BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – By winning their first two games of the season, the Northern Lebanon football team has put itself in position to have an opportunity to make the playoffs.
Isn’t two games in a bit early to be considering the postseason? The playoffs are the only thing that the Vikings think about.
The Vikes’ second victory of the campaign came Friday night at Fred Gahres Stadium, in the form of a 21-0 shut out of suddenly punch-less Lebanon. While the game was closer than the final score might indicate, it was Northern Lebanon which found a way to prevail.
The Vikings did it by making plays, taking advantage of opportunities and by shutting down the Cedars when they needed to. Two of Northern Lebanon’s three touchdowns resulted from LHS turnovers.
The Vikings, who had been overwhelmed by Lebanon’s skill people over the last two years, harassed Lebanon High star quarterback Mark Pyles all evening. The 0-2 Cedars have now been outscored by a combined margin of 88-0 in 2012.
Lightning in the Frederciskburg area halted the non-league game with 1:48 of the final remaining. After a 45-minute delay, the contest was completed.
“We’re 2-0 and have Hamburg next week,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall. “We’ve literally been one point away from the playoffs the last two years. And the last two years we opened the season (a combined) 1-5, and now we’re 2-0. We’ll see what happens going into the section. That should be wide open. And we’d like to play more than ten games.”
“It does bother me, the fact that we didn’t score,” said Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk, who takes great pride in his ‘Air Raid’ attack. “Last week we didn’t have an offense. This week we moved the ball. But there were two different teams, from last week to this week.”
Northern Lebanon led 14-0 at the intermission, after scoring touchdowns early in the first half and late in the half. Both were set up by Cedar turnovers deep in their own territory.
Following an interception of Pyles on Lebanon’s first snap of the game, Northern Lebanon had only 17 yards to cover. It did so in four plays, the last of which was Travis Gates’ scamper to paydirt, a mere 1:49 into the contest.
“We won, that’s definitely a positive,” said Wall. “We did some things well. We made some plays.
“We haven’t beaten them in quite a while,” Wall added. “And the last two years it’s been one-sided.”
“Other than not finishing plays, we played some good football,” said Yonchiuk. “But we made some terrible mistakes. I thought our defense did some great things. We gave them great field position.
“But not finishing,” Yonchiuk continued. “It’s like not passing the finish line. I’m like, ‘How did we lose it?'”
A fumble out of a bubble screen late in the second period set up Northern Lebanon at the LHS 13. Three plays later, with 3:38 left before halftime, Viking sophomore quarterback Isaac Ray hit senior Pat Stevens in the right-corner of the end zone with a seven-yard scoring strike.
Ray would go on to complete only one other pas all evening.
“We had to win all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams,” said Wall. “We don’t know if we’re going to ground and pound or chuck and duck.
“But we expect to win every game, since I’ve been here,” added Wall. “We always go out with the attitude like we’re going to win. These guys have had a lot to deal with, a lot of emotions. They’ve shown a lot of maturity.”
“There was definite improvement with the confidence,” said Yonchiuk of a season-opening 67-0 loss to rival Cedar Crest. “I thought we tackled better. We ran better routes. It was a far better effort.”
Northern Lebanon opened a 21-point advantage on the opening kickoff of the second half. Sophomore Mason Yost scooped it up, discovered a seam down the left sidelines and raced 90 yards to the promised land.
The final stats actually favored the Cedars. Lebanon High gained 326 total yards to the Vikings’ 256. Turnovers and penalties proved to be Lebanon’s downfall.
With 233 yards, Northern Lebanon did the majority of its damage on the ground.
“The key for us has been team work,” said Wall. “We’re playing as a team. We’re focused. And there’s not one star on this team.
“We’re moving the ball and protecting the passer, and Isaac is coming along,” Wall continued. “I told him he’s got to run the offense 10,000 times to be adequate at it. He’s only run it a thousand times. But I’m a patient person.”
“We just have to move forward,” said Yonchiuk, “look at the positives and clean up all the loose parts. Things like hanging on to the ball.”
Lebanon had two great opportunities to score, and either one of them, or both, would have changed the complexion of the outcome. But each time the Viking defense rose up and shut the door.
A fumble at the end of a Cedar second-period march – a nine-play, 69-yard possession – denied them one touchdown. And a crucial penalty short-circuited a monster 17-play, 64-yard drive by Lebanon in the fourth quarter.
Pyles racked up 132 yards on the ground with 22 totes of the pigskin. He also completed 18 of 25 pass attempts for 151 yards.
“The only stat that matters is 21-0,” said Wall. “The rest is irrelevant. It was 21-0 and then we had to wait 45 minutes to finish it out.
“We did some things well,” Wall added. “We got some turnovers. And the kickoff really set the tone for the second half.
“Mark was a warrior,” said Yonchiuk of his junior signal-caller. “He goes out and competes. He gives you everything he has. He’s not Superman, but he does a good imitation.”