ATGLEN – Given what’s gone on to this point of the scholastic football season, it’s kind of amazing that Annville-Cleona is still eligible for a postseason berth. But in order to make it, the Little Dutchmen need to become a little more consistent and a lot more physical.
On a chilly Friday night at Octorara High School, Annville-Cleona’s weaknesses were exposed during a 53-7 loss to the home-standing Braves. Octorara scored five touchdowns in the second quarter to open a 39-0 halftime margin, and the entire second half was played under a continuously running clock brought about by the mercy rule.
The result dropped Annville-Cleona to 3-5 on the fall season and 2-2 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Of the Little Dutchmen’s five losses this season, four have come by margins of 24 points or more.
In the latest District Three power rankings, Annville-Cleona was situated sixth in an AAA classification that takes eight teams for its playoffs.
With the triumph, Octorara upped its overall record to 7-2 and its’ L-L Section Four mark to 3-1. Those seven wins represent the most ever in the 15-year history of the Braves’ program.
“Honestly, that it’s still possible is remarkable,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Matt Gingrich of the District Three postseason. “They’ve (his players) known the last two games about districts. But my only goal is to have ten awesome days with these kids.
“It’s our physicality,” continued Gingrich. “That’s the line of demarcation. We kind of back off against physical teams. That’s the correlation factor in our season. That’s the common denominator. We’ve played four really good games and four really bad games. We’re pretty average.”
After Octorara drove the opening kickoff to take a 6-0 lead on Zion Raison-Peters’ three-yard touchdown plunge, Annville-Cleona recovered a fumble deep in Brave territory. But Octorara stuffed the Little Dutchmen on four downs from inside the two-yard line to preserve its lead.
The Braves went on to tally the game’s next 50 points. Annville-Cleona averted the shutout with 1:46 to go, as sophomore Cael Harter scored on a 19-yard burst off left tackle.
“I thought our defense did well at the start,” said Gingrich. “But when your offense doesn’t get going, you can only hold on so long. I don’t think we did anything offensively. They (the Braves) just physically beat us.
“We don’t get in the weight room together and do it together,” added Gingrich. “I’m working for that change.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of our defense,” said Octorara head coach Jed King. “My defensive coordinator was on point and our kids executed. We put our defense in a bad position when it was 6-0. Then the offense got it going.”
The Braves’ 33-point second-period explosion included three touchdowns in the final 2:02 of the first half. The touchdown that really, really hurt was Octorara senior running back Mike Trainer’s 83-yard jaunt on the last snap of the opening half.
“I knew we were in trouble,” said Gingrich. “It’s pretty simple. We’re not that talented to play for ourselves. If we don’t play for each other, we’re in trouble. You ain’t gonna win when you don’t play for each other.”
“Tonight, we played physical,” said King. “We ran physical on offense.”
Octorara out gained Annville-Cleona 597 total yards to 195. Of the Braves total yards, 409 came in the first half and 495 came on the ground.
“We’re definitely very inconsistent,” said Gingrich. “We were good for three weeks and we reverted. I take the blame. I didn’t get them (his players) ready for this. That’s on me. Sometimes we come out like a ball of fire and sometimes we don’t get off the bus.”