Second Quarter Surge Propels Crimson Tide As Columbia Takes Care Of Northern Lebanon In Section Four Tussle
Without fail, each and every season brings with it those feel good stories that emerge from the early portion of the regular season slate regarding programs that appear to have finally turned a corner and put those dark and dreaded days of losing behind them once and for all. Well, far be it from me to say who exactly should take home the top honors in that category specifically this year, but I will certainly do everything in my power to suggest that Columbia and Northern Lebanon need to be on 2021’s short list of nominees.
In some ways, especially not all that long ago either, the idea of a “rebuild” would be something almost sacrilegious to even suggest up in Fredericksburg. After all, from the years of 2013-2017, if there was one constant that everyone in Lancaster-Lebanon League football circles could set their clocks to, it would be the reality that the section title would eventually have to go through Northern Lebanon at some point in time. And with the likes of elite skill guys such as Isaac Ray, Christian and Dominic Trader, Mason Yost, and Luke Funck to name just a small handful roaming the field in those days, it was easy to see why the Vikings were perennially one of the best and most consistent programs that the L-L League had to offer. Since then however, a dramatic about face would quickly ensue.
For a school that had made winning on fall Friday nights nothing if not commonplace, it would take all the Vikings’ collective will and patience to persevere through just a pair of wins from the years of 2018-20. Suffice to say, the new blood that first-year head coach Jason Rice has infused into the Vikings’ psyche has proven to be exactly what the doctor ordered. In fact, it took the Vikings all of four weeks this season to eclipse that same number of wins as they had throughout the last three seasons combined when the Vikings came out victorious against the likes of Pine Grove, York Tech, and Lebanon respectively, storming out of the chute en route to a 3-1 record. However, since that victory over Lebanon three weeks ago now, the Vikings had gone on to stumble a bit given their setbacks at the hands of Lampeter-Strasburg and Annville-Cleona in the last two weeks by a combined final score of 83-in those two contests. And sure, while those two losses may have understandably cooled the heels of everyone in Vikings’ camp somewhat, the early returns on the Jason Rice era appear to be nothing but a positive investment for a program that surely wants nothing more than to proclaim once again that Northern Lebanon Football is back and better than ever.
The only issue with Northern Lebanon possibly snapping that pesky two-game losing streak on Friday night however? The fact that the Vikings would have to travel to Columbia to take on a Crimson Tide team that not only has morphed into one of the best stories in the L-L, but more importantly the idea that the Tide are also downright dangerous this year.
If you’re from around this part of Pennsylvania, you already know the drill here. Name me a better small town that rallies around its high school sports teams better than the tiny river town of Columbia, PA. There’s a few, sure. Steel-High certainly comes to mind, but pound for pound, there are very few schools that are as tradition-rich as the Columbia Crimson Tide. That said, it’s been awhile –almost certainly too long as far as some Tide-backers would be concerned I’m sure—that the enthusiasm surrounding the school’s football program has been as high as it is this year. Ironically, during those same recent years in which Northern Lebanon was running pretty much roughshod over their competition, Columbia was on the exact side of the fence, routinely struggling to find wins anywhere on the schedule, all while having to navigate numbers so low that the dreaded F-word, forfeit, seemed to be a possible topic of discussion heading into every single week. And that was before anyone had heard of the word COVID mind you. In fact, during a varsity game against Lancaster Catholic, the Tide were forced to end the game early due to a lack of available manpower. Wow. Hard to envision that reality these days, eh?
Ignited by senior triggerman Robert Footman, an equally-adept quarterback and he is off-guard on the Crimson Tide varsity basketball team, the 2021 edition of the Crimson Tide have made those days of losing a far, far distant memory. Simply put, aside from Columbia entering this Friday’s game against Northern Lebanon with a 4-1 overall mark which could legitimately speak for itself, perhaps no better example exists of just far the Tide have turned things around this year than with storylines coming out of two of those four victories.
