FREDERICKSBURG – News flash: Every scholastic football team in the state of Pennsylvania will encounter adversity during the 2014 campaign.
Follow-up report: The teams which prevail will be the ones who react, respond and manage that adversity better.
More football games are won between the ear holes, beneath the shoulder pads and in the abdominal region than on any field, in any locker room or in any film session. It’s called character, ladies and gentlemen.
On paper at least, the Vikings were better last year than their 3-7 record suggests. They were a punt block here, a defended two-point conversion there or a bad snap here or there away from being included in playoff discussions.
Despite adequate talent, Northern Lebanon couldn’t come up with plays with games on the line. Or when the Vikes were faced with adversity, they didn’t have the proper response.
It was a scenario which has played out time and time again during the past five seasons in Fredericksburg.
“We have to find a way,” said Roy Wall, Northern Lebanon’s fifth-year head coach. “Good teams make plays. We have to learn here how to finish games off, and put teams away. Last season we gave up 100 points in five days. You’d think the kids would’ve packed it in after that, but we played the toughest team in our section tough, and then we beat Columbia in the last game of the season. Once we get down there (in the red zone), we’ve got to points on the board, and touchdowns, not field goals.”
With senior signal-caller Isaac Ray leading the way, the Vikings return nine starters on offense and six on defense. Currently, Wall is working with a roster of 37 players.
“This is probably one of the better teams we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Wall. “There’s not a lot of drop off after our top eleven or twelve players. We’re solid. We’re going to play 18 or 19 players. We’ll be playing a lot of guys.
“We should be very, very competitive,” continued Wall. “On paper, we have a lot of guys coming back. We have an abundance of experience. But we need to play like a veteran team. Veteran teams make plays when they need to be made. We have to overcome letdowns.”
Ray, an athletic leader, has evolved into a well-rounded quarterback and accurate reader of defenses. He will be surrounded by a cast of talented skill people that includes senior slasher Dominic Trader, explosive senior receiver Mason Yost, versatile senior back Travis Gates and steady senior split end John Randolph, among others.
But the people who will really make the Vikings go are the men up front. Northern Lebanon’s offensive and defensive lines are fronted by talented juniors Matt Vines, the reigning Lebanon County 220-pound wrestling champion, and center George Thompson, and backed by senior Andrew Fox, junior Ethan Beard, junior Josiah Kerstetter, junior Damian DiAngelis, junior Dustin Motter, junior Ryan Miller and sophomore Hunter Wallace.
With graduated Derek DiAngelis showing the way, Northern Lebanon gained over 2,200 yards on the ground last season. But 1,500 of those rushing yards return, led by Trader.
“Our experience has to count for something,” said Wall. “We’re not going to be surprised by anything anyone does. Last year our run game was a strength. And we have some fast kids, some really fast kids.
“Our goal is to win,” continued Wall. “Everybody should be on the same page. Our motto this year is, ‘One team. One goal.’ That’s as simple as it can be.”
While some of the players are talking under their breath about a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three championship, for the Vikings to reach that lofty goal, they will have to perform better defensively. While Northern Lebanon will be more than competent on offense this season, it can’t engage itself in shootouts.
“Our defense, even though it was an intra-squad scrimmage, kicked our offense’s butt,” said Wall. “For us to make a move in the section, we have to play consistent defense. We need to be better on defense as a unit. But we’re in pretty good shape.
“This is a new edition,” Wall continued. “There’s only four teams in the state who end their seasons with a win. Anything but winning the last game of the season is irrelevant. We’ve got a fresh start.”
Northern Lebanon found itself behind the eight ball early last season when it lost its first three games by a combined total of 11 points. Though they won three of their last seven games, the Vikings just couldn’t stop anyone.
“We lost games in freaky ways,” said Wall of 2013. “We had a punt blocked against Pine Grove and against Lebanon we lost on a two-point conversion in overtime. We were right there. Fortunately, everyone is back from last year. Hopefully we learned from that. We win those three games and we would’ve been 6-4, and who knows where the confidence is. When you play as a team and have confidence, it’ll take you a long way.
“We just need to win,” concluded Wall. “We’ve done everything but win. When we came here we had to change some attitudes. We have to get everyone to buy in. It takes some time. But winning would help that attitude.”
2014 Northern Lebanon Football Roster
2014 Northern Lebanon Football Schedule
Friday 08/29/14 – Pine Grove Area HS, Away 7:00PM
Friday 09/05/14 – Lebanon HS, Home 7:00PM
Friday 09/12/14 – Hamburg Area HS, Home 7:00PM
Friday 09/19/14 – Ephrata HS, Away 7:00PM
Friday 09/26/14 – Pequea Valley, Home 7:00PM
Friday 10/03/14 – Williams Valley High School, Away 7:00PM
Friday 10/10/14 – ELCO HS, Away 7:00PM
Friday 10/17/14 – Annville-Cleona High School ,Away 7:00PM
Friday 10/24/14 – Donegal HS (Homecoming game), Home 7:00PM
Friday 10/31/14 – Columbia HS, Home 7:00PM