LAMPETER – Adversity led to mistakes, and mistakes led to adversity. Football is a situational game and the Elco football team found itself in situations it had never previously experienced.
The Raiders’ bond – their brotherhood – was tested in ways that it had never been tested before.
On an Autumn-like Friday night at Lampeter-Strasburg High School, Elco’s unified, magical and historic campaign reached a head, with a 20-3 loss to the hometown Pioneers, in the District Three Class AAAA Championship game. After the Raiders had enjoyed a 3-0 halftime margin, they were overwhelmed during the second 24 minutes of action.
It was the first and only loss of the season for the second-seeded Raiders, who ended 7-1 overall. Not only was it one of the finest seasons in program history, it was one of the most memorable in the history of Lebanon County football.
The Raiders captured their first Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four crown in 20 years and won just the second District Three playoff game in school history. But they also made the most out of their talent, their inter-personal relationships and the moment.
No Lebanon County football program has ever won a District Three championship.
For Lampeter-Strasburg, the now 9-0 top seed, it’s on to next weekend’s PIAA Class AAAA semifinals.
“I thought it was unbelievable how the guys faced adversity, faced the challenges,” said Elco head coach Bob Miller. “Our guys responded with love for their teammates. Our players knew they were faced with one heck of a challenge. One day they’ll be able to look back on this with pride.
“We definitely faced more adversity tonight than we had in any other game this season,” Miller continued. “We had to find ways to manipulate the defense and to get stops. They (the Pioneers) really crowded the box. They put us in positions where they could take away some of the things we liked to do.”
The first half was a struggle, one characterized by both offenses moving the ball and each defense making stands in the red zone.
Elco assumed its 3-0 lead with 5:24 left in the second quarter, on Rheece Shuey’s 25-yard field goal. It came at the end of a monumental 20-play, 85-yard march highlighted by the Raiders’ inside power run game.
“What you saw was the most physical football game in the state,” said Miller. “It was a physical battle. From what I saw from that group of Raiders it was a game of heart.
“They’re (the Pioneers) a state-championship caliber team,” Miller added. “We played with them the entire game. We played with love. It’s not a consolation. It’s a reward.”
The Pioneeers tied the score, then went ahead for good, with a pair of third-quarter field goals. Both came at the end of extended drives, the first on Lampeter-Strasubrg’s initial possession of the second half, and the second with 1:33 left in the third stanza.
“It doesn’t hurt,” said Miller. “I’m just so proud. You want to see hard work be rewarded. There’s a lesson here, and we’re going to learn from this lesson. Do you know when it’s going to hurt? Monday.
“I’m going to tell them (his players) how proud I am of what they put together for the program,” added Miller. “I’m so appreciative of everything they gave us. I’m going to tell them that I love them.”
The outcome was still very much in doubt until Lampeter-Strasburg notched a pair of touchdowns 1:20 apart in the final period.
Capitalizing on a Raider fumble, Lampeter-Strasburg quarterback Sean McTaggart hit Beau Heyser with an 18-yard scoring strike that made it 13-3, 2:56 into the fourth quarter. McTaggart and Austin Stoltzfus also collaborated on a 72-yard catch and run for the game’s final score.
“They’re playing a lot of kids,” said Miller of the Pioneers. “We play much smaller numbers. I think they wore us down. But our kids played with heart, and I think you saw that all the way up to the last play.”
Lampeter-Strasburg out gained Elco 381 total yards to 223 yards. The Pioneers amassed 285 yards through the air.
The Raiders fumbled three times and lost all three.
“We talked about having fun every day, building a team culture and that this was one of the greatest football experiece ever built at Elco,” said Miller. “When I look back on it, I’m going to remember all the good times. We just wanted the guys to enjoy it. We wanted to build a team culture, and these guys did it.”
at Northern Lebanon