First and foremost, Columbia’s dizzying 60-41 triumph over their arch nemesis in all things sports, Lancaster Catholic, which served as a true statement win for the program that the days of consistently playing second fiddle to their chief rival were now a thing of the past. But, as if that wasn’t already enough, you’d also have to look at last week’s road win at Octorara as well. Down bodies yet again –something that Columbia may always have to deal with in one way or another—the Tide dug down deep and found something even more special given their 48-46 win to topple the Braves last Friday night. To put it mildly, having to decline to finish a section game when compared to winning a section game on the road while dealing with the exact same elephant in the room are two instances that aren’t even in the same solar system with one another.
So, when two of the league’s best up and comers in Columbia and Northern Lebanon got together with each other high atop the banks of the Susquehanna in Columbia on Friday night, the question at hand whether or not Northern Lebanon to recapture that same upward trajectory which displayed out of the gate this season, or would the Crimson Tide continue to stay the course and remain white-hot?
Well, while their offensive attack may not have been clicking on all cylinders on this night, it’s hard to find fault with a 22-point margin of victory, something Columbia was able to lay claim to by virtue of their eventual 35-13 takedown of Northern Lebanon.
As mentioned, while Columbia primarily butters its bread by way of their explosive offensive prowess, it would prove to be the defenses from each side which rose up and stole the show in the opening 12 minutes of play. Case in point, the Vikings’ defensive troops standing tall right out of the gates and forcing the Crimson Tide to punt it away on their first series following a quick three and out. From there, once the Northern Lebanon offense took to the field for their first initial series of the contest, they too would be met with resistance, albeit while starting off with excellent field position, as Columbia sophomore linebacker, Jayden Boone, brought the heat and came in unabated right into the quarterback’s lap on a key 3rd & 6 play for the Vikings, ultimately leading to Columbia retaking ownership of the football at their own 20-yard line following the exchange in possession.
Yet again however, Northern Lebanon proved to be an immovable object of sorts considering this Crimson Tide drive too would end in another punt, thanks in large part to Vikings’ star senior linebacker, Kalani Adams, registering a sack to end the Columbia threat, handing the ball back over to the Northern Lebanon offensive troops once more at their own 47-yard line.
If you’re starting to sense a theme here, you’re not wrong in thinking so. And yes, if you’re already curious, this Columbia defensive stand would end in, you guessed it, another Crimson Tide sack on a third down. This time, the honors went to Crimson Tide senior defensive tackle, Joel Ober, on a Northern Lebanon 3rd & 15 attempt, effectively thwarting yet another short-lived Vikings’ drive.
By this time, it was fair to say that each side was desperately in search of sort of spark at this stage of the contest considering neither club it appeared could get anything started offensively. Well, in that respect, Columbia’s Demari Simms proved to be a fire-starter.
After fielding the ensuing punt following the Ober sack just moments earlier, the Columbia sophomore wideout proceeded to pick up excellent blocking downfield from his fellow Tide mates, as Simms’ electric punt return helped set the homestanding Tide up with excellent field position with the ball now resting at the Vikings’ 25-yard line right before the first quarter horn sounded with the score remaining deadlocked at a 0-0 affair.
In the second frame however, that’s where Columbia really made a dent in the scoreboard.
Undoubtedly ignited by the aforementioned Simms punt return, a Robert Footman quick sling pass out in the flat to fellow senior, wide receiver J’Von Collazo, quickly ushered the Crimson Tide attack down to the Northern Lebanon 11-yard line once the second quarter got underway. As it turned out, that was all the further the Crimson Tide offense would have to march as a unit considering Footman’s eventual 11-yard touchdown run just moments later, a TD run which was quickly capped off by a successful 2-pt conversion pass to Aiden Miller as well, made it an 8-0 Columbia lead just 15 seconds into the second period.
Ironically, just when it seemed as if perhaps Columbia’s offense began to get things in gear, so too did Northern Lebanon’s.
