BY JEFF FALK
The Lebanon football team’s 2011 season is unique and original. Any resemblance between this season and any other is purely coincidental.
To the lay person looking in from the outside, the Cedars’ campaign eerily resembles 2010. But while Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk acknowledges the comparisons, he is also accutely aware of the contrasts.
Lebanon started 2011 by going 2-1 against non-league competition from Lebanon County. But since then, the Cedars have dropped five consecutive Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two outings.
Last year, Lebanon High went 3-0 outside of the league. But then it dropped six straight, before finishing the season with a win and a 4-6 record.
“I don’t think so,” said Yonchiuk. “Last year, we didn’t finish some games. We didn’t have some luck go our way. Being there day-to-day, I don’t see the similarities. Four of the six losses were by a touchdown or less.
“We just under-achieved this year,” Yonchiuk continued. “And I take full responsiblity. It falls to me. I’m the head coach. I’m the captain of the ship.”
One of the difference between this season and last may have been the expectations. A senior-oriented squad had designs on a return trip to the Class AAA postseason and competing in a wide-open Section Two.
“I loved the fact that we had a large senior group,” said Yonchiuk. “Our goals were, number one, to have a winning season. Number two, win the section title. And number three, make it to the playoffs. We did not achieve any of them. I thought we had an outstanding shot to be a playoff team
“It’s frustrating,” added Yonchiuk. “We started off with two really nice wins (over Cedar Crest and Northern Lebanon). But to be honest, we’re pretty banged up right now. The team you saw early on is not the team we are now. As the season goes on, it seems like we wear down.”
Injuries have taken its toll on the Cedars. A couple of games back, Lebanon lost two-way contributor Tyler Antal to a leg injury. Right now, Lebanon is dressing 26 players, the lowest total of any team in Section Two.
“Winning is contagious,” said Yonchiuk. “Just like losing is contagious. Winning is important to our program, for our school district. I feel like I’m letting down the school. If we’re not .500 or better, I feel disappointed.”
While talent is certainly cyclical, some of the dificulties the Cedars have experienced are related to the strength of their overall program.
“We have to take a greater committment in the weight room,” said Yonchiuk. “We have great kids, but we get out-physicalled by a lot of teams. There’s no substitute for strength. We’ve got to develop a better running game. That’s a program goal.
“We’ve got to get more out of the summer,” Yonchiuk added. “It’s something we’ll focus on in the future.”
The Cedars’ weaknesses seem to get exposed more in Section Two than they do during the non-league portion of their schedule.
“I think in Section Two, the level of play is high,” said Yonchiuk. “That’s how it is. It’s very balanced each year. From top to bottom, most of the teams are probably more physical than us. It’s a grind. It definitely is. It’s where we get beat up, in Section Two.
“Every year we start off great,” Yonchiuk continued. “We’re very physical and we stop the run. But we get to Section Two and we can’t stop the run. We slow them down, but we can’t stop them.”
Despite their struggles, the Cedars have remained upbeat and positive.
“No, that’s the thing I can honestly say is great,” said Yonchiuk of his club’s morale. “They practice hard and they’re still having fun. If you asked them I think they’d say they’re still excited about the opportunities. The kids will not quit. If you were at practice today, you’d think they’re 6-2. That’s the positve thing. We’ve had so many outstanding (individual) performances. We’ve had some leaders emerge.”
And the Cedars still have goals. They’re just different than the ones with which they started the season.
“One of the things we talk about, we want to establish a run game,” said Yonchiuk. “I want to see results from us moving the ball on the ground the last two games. We want to create some opporutnities. We’d like nothing more than to finish strong, have a positive for our seniors and build some momentum going into next year.”