BY JEFF FALK
LITTLESTOWN – There were whispers around that said the Annville-Cleona football team wasn’t deserving of its District Three playoff berth. But actions always speak louder than words, even soft ones.
Not only did they represent themselves well and play hard, the Little Dutchmen proved they belong.
On an cold Friday night at cozy Littlestown High School stadium, the Little Dutchmen were beaten by the hometown Bolts 27-10, in an opening-round game of the District Three Class AA tournament. Annville-Cleona surrendered two lightning-quick touchdown strikes to the undefeated Bolts in a span of 2:03 just before halftime to fall behind 21-3, and never really recovered.
But ultimately the Little Dutchmen may have been done in by failing to cash in on good early field position, penalties and a tough call that went against them on what appeared to be a fumble.
The loss ended eight-seeded Annville-Cleona’s season at 4-7. Littlestown, the top Class AA seed in the area, moved to 11-0, and on to face Wyomissing in the semifinals.
“They definitely did deserve to be here,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman of his troops. “Go ask (Littlestown head man Mike) Coach Lippy if we deserved it. That’s one of their closest games of the year. Over the first half of the season, no we didn’t deserve it. But we won four of our last five games, so we did deserve it.
“Sure it was a successful season,” Lehman continued. “Any time you come here (to districts) and experience this, it’s a successful season. We had some bumps along the way, but the kids kept working hard and kept practicing.”
The Little Dutchmen drove inside the Littlestown 25 on each of their first three possessions, but could only muster Matt Light’s 25-yard field goal, with 5:04 left in the second quarter that pulled them to within 7-3. The Bolts had opened the scoring five minutes earlier when halfback Lucas Reynolds hit receiver Garrett Trout with a 34-yard scoring pass.
But that touchdown would’ve never happened if a play that looked like an A-C fumble recovery would’ve been ruled the other way.
“I thought we had two fumbles we didn’t get credit for,” said Lehman. “They (the officials) said the kid’s forward progress was stopped. They (the Bolts) scored right after that. That was a big one.
“In the first half we were in the red zone three times and got three points,” Lehman continued. “If we get a touchdown there, things are a lot different. And penalties hurt. Some were frustration, and some were mysterious.”
Littlestown assumed a 14-3 lead with 3:10 left in the first half, on an incredible 29-yard diving catch by Trout in the right corner of the end zone. But the one that really hurt Annville-Cleona’s hopes was an 83-yard touchdown waltz from Dustin DeGroft, 1:07 before the break.
“We knew they were tough,” said Lehman of the Bolts. “And they were. But I knew we’d give them a game. I don’t know if they played the competition we did during the season.
“We came here with nothing to lose,” Lehman added. “Even if we give them a good game, we have nothing to lose. It’s a reward for the seniors and a taste for the underclassmen.”
Down 18 points, Annville-Cleona displayed signs of life and heart early in the second quarter. Set up by a Troy Alexander interception, the Little Dutchmen got a 39-yard touchdown run up the gut from senior tailback Quentin Hall.
It pulled the Little Dutchmen to within 21-10 with 9:00 of the third quarter still to be played. Annville-Cleona’s chances of a comeback were realistic until Littlestown kicker Jeff Garman booted his second field goal of the second half, with 9:15 remaining to make it a three-score game.
“Yeah, we did play well,” said Lehman. “But we gave them things at times that we shouldn’t have. They’re a good team.
“Physical-wise, we always hit,” added Lehman. “I knew we were going to surprise them a little bit with our physical play, and we did.”
Littlestown out gained Annville-Cleona 428 total yards to 241. The Little Dutchmen had no answer for Trout, who caught eight balls for 183 yards.
Before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury, Hall rushed 11 times for 102 yards. But the Bolts did do an admirable job of bottling up Little Dutchmen quarterback Mitch Rodkey, who collected 18 carries for to 41 yards.
The Little Dutchmen were flagged eight times for 60 yards in penalties.
“Geordan (Barr) had a big game, a monster game,” said Lehman of his senior linebacker’s defensive effort. “He was all over the place. He had a great game. Our defense played well. I’m sure they (the Bolts) were averaging more than 27 points.
“I’m just proud of them (his players),” Lehman concluded. “We thought we could get to this point of the season. But that definitely wasn’t the road we wanted to take. If you can figure it out, you tell me.”
There are questions which simply don’t have answers.