After taking over at their own 40-yard line following the ensuing kickoff return, a punishing run authored by Vikings’ junior running back, Grady Stichler, who proceeded to bully his way through Crimson Tide defenders, moved the visitor’s offensive threat all the way down to the Columbia 12-yard line. All told, Stichler’s jaunt would cover 48 yards in length, a bolt of energy that the Northern Lebanon offense sorely needed at the time. However, just as they had done at nearly every turn that had preceded this, Columbia’s defense would once again have none of it. In fact, the Vikings would only be able to travel just three more yards from there on out in the series before an eventual Northern Lebanon field goal attempt failed to travel through the uprights, allowing the Tide to wipe away the sweat beads from their collective brows.
So, while starting off 88-yards away from paydirt certainly isn’t the most advantageous way to try and make a living, the Tide offense would be undaunted by the challenge.
Facing a key 4th & inches in the drive, a Robert Footman second-effort sneak helped move the sticks which allowed the Tide offense to remain on the field, a play which proved to be a key catalyst in the floodgates eventually opening wide. In fact, after extending the drive by way of his legs, Footman went back to slicing the Vikings’ defense by way of his Howitzer of an arm, tossing a first down pass to sophomore wideout, Artie Pointdexter, a strike which moved the Tide to the precipice of the midfield stripe with the ball residing at Vikings’ 48-yard line. From there, it was bombs away as a Footman alley-oop of a pass found the waiting hands of J’Von Collazo who had gotten loose behind the Northern Lebanon secondary, good for a 52-yard touchdown, which quickly made it a 14-0 affair in favor of the hosts following the failed 2-pt try with 6:43 left to play before intermission.
But as it turned out, the final six minutes and changed proved to be a Columbia sprint into the locker room.
After holding Northern Lebanon to negative yards on the Vikings’ ensuing offensive possession, the Tide would waste little time in finding the zone once again. In fact, it took Columbia all of one play to cross the chalk once they had the ball on offense as another Footman bomb, this one from 53-yards out to freshman wide out, Dominic Diaz-Ellis, put the Tide up by a 20-0 count following yet another unsuccessful 2-pt try with 4:56 now left before the break.
Then, with their offense clearly humming along by this point, it was time for the Tide defense to continue with the scintillating first half of play. Case in point, a Diaz-Ellis interception coming on the heels of his prior touchdown reception just moments earlier, as the freshman’s theft to slam the door on the ensuing Northern Lebanon drive helped set the Tide with excellent field position once again at the Northern Lebanon 30-yard line. Ironically however, while Columbia would not be able to make any hay on this possession in particular, the Tide would still get one last crack at it before the first half would expire thanks to yet another successful stand put forth by their defense. And this time, the Tide would indeed make good on this series and punch things in right before the second quarter buzzer as a Robert Footman 5-yard touchdown scramble and successful 2-pt toss to Demari Simms made it a 28-0 Crimson Tide lead at the halftime break.
Suffice to say, the first half was not something that will probably make it on to Northern Lebanon’s season highlight reel. However, to their credit, one group of Vikings went into the locker room at halftime on Friday night while a whole different group had clearly emerged to begin the second half of play.
In fact, following a magnificent run after catch thanks to the handiwork of Vikings’ wide receiver, Moises Gonzalez, on a 3rd & 4 attempt right out the chute, the sophomore’s 74-yard lightning bolt of a touchdown reception gave Northern Lebanon some much-needed positive vibes with the third quarter still well in its infancy with the score now standing at 28-7 with 10:20 left to go in the third.
However, even despite the ultra-quick Gonzalez score to start the third quarter, the defenses continued to reign supreme throughout the remainder of the stanza, something best exemplified by Northern Lebanon senior defensive back, Tyler George, tallying an interception in his own right throughout the third quarter proceedings, eventually helping things culminate in a 28-7 score at the end of the third quarter.
Ironically, for a third quarter that seemed to be mired with both offensive attacks continuing to remain stuck in the mud, Columbia wasted little time –well, technically eight seconds- in proving that the fourth and final quarter would be different.
Sure enough, on the first offensive play of the final dozen minutes, a Footman to Diaz-Ellis touchdown pass from 5-yards out, Footman’s fifth total touchdown accounted for on the evening, made it a 35-7 Crimson Tide lead following a Joel Ober PAT where Footman, yes, the team’s quarterback, served as the long-snapper, with 11:52 to play.
