BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Meek, insecure and error-prone, or confident, physical and opportunistic?
Will the real Northern Lebanon football team please stand up?!
On Friday night at Fred Gahres Stadium, the Vikings’ early-season metamorphosis into Dr. Jekyl continued. After engaging in a first-half defensive struggle with visiting Elco, Northern Lebanon used a bruising rushing outburst in the third quarter to pull away from the Raiders, 34-13.
Northern Lebanon outgained Elco 396-11, which included 284 rushing yards in the seond half.
It was Elco which snapped a 7-7 locker-room deadlock by returning the second-half kickoff for a touchdown. But instead of putting the Vikings to rest, the play served as a wake-up call and they responded with 27 unanswered points, 20 of which came in the third stanza.
Following an 0-2 start to its campaign, Northern Lebanon evened its overall mark with its second straight victory. Elco, which was coming off an upset of Lebanon, slipped to 1-3.
“Last week, we took a step back, turned the page and focused on the last eight games,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall. “We told our guys, ‘Relax and play.’ I said all along we have a talented team. Playing relaxed and playing confident, that’s the key.”
“Hats off to them,” said Elco head coach Mark Evans. “They play a punishing style of offense. At times we did, but couldn’t match them consistently. We’re really young. One time I looked and we had seven sophomores out there.”
Dylan Hickernell’s 75-yard return of the second-half kickoff seemed to swing the momentum to the Raiders’ corner. But Northern Lebanon answered with a six-play, 80-yard drive capped by Ryan Daub’s 46-yard sprint down the right sideline to playdirt.
That made it 14-13 Vikings and they would never trail again.
Northern Lebanon scored on its next two third-quarter possessions. A 16-yard reverse to wide receiver Pat Stevens upped the Vikings’ advantage to eight points, and a six-yard burst from Colton Ryan on the final play of the period gave Northern Lebanon a 27-13 lead.
“The blocking from the offensive line and the wide outs is what propelled us to victory,” said Wall. “We got some turnovers and we got some momentum. Coach (Kris) Miller called the reverse and that was the turning point. Our coaching staff shares responsiblities. Getting the ball into Pat’s (Stevens) hands, he’s a play maker. He’s just scratched the surface of how good he can be.
“We have a veteran team,” Wall continued. “We have nine starters back on offense. There’s not too many fronts we haven’t seen. We have big-play ability to break your heart at any time. Last game, Tanner (QB Dresch) really read the defense well, and he did that again tonight.”
“For two quarters and one play in the second half, we played pretty darn good,” said Evans. “For a young team, those were some hard lessons to learn. This group has been resilient. At times we looked good and at other times we didn’t look so good.
“It goes back to our youthfulness,” Evans added. “Sometimes they think it’s going to be easy. But you’ve got to learn to win and you’ve got to work really hard. I’m going to continue to be demanding. They’re good kids and I want them to succeed.”
Northern Lebanon marched the opening kickoff 58 yards in 13 plays – chewing up 6:21 of clock – to get Daub’s four-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead. But the Radiers capitalized on a botched punt for Hickernell’s four-yard scoring scamper that tied it at seven, 6:14 before the break.
“First of all, Elco really showed up to play,” said Wall. “We’re a veteran team. We’re more able to adapt to change than a younger team. They (the Raiders) played us tough.
“I thought that reverse was a big momentum swing,” continued Wall. “The triple option isn’t always physical. It’s about assignments and making people miss. It can be very frustrating for the defense.”
“I wouldn’t say they wore us down,” said Evans. “I thought it was a combination of things. We have a lot of guys going two ways, and we didn’t tackle. They started to turn it on and we didn’t make the plays. When we did what we were supposed to do, we were fine. We became the nail, not the hammer.
“I think they’re (the Vikings) a very good team,” said Evans added. “Roy does a nice job with them. If you don’t play assignment football, they’re going to beat you.”
Northern Lebanon closed out the scoring with 3:26 remaining, after pulling in its third of four intereceptions. On the keeper, Viking quarterback Tanner Dresch went right up the gut of the Raider defense for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Dresch finished with 218 yards on 23 carries, as the Vikes rushed the ball 54 times on the evening.
“Pine Grove is undefeated. They’re pretty good,” said Wall. “We were pressing from that point and time (season opener). Now we’re playing relaxed. Lebanon took it to us. They were better than us.’
“I’m not lowering my expectations for this group,” said Evans. “I don’t think they want me to pull back and say, ‘Have a cookie.’ It’s the pain of lessons or the pain of regret. They (his players) have a choice to make. Right now, we could look back and say what could’ve been, what should’ve been. But we’re looking ahead to Columbia.”
Ryan supplemented Dresch with 84 rushing yards of his own.