ELIZABETHTOWN – Though it was given grudgingly, 2012 took a lot out of the Lebanon football team. It took its toll on the Cedars physically, emotionally and spiritually.
But what it couldn’t take was their pride. Or their honor.
On Friday night, Lebanon High – the most storied scholastic football program in the county – concluded a winless campaign by dropping a 45-22 decision at Elizabethtown. Victimized by numerous big plays, the Cedars were outscored 38-7 during the middle portion of their season finale.
Lebanon High, which has produced more Division One football athletes and NFL players than any other local school, ended 2012 0-10 overall and 0-7 in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The Bears went 4-6 during the fall season.
“Winning is important because if you don’t win you’re not successful,” said Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk. “It’s the ultimate goal. This is not a recreational sport. This is not intra-murals. It’s Pennsylvania interscholastic football. We want to do everything we can to win. Our minimum goal is a .500 season.
“It (losing) didn’t wear on me,” Yonchiuk continued. “But when you don’t win doubt sets in. It’s human nature. We told them (his players) it’s a football family.”
Lebanon High was extremely competitive last night, and the Cedars certainly enjoyed their moments. One of those moments came with 7:03 left in the first quarter, when they took a 6-0 lead.
Lebanon drove the opening kickoff 73 yards in 13 plays to get a two-yard quarterback sneak from junior Mark Pyles. The big sequence in the march were back-to-back 12-yard pass completions from Pyles to Jeremy De La Cruz and Michael Rivera.
“Mark is such a leader,” said Yonchiuk of his signal-caller. “The team just looks up to him. He’s like the pied piper. He’s got to be one of the best strong safeties in Pennsylvania. Anyone can see that. I don’t care what our record is.
“I think Mark’s future is as a defensive player,” Yonchiuk added. “He’s a good quarterback, a great quarterback. But I think he can be a very good defensive football player on the Division One level. He has such great instincts.”
The Bears needed just 2:07 to respond to Lebanon’s opening score, as Luke Longenecker hauled in a 38-yard touchdown toss from Maxwell Daley. Then before the initial period was out, E-town’s Arthur Quaye ripped off an 80-yard gallop down the right sideline to put his squad up 14-6.
The Bears’ advantage reached 21-6, before the Cedars used an eight-play, 80-yard possession, and a 26-yard scoring pass from Mark Pyles to Zach Norman to get within seven at 21-14. But Elizabethtown’s Austin Hilsher booted a wind-aided 38-yard field goal on the final play of the second period to send his team to the locker room with the momentum.
“I was very proud of our effort,” said Yonchiuk. “It was one of our better efforts. Our guys played well for four quarter and fought to the end. That hasn’t always been the case. We gave up three huge plays. The fact that we played hard, I think it was our best learning opportunity for this year.
“We do it (surrender big plays),” continued Yonchiuk. “We’ve been a team that’s given up the big play. The kids give the effort, but we’re not strong enough. This league is too good. We have to make a commitment to the weight room in the off-season. We have to get stronger.”
Elizabethtown’s cushion ballooned to 38-14 with a pair of touchdown runs in a 2:49 span in the middle of the third stanza. But the Cedars got it back down to a two-possession game when a 34-yard Pyles jaunt set up De La Cruz for a one-yard plunge – then the two collaborated on a two-point conversion.
But that was all the Lebanon offense could muster, and the Bears scored a sixth touchdown with 50 seconds remaining.
“To get blown out in the Cedar Bowl was a real head-turner,” said Yonchiuk of a season-opening 67-0 loss to Cedar Crest. “We didn’t expect that. But we didn’t score in our scrimmages and that was a concern. It wasn’t like the wheels fell off. It was what it was.”
On Friday night, Lebanon dressed 31 healthy players.
“We actually had more numbers,” said Yonchiuk. “But we had so many injuries, and it affected us. Those things were huge.
“The kids were always looking towards the next week,” Yonchiuk added. “I’d like to say it (keeping the team motivated) was like pulling teeth, but it wasn’t.”
As he departed, Yonchiuk said he planned to return as the Cedars’ head coach next year.