To their credit though, Northern Lebanon would continue to keep punching despite the lopsided margin up on the scoreboard. For that, look no further than Kayden Clark’s interception, the Vikings’ second defensive takeaway in the second half, ending yet another possible Crimson Tide advance. As far as the offensive side of things was concerned, Northern Lebanon would continue to make gains there as well. In fact, following the Clark INT, the Vikings struck gold as a 47-yard pitch and catch touchdown from quarterback Ethan Ebersole to James Voight, Ebersole’s second TD pass of the night in this his first start for the Vikings this season, helped close the gap down to 35-13 with 6:40 still to play.
That said, that would prove to be all the further the guests from Fredericksburg would get on this night as Columbia went on to ride out the final six minutes and change en route to their 22-point triumph over a divisional foe.
“We came out of the first half up 28-0 and I think our guys kinda took it for granted a little bit and just went through the motions so to say,” a matter of fact Crimson Tide head coach Bud Kyle offered after addressing his troops in the postgame huddle Friday night. “We told them all week that Northern Lebanon wasn’t going to lie down for us. (Northern Lebanon) plays well, plays hard and they’re coached-up. We just came out for the second half I think a bit too cocky, so we’ll get back to it, see what we did wrong, and we’ll get better.”
All told though, you know you’re in pretty good shape as a program where a relatively average night output still translates to a three-score margin of victory against a team from within your own section. But make no mistake about it. This is a Crimson Tide program on the rise with the right man leading the way to where that should be expected.
“I was young, still am young, and was coaching in high school at Steel-High and you know, Columbia is kinda like Steel-High a little bit in a sense to where it’s a small town with a lot of history behind it,” Kyle went on to say big picture wise as to why he wanted to take over the reins of a Columbia program a few years ago that was struggling mightily to find its way at the time. “Coming in, I knew (Columbia) won something like four games in four years and a lot of people did say, ‘There’s nothing there, the kids aren’t committed.’ For me, I took that as disrespect,” said Kyle. “Our first year, we took our lumps, but we got better. We laid the blueprint down for guys that followed, and they’ve followed it. Now we’re seeing some success with it and the kids bought in. I’m proud of them because they stuck around. First year, going 0-10, they could’ve said, ‘I’m not playing anymore. Coach doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ But they stuck it out and we’re seeing the results of that hard work.”
NEXT UP: After taking care of Northern Lebanon on Friday night, the Tide now set their sights on another Lebanon County foe hailing from L-L Section Four, an equally-scorching Annville-Cleona squad that will come into next Friday night’s tussle fresh off a combined total 96 points scored in their last two games respectively. And yes, while Columbia is certainly out to claim the L-L Section Four title this season, the Tide also have their sights set on the District 3-2A field, a field of fellow competitors to where they have to like their chances should they continue to take care of business from here on out in the regular season. Then, should Columbia be fortunate enough to claim District 3 gold in football, the chances are equally as high, perhaps even higher, that the Crimson Tide basketball team might be able to do the exact same this winter as well. The one key catalyst found on both of those squads? Robert Footman. However, as Coach Kyle illustrated, the idea of Footman perhaps ending up on a Mount Rushmore of Crimson Tide greats once his playing days are over up on the hill doesn’t appear to be something going to the senior’s head.
“He’s a humble kid and he works hard,” said Kyle of his quarterback. “I’ve coached a lot of kids and he’s one of the few that doesn’t get rattled. He’s a team player and that’s what it’s going to take for us get where we want to go and to reach our goals, a leader like him who’s going to step up, take ownership of his mistakes, and then get better.”
For the Northern Lebanon contingent, it’s back to the lab this week to figure out how to snap this four-game losing skid all while preparing to take on ELCO next Friday night in Myerstown. But if the second half on Friday night was to serve as any indication, the groundwork and promise of Northern Lebanon continuing to build this program back up to size certainly appears to be there. In short, I personally would recommend buying Vikings’ stock now. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did once you see the dividends come back in just a few years from now.
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