LEBANON – Big games are won by big plays made my big players. And there are no bigger plays than turnovers.
Just like there are no bigger high school football games than the Cedar Bowl.
In a Cedar Bowl marred by penalties and highlighted by big plays, Cedar Crest made more of them – including two key interceptions during a pivotal second-half sequence – to defeat Lebanon High 38-24 on Friday night at Lebanon Alumni Stadium, in the 43rd edition of Lebanon County’s Super Bowl. After the Cedars had tallied a pair of touchdowns in a minute-span late in the third quarter to pull to within 20-17 of Crest, the Falcons regained the momentum with receiver Landy Cruz’s long catch-and-dash and a subsequent takeaway that all but iced the outcome.
The win was also Falcon rookie head coach Rob Wildasin’s first of his career, as five different Falcons accounted for Cedar Crest’s six scores.
“It’s a huge play,” said Wildasin of Cruz’s jaunt down the right sideline. “We just preach to our guys to hang in there. We probably capitalized a little more than they did.
“I thought that was the turning point,” Wildasin continued. “It was a good play by Josh (Bucher). He threw a nice ball and Landy ran a nice route, and man can he run. When we saw him make the catch on the sideline we dropped our headsets and yelled, ‘He’s gone! He’s gone! He’s gone!'”
“It was about a touchdown game,” said Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk. “I didn’t think it was a two-touchdown game. It’s hard because this game means so much to so many people. It stings losing this game three years in-a-row.
“Dropping that touchdown hurt and we thought we had another one earlier,” added Yonchiuk. “It was close, but we didn’t connect. We’ve got to connect on those.”
Bucher’s connection with Cruz was good for 75 yards and the touchdown that increased Cedar Crest’s lead to 26-17, with 1:50 of the third quarter remaining. Cruz really turned on the jets to out race the Cedars’ speedy secondary, converting a simple sideline route into a course-changing score.
Then on Lebanon’s ensuing possession, Falcon junior Evan Horn picked off an errant aerial and returned it 37 yards, to set up a score of his own. Nine plays later, Horn hauled in a 20-yard scoring strike from Bucher for the touchdown that made it 32-17, with 5:16 to go.
“Our guys played well,” continued Wildasin. “They hung in there and kept fighting. We told them at halftime to just keep going. When it was 20-17, I told them, ‘We’re winning. We’re still winning.’ And then we were able to get that big play to Landy. Turnovers are always big. But 2-2, it’s a wash.”
“I thought they were very solid defensively,” said Yonchiuk of the Falcons. “They took away our screens. I’ve got to remain patient with our run game. They (the Falcons) played well defensively and they executed.”
Facing a 17-point deficit late in the third quarter, Lebanon fought back.
The Cedars marched 71 yards in 12 plays, the last of which was Luke Eisenhour’s one-yard plunge that closed Lebanon’s gap to 20-10. Then Lebanon turned a fumble on the Falcons’ next snap into a three-yard touchdown run by Malik Hunter, with 2:49 left in the period.
“I think it’s an important first step,” said Wildasin. “My goal is the district playoffs, not to beat Lebanon. I wanted to beat Lebanon. It’s an important win for us. But we haven’t made any major strides yet. But I like the way our kids fought.
“Lebanon is Lebanon,” Wildasin added. “They’re tough kids. They’re not going to give up. They’re well coached. They’ve got a ton of heart. You’ve got to play a good game to beat them.”
“We didn’t play poorly,” said Yonchiuk. “But we really made big mistakes. They were too big. There were things I really liked. Our kids played hard. We had a pick-six, and their kid made a heck of a play on it.”
The kid to which Yonchiuk referred was Cedar Crest senior Damon Edwards. Early in the third quarter, he stepped in front of an intended Cedar pass, intercepted it and ran 67 yards the other way to give the Falcons a 20-3 margin.
“If we’re going to win, we’re going to win as a team,” said Wildasin. “That’s how we’re going to do it. It’s got to be as a team. We don’t have those standout guys.
“It’s like two seasons,” added Wildasin. “It’s the Cedar Bowl, and then it’s the rest of the season. We haven’t accomplished what we set out to accomplish.”
“It was a good first experience, starting in the Cedar Bowl,” said Yonchiuk of his sophomore quarterback, Cody Kissinger. “He did some good things. He was so mad at himself on the pick. I told him, ‘The guy (Edwards) just read your eyes.'”
Lebanon High grabbed a 3-0 lead nine minutes in, on Jacob Anon’s 28-yard field goal, after running 12 plays on its opening possession. But Cedar Crest took a 13-3 advantage to the intermission, thanks to a pair of short scoring bursts from Chuck Yost.
Yost’s first TD was set up by a short Cedar punt, while the second, which came with 45 seconds left in the second quarter, was the culmination of a 14-play, 77-yard drive.
In addition to his two touchdowns, Yost gained 65 yards running hard inside and came up with an interception of his own. Senior tailback Marq Kintzer gained 108 yards, most of which came outside the tackles, during the first half.
“We don’t want to go through the game with one running back,” said Wildasin. “We’re going to play guys who are ready and who are consistent.
“Those Lebanon boys can fly,” added Wildasin. “They’re scary. Those guys are fast. But we have some speedy guys who are just as fast.”
Bucher scored the touchdown that put his side up 38-17, with 3:01 of the clock remaining.
In total yardage department, Cedar Crest out gained Lebanon High by a modest 319-287 margin. The Cedars rushed for 188 yards.
Cedar Crest drew an astonishing 18 yellow flags and was penalized a total of 150 yards.
“Now I’m tried, but I actually felt good before the game,” said Wildasin. “I was much worse (nervous) earlier in the day. Now we can play football. We’ve got a lot of things to fix, and it’s a little bit of everything. I told our kids, ‘Let’s see if we can bounce back.’ I’m challenging my guys to not be satisfied.”
Cedar Bowl History
2014 – Cedar Crest 38, Lebanon 24
2013 – Cedar Crest 40, Lebanon 24
2012 – Cedar Crest 67, Lebanon 0
2011 – Lebanon 47, Cedar Crest 14
2010 – Lebanon 35, Cedar Crest 7
2009 – Cedar Crest 33, Lebanon 14