ANNVILLE – Focused on the here and now and the day-to-day task of improving, Annville-Cleona never gave much thought about how it would end.
Well, there’s certainly something to be said for the unplanned. Chalk one up for spontaneity.
On a chilly Friday night, the Little Dutchmen concluded their 2016 campaign like few high school football teams do – with a convincing win, at home, on Senior Night. And of course, with a championship.
Using a dominant second-half performance, Annville-Cleona overwhelmed Donegal 34-14 during its season finale. With the outcome, the Little Dutchmen shared the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three crown with Lancaster Catholic, a club which it had defeated 36-21 in late September.
Though it did not qualify for the District Three Class AAA postseason, the Little Dutchmen finished 7-3 overall, 5-1 in the section and on a very high note. It was Annville-Cleona’s first championship in football of any kind since 2004.
Lancaster Catholic earned its piece of the title with a 35-7 win at Northern Lebanon on Friday night.
“I’m an Annville kid, and we’re the second smallest school in the section,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich. “To be able to hang a banner up there and always have it, I don’t know exactly how to describe it. A lot of these guys never played football before. But our leaders set the tone, in the weight room, in the class room, in the locker room, on social media. They genuinely care about it.
“Our goal was to get better every single game,” continued Gingrich. “A couple of games in, we lost sight of it. But at one point we just said ‘We’re going to play every play like it’s our last’.”
“It’s incredible,” said Annville-Cleona junior quarterback Nate Myers. “My brother played here from ’06 to ’09. They had some pretty good teams, but they never won a championship. I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”
After the Little Dutchmen and Indians traded punches early, Annville-Cleona gained control of the outcome late in the first half. Although Annville-Cleona would eventually wear down Donegal with its efficient execution of the veer/option offense, there were two key plays that swung the momentum squarely to the Little Dutchmen’s side.
The first occurred with 3:51 left in the second quarter, when Myers hooked up with the fleet Griffin Hertz on a 69-yard fade down the right sidelines, a touchdown play that knotted the score at 14. The second gave Annville-Cleona the lead for good.
It was Caleb Turner’s 52-yard scoring burst right up the gut of the Donegal defense, with 3:30 left in the third quarter. And that particular play may have been set up by three previous Myers keepers out of the veer.
“The fact that we could pull even at halftime was a big thing for us,” said Gingrich. “We’ve been working our butts off in the weight room. We weren’t going to be tired. Not that they (the Indians) were going to be tired. But we weren’t going to be tired.
“Caleb is a special running back,” Gingrich continued. “There’s a difference when he’s playing our fullback and not playing our fullback. He’s an athlete. But it was just another veer play.”
Annville-Cleona followed up Turner’s score with touchdowns on its next two possessions. And both were results of long, time-consuming, dominate-at-the-line-of-scrimmage marches.
Myers finished off a ten-play, 91-yard drive with a punishing 28-yard run down the left sidelines to push the Little Dutchmen’s lead to 28-14, 2:57 into the final quarter. Then Cameron Hoch took a pitch from Myers 55 yards to pay dirt with 6:58 remaining to extend Annville-Cleona’s advantage to 20 points.
“We made one adjustment,” said Gingrich. “We realized we’re not a great passing team, so we started running the ball. We kept running to the unbalanced side. Every play is an independent event. If he (Myers) reads it correctly every single play, we’re going to be OK.
“The best quarterback in a veer offense has no memory,” added Gingrich. “It’s tough. These kids are used to taking previous information to the next play.”
“It all started my freshman year,” said Myers of his grasp of the offense. “I’ve been doing it for three years. What you’ve got to read is what the defender is going to do with the fullback.
“I’m not really an option quarterback, with my size,” added Myers. “I’ve had to make a few adjustments. It was just practice, just like anything else in life.”
Annville-Cleona rolled up 483 yards of total offense, 344 of which came on the ground and 308 of which came in the second half. The Little Dutchmen defense limited Donegal to 254 total yards.
Myers rang up 112 yards on the ground and complete three of his six pass attempts for 139 yards. Hoch carried eight times for 103 yards.
“We had that issue (turnovers) all year,” continued Gingrich. “We had to take care of the ball. It’s been nice to watch him (Myers) progress. The last two games have been his best games of the year.”
“We work on it all year,” said Myers of the option offense. “It really wasn’t working out at the beginning. But we stuck with it and it got better.
“They (his linemen) did an incredible job,” Myers added. “They bust their butts everyday in practice. They’re just a great group of guys.”
The Indians struck first, on their initial possession of the evening, in the form of a Nick Ketner four-yard touchdown run that capped a ten-run, one-pass, 70-yard drive. But the Little Dutchmen answered 3:12 later, with Myers’ 12-yard touchdown run, and the score was tied at seven.
“We approached it like, ‘We don’t have the district playoffs, so we’re going to let it all hang out’,” said Gingrich. “I figured I’ve got one more week with them (his players), I’m going to push them.
“I’m just happy they got to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Gingrich continued. “It’s an experience and memory I’m happy they got. Not many kids in this town get that. I hope it changes their direction.”
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|7:00 PM||L 27-55|
|7:00 PM||W 35-30|
|7:00 PM||L 34-54|
|7:00 PM||W 35-26|
|7:00 PM||W 27-21|
|7:00 PM||W 36-21|
|7:00 PM||W 56-20|
|7:00 PM||L 14-32|
|7:00 PM||W 55-13|
Section Three Standings
PIAA District Three
Class AAA Power Rankings
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|8||Eastern Lebanon County||4-||5-||0||0.435392||0.457143||0.408809|