Gibble diagnosed the situation perfectly and quickly pounced on the loose pigskin, giving the Wilson offense a short field to work with only 42 yards standing between them and yet another score.

Following a sweet 22-yard connection from Kaleb Brown to Eli Rotenberg which got the Bulldogs’ offense in gear on the first play of the drive, Avanti Lockhart was there to pick up the remaining pieces as Lockhart’s 20-yard touchdown jaunt and subsequent Jack Wagner PAT gave the Bulldogs a 38-8 lead just 46 seconds into the second stanza.

For any team, playing complimentary football is the ultimate goal each and every time they step onto the field. In that regard, you’d be hard-pressed to find a much better example of that notion more feverishly at work than with Wilson’s offensive and defensive troops in the third quarter on Friday night.

After forcing Penn Manor into yet another punting situation on the Comets’ opening drive of the second half, thanks in large part to the sack efforts of Bulldogs’ junior linebacker Ethan Ashcroft, the Wilson offense returned to the field while clearly inspired by the work turned in by their defensive mates. In fact, it would take the Bulldogs all of one play to make that crystal clear as a 44-yard lightning bolt of a touchdown run from junior running back Mason Lenart on the next Wilson series propelled the ‘Dawgs to a 45-8 perch over Penn Manor with 9:40 left to play in the third quarter.

Yet even despite the fact that the outcome of the contest was largely decided once the game entered into the fourth and final quarter, it became abundantly clear that the Comets had no desires whatsoever in terms of allowing Wilson to simply waltz their way back home up Route 222 the rest of the way.

In the opening stages of the fourth quarter, the Penn Manor offense found themselves with a golden opportunity to finally squelch the ongoing 42-0 salvo which the Bulldogs found themselves on as a muffed Wilson punt gave the ball back to the Comets’ offense just 21 yards away. From there, after negotiating 11 yards against the Bulldogs’ defense in the first few plays of the series, the Comets were finally able to silence the Wilson blitzkrieg as a 10-yard touchdown toss from Luke Braas to junior wideout Kyle Murr — and subsequent two-point conversion run from Isaiah Stoltzfus added on top — trimmed the Wilson lead down to 45-16 with 10:05 left to play.

The only thing was, somebody forgot to tell Wilson to comply and stop scoring as well.

On the ensuing Wilson possession, arguably two of the Bulldogs’ best plays all evening long were turned in by the hard-charging efforts of running back Gavin Lenart as the Wilson sophomore burst loose for a pair of long runs, much to the visible delight of his teammates on the sideline, as a 47-yard burst from the 5’8 185lb tailback moved the ball down to the Penn Manor one-yard line. From there, junior quarterback Nick Williams was able to call his own number as Williams’ one-yard touchdown run on the draw play pushed Wilson over the 50-point threshold with their lead now standing at 51-16 following the missed PAT with 7:22 still left to tick off the game clock.

As mentioned however, Penn Manor refused to simply go away quietly with though the deck was clearly stacked against them in terms of making some sort of Herculean-type comeback effort. Even still, the Comets were likely able to find some positives down the homeward stretch of Friday night’s contest. Case in point, yet another touchdown combination from Luke Braas to Kyle Murr, the pair’s second in as many drives, as the 26-yard touchdown lob between the Comets’ dynamic junior duo closed out scoring on the night, but not before another Isaiah Stoltzfus two-point conversion out of the swing-gate formation, ultimately sending Wilson home as 51-24 winners over Penn Manor on a picture-perfect Football Friday night in Lancaster County.

Don’t be mistaken however. Even though Wilson was able to lay claim to a what may have seemed like a resounding 27-point victory, there will still be a laundry list of work left waiting for the Bulldogs to take care of this week at practice leading up next Friday night’s clash of the titans in West Lawn.

“They’re kids and no matter how much you try to push the issue of it’s football where emotion means so much, we came out as a flat as a pancake,” a humble Wilson head coach Doug Dahms offered up afterwards. “You could see it. I thought we just played sluggish the whole game.”

“But,” he added quickly, “We were able to get it done.”

NEXT UP: With their win section-opening win over Penn Manor now behind them, Wilson now must get locked-in for an enormous matchup against Manheim Township back home next Friday night at the friendly confines of Gurski Stadium. In short, if you want a scouting report on the Blue Streaks, simply look no further than their 56-7 triumph on the road at Cocalico this week, arguably the best team in District 3-5A field this season, for just how much weaponry the Streaks will be bringing with them on Friday evening. Undoubtedly, when you combine an unbeaten Wilson squad with an unbeaten Township bunch, it will arguably be the best game taking place in the entire state of Pennsylvania next weekend.

As far as Penn Manor is concerned, the Comets must now go back to that drawing board in order to find something that will stick as the Comets prepare for another home date next week when they place host to neighboring McCaskey in an L-L Section 1 tussle and a Tornado squad likely eyeing-up a fantastic opportunity to finally give first-year head coach Sam London his first win as head man of the Red Tornado.

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