BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
MYERSTOWN – One must be extremely careful when singling out individuals in team sports.
Certainly the things he does on the field Mark Pyles couldn’t do without a strong supporting cast and the aid of his teammates. But there are precious few individuals in the annals of Lebanon County sports who have meant more to their team’s success than Pyles.
On Friday night at Elco Stadium, the Lebanon football team won again, behind another impressive performance from Pyles. The senior signal-caller threw five touchdown passes, ran for another two and scored a pair of two-point conversions, as the Cedars mauled Elco’s Raiders 51-27.
Pyles now has thrown 11 touchdown passes in the last two weeks, he has had his hands in – either by throwing or running – all 16 touchdowns that Lebanon has scored this season and Lebanon has yet to turn the ball over once this year.
Lebanon High played down hill from the opening kickoff, which the Raiders fumbled away to the Cedars. The Cedars led 14-0 and 28-7, then opened a 44-21 margin right after halftime to put the outcome to rest.
In light of the triumph, Lebanon High is now 2-1 for the first time in quite a while. The loss dropped Elco to 0-3.
“We didn’t have a turnover yet,” said Lebanon head coach Gerry Yonchiuk. “I’m excited because it works. Our guys are buying into it.
“In the spread, you’re going to put it on your quarterback,” added Yonchiuk. “He’s (Pyles) the type of guy who can get on the edge and make plays.”
“I actually got a chance to work with him and (receiver) Jeremy De La Cruz, and they’re fantastic kids,” said Elco head coach Bob Miller of Pyles. “He’s a bright, stand-up kid. His leadership skills are terrific, and everyone knows about his academics. His hard work is terrific. And Jeremy De La Cruz, what a great kid he is. We have some of our own, and our time is coming.”
The Cedars turned their early takeaway into a Pyles-to-De La Cruz 16-yard scoring strike and a 6-0 lead. Lebanon upped its advantage to 14-0 when Pyles hit Nick Negron with a 41-yard touchdown on its next possession.
But before the opening period was out, Elco got a five-yard TD jaunt out of tailback Cameron Strause to cut the Cedars’ lead to seven points.
“We had an outstanding week of practice,” said Yonchiuk. “I’ve never been around a group that cares so much about each other and believes so much in one another. Last week, we got over the hump. And there were some good things we did tonight.
“Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve been 2-1,” continued Yonchiuk. “I believe in these guys. It just feels really good for us to have success.”
“We gave up big scores,” said Miller. “When we did what we’re supposed to do we stopped them. It was breakdowns and big plays. Their skill kids tonight were a little bit better than our’s.”
“We played together as a team,” said De La Cruz. “Everybody is stepping up. It’s not one guy.”
The Cedars scored on three long plays during the second quarter to open a 36-13 lead. Pyles used his legs to scamper 74 yards for a score, he hit a wide-open De La Cruz on a 76-yard bomb and then found his old favorite target again, this time for 64 yards and a score.
Yet despite Lebanon’s scoring onslaught, the Raiders still had life when sophomore quarterback Jeff Martin took it over from two yards out, 16 seconds before the half to make it a 36-21 affair.
“This guy here, I’m out of words to describe his play,” said Yonchiuk of Pyles. “I’m just pleased to be able to coach a guy like him. Our offensive line gave him time to throw, and he made some big-time throws. You’re never going to be perfect, but I’m just happy with the performance of the offensive line.
“He’s (Pyles) the trigger guy,” Yonchiuk continued. “He’s been really smart with the football. His game play was tremendous. He’s one of the best I’ve ever coached.”
“What’s most impressive is their (lack of) turnovers, holy heck,” said Miller. “Look at our first half. Our game plan was not turn the ball over and start fast. We’re not a young team. That’s a cop-out thing.
“They (the Cedars) have terrific senior leadership and you can see it,” added Miller. “That was a pretty impressive performance by them. And that’s leadership. That’s a pretty good job by them.”
The only score of the third quarter came from Pyles and Negron, who collaborated on a 37-yard touchdown pass, 1:37 after the break.
“We moved the ball at times,” said Miller. “But turnovers and missed assignments hurt us. They (the Cedars) earned the win.”
“We need the senior leaders who want it so bad,” Miller continued. “If they can finish the season they’ll set the stage for the kids who are hopefully coming back. You saw what experience can do for the Lebanon turn-around.”
“We’ve been enduring this since we were 0-10,” said De La Cruz of Lebanon’s win-less 2012 campaign. “We just bring it every game. It’s clicking. It clicked today.”
Lebanon racked up 402 of its 562 total yards in the first half. Pyles finished 16 of 29 for 386 yards and the five TDs, and rushed 11 times for 124 yards. De La Cruz pulled in six of Pyles’ aerials for 210 yards.
Pyles has now completed 48 of his 85 pass attempts this season for a total of 858 yards and 14 touchdown tosses. He has toted it 51 times for another 311.
On the Raider side, workhorse Strause picked up 68 yards on 19 rushing attempts, while end Derek Miller hauled in nine Jeff Martin passes for 170 yards. Martin went 16 for 36 for 268 yards.
“Jeff Martin has really matured,” said Yonchiuk. “I was proud of his effort, because we got after him. Strause is a tremendous player and Six (Miller) caught the ball. I see a lot of good things with them (the Raiders). They’re young, but so well-coached. They’ll never beat themselves.”
“As a team, we’re heading into section play with an 0-0 record,” said Miller of Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. “We’re heading into homecoming and with Pequea Valley here next week. We’re in a good position. If we can cut out the mistakes, it’s a very winnable section.”