BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – For some, progression is a life-long pursuit. It’s never too late to improve.
On Friday night, the Elco football team’s late-season ascent on the learning curve continued, in the form of a 41-12 victory over Annville-Cleona. The Raiders took full advantage of A-C mistakes, executed some big plays on offense and flashed some improvement on defense.
Elco’s second straight victory lifted it to 3-5 on the season and 2-2 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The Little Dutchmen fell to 1-6 on the campaign.
“When you’re on the learning curve, there’s teachable moments in every game,” said Elco head coach Mark Evans. “You learn more from losing than winning. The game’s slowing down for Anthony (sophomore quarterback, Pletz). We’ve got a lot of young bucks out there, but we’re finding positives in any negative.
“They’re (his players) starting to understand concepts,” Evans continued. “We’re tough on them. We’re coaching them tough.”
“Morale’s good yet,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman. “We have great kids. They’re too nice sometimes. Morale’s a tough thing to judge. It’s probably low right now, but kids forget and bounce back quickly.”
Two long scoring passes from Pletz to Adam Shoemaker in the second period proved decisive for the Raiders.
The first one covered 44 yards, came on the first snap of the stanza and gave the Raiders a 14-6 advantage. The second – a 55-yard crossing pattern – occurred 1:40 before the break and made it a 21-6 game at halftime.
“I thought we played very well,” said Evans. “We capitalized on their mistakes. They made some mistakes, and for the first time, we were able to turn the tide.
“I think it’s a positive,” Evans added. “We want to finish the season on a positive as much as possible. I like the way we’re going about our business.”
“The safety, who’s a sophomore, called one coverage,” said Lehman of his team’s blown assignments. “The outside linebacker thought it was a different coverage. That’s as bad as snapping the ball over the punter’s head.
“We kill oursevles in key situations, that we don’t normally do,” Lehman added. “We did stuff that totally destroyed us. We’re making a habit of it. We’re hurting ourselves.”
Not once, but twice, did Annville-Cleona snap the ball over its punter’s head on a fourth-and-long situation. The first one led to Elco’s early 7-0 lead.
The miscue put the Raiders in business at the A-C ten-yard-line, and three plays later, Elco fullback Dylan Hickernell bulled his way over from a yard out.
But Annville-Cleona answered on its next possession, marching 76 yards in ten plays. Sophomore back Quentin Hall did the honors with a nine-yard burst up the middle.
Even though the Little Dutchmen misfired on the extra point, it proved to be one of their few highlights of the evening.
“Any win is a good win,” said Evans. “We talk about County rivalries all the time. Annville-Cleona, Northern Lebanon, Lebanon, they all mean a little more. It’s bragging rights for other sports like basketball, wrestling and baseball. It always adds something extra.”
“It’s a county rivalry,” said Lehman. “Sure it’s a rivalry. It’s a better rivalry when they’re 5-2 and we’re 5-2. We’re struggling.”
With the outcome still in doubt, the Little Dutchmen fumbled away the second-half kickoff to Elco. A play later, Cameron Strause was ripping off a 25-yard touchdown jaunt and giving the Raiders a 28-6 bulge.
“They are what they are,” said Elco head coach of his maturing offensive linemen. “We wanted to have a good night running the football. I knew they (the Little Dutchmen) were going to try to run the football on us. We’ve been pourous, to say the least.”
“I told them, ‘I’m not going to say anything right now’,” said Lehman of the post-game message to his troops. “The emotions are high. It was like ‘Merry Christmas. Here’s some presents.’
“There’s no excuses for them,” Lehman added. “Those two botched snaps gave them 14 points. We just do things that kill us. I don’t know what else you can say.”
Annville-Cleona displayed a bit of spunk late in the third period when it drove 59 yards in 13 plays to make it a two-score game. Senior signal-caller Tyson Hayes’ one-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal brought the Little Dutchmen to 28-12.
But Elco turned A-C’s second high punt-snap into Hickernell’s second scoring burst and a 22-point cushion.
“Actually, you know, offensively we moved the ball pretty well,” said Lehman. “Defensively, I see nine underclassmen out there. But Elco has some nice players.”
Elco held a slight 360-298 advantage in total yards, but Annville-Cleona turned the ball over a total of four times to the Raiders’ none.
Strause finished with 138 yards rushing on 19 totes, while Hickernell put up 99 yards on the ground, to go with three scores. Pletz went seven-for-11 for 138 yards for the Raiders, and Shoemaker caught three of those balls for 105 yards.
For the Little Dutchmen, Hall gained 124 yards on 23 carries.
“I thought that was the best he ran all year,” said Lehman of Hall. “He has the potential, but he’s a sophomore. He has that second gear. And I thought our offensive line blocked well.”