BY JEFF FALK
ELIZABETHTOWN – It wasn’t the type of season the Lebanon football team would’ve authored.
And it wasn’t the kind of conclusion the Cedars would’ve scripted. But it was a happy ending.
On Friday night at Elizabethtown High School, Lebanon concluded its 2014 campaign with a 36-31 victory over the hometown Bears, and everything else were details.But what details they were.
After blowing most of a 29-point second-quarter lead, the Cedars hung on for dear life in the closing moments of the fourth quarter, turning away two E-town penetrations deep inside their territory in the game’s final 1:51. Prior to that, Elizabethtown had scored points on four consecutive marches to cut its deficit to five points.
But the Bears did most of their damage against the Lebanon High defense in the second half on the ground. And with time running down on the fourth quarter and Elizabethtown forced to go to the air,it was ultimately the Cedar pass rush that saved them.
The season-ending triumph snapped Lebanon’s six-game losing streak and left it 3-7 overall and 1-6 in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. But it was far from the year envisioned by a team which returned 17 seniors and qualified for the District Three Class AAAA postseason in 2013.
The loss was Elizabethtown’s 15th straight, dating back to last year.
“It was a weird season,” said Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk. “We had some unbelievable losses. In some of those losses we played better than we did tonight. The bottom line was we had to get a win tonight.
“This was huge,” continued Yonchiuk. “The majority of these kids played last year. We only had four or five seniors last year. Their expectations were much higher. For them, to get that win tonight, it was important to go out on a positive note.”
Trailing 36-31, Elizabethtown drove 62 yards on nine running plays to the Cedar ten-yard line with 1:51 remaining. But the Cedars’ pass rush forced an incompletion on fourth down.
But the Bears got the ball back with less than a minute to play and marched to the Lebanon 24-yard line. Again the Lebanon defense rose up, in the form of a pair of sacks and another quarterback pressure.
“Our defense the last two drives, they stiffened when they had to,” said Yonchiuk. “That’s where our speed came through in a good way. We were getting pushed around up front. So we decided, ‘Let’s bring all the speed we can off the edge.’
“I think we did let up, being up 29 points,” Yonchiuk continued. “Sort of like, ‘We’ve got it in the bag.’ But you’ve got to play 48 minutes. That’s one of the problems we had. You want to fire them (his players) up. But you’ve got to stay calm. It’s a balancing act.”
The Cedars converted a fumble into a 7-0 lead when senior quarterback Justin Martin found senior back Luke Eisenhour with a 17-yard touchdown strike five minutes into the contest. Malik Hunter made it 14-0 Cedars 4:39 later when he consummated an eight-play, 56-yard possession with a two-yard dive.
Then on the second snap of the second quarter, Lebanon and Khaleem Gary-Newkirk took advantage of some great field position to extend their lead to 21-0, with a one-yard scoring run.
“We’re explosive, partly because our offense is unique,” said Yonchiuk. “We play fast. Our players are used to that. They expect to score. The disappointing thing is that we didn’t have an answer to all of their blitzes.
“I was real proud of our kids with their composure,” added Yonchiuk. “Our guys didn’t quit. They kept going.”
The Cedars took a 36-7 lead 1:18 before the intermission, by scoring a pair of touchdowns in a 5:19 span late in the second period.
First, the fleet Nick Negron took a short pass from Martin 57 yards to ‘The House’. Then Martin hurled his third touchdown pass of the first half, a seven-yarder to Omel Francois to cap a six-snap, 57-yard march.
But the Bears began their comeback with a touchdown just 30 seconds ahead of halftime.
“What they did in the second half was brought the sink inside,” said Yonchiuk of the Bears. “We over shot ourselves in the foot. Every time we would do something foolish and hurt ourselves.
“But we’ll take it,” Yonchiuk added. “I told the guys that there’s no asterisks in the record books for ugly wins. The seniors did everything they had to do to finish it.”
Elizabethtown scored points on its first three possessions of the second half and pulled to within 36-31 on Jeremy Wells’ 36-yard field goal 1:34 into the final stanza.
“You felt it with me,” said Yonchiuk of the frustration of watching the lead slip away. “This big air balloon when up in the first half. Then a torpedo went through it and the air came out of it in the second half. That shows the human element of the game.”
On the strength of 171 second-half rushing yards, Elizabethtown out gained the Cedars 352 total yards to 281. Lebanon managed just 45 total yards and a single first down in the second half.
Negron caught eight passes for 112 receiving yards.