BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Good opponents have a way of blurring the line between forced and unforced errors. But when it comes to the playoffs, mistakes are not only magnified, they are unforgiving.
On Friday night at Annville-Cleona High School, in the opening round of the District Three Class AA playoffs, the Little Dutchmen football team saw their outstanding season literally slip through their fingers. Fumbles and dropped passes cost Annville-Cleona dearly in a 33-14 loss to Newport.
The Little Dutchmen came down with a severe case of ‘The Dropsies’ after taking a 14-10 lead in the middle of the third period. Thanks in part to A-C fumbles, missed opportunities in the passing game and penalties, Newport scored on its next four possessions to turn a close game into a convincing victory.
But the Little Dutchmen’s mistakes weren’t the only problems they encountered against the Buffaloes, just the most glaring ones.
The contest represented Annville-Cleona’s second straight appearance in the District Three Class AA postseason, and fifth overall, but it marked the first-ever playoff game it hosted. The setback ended fourth-seeded Annville-Cleona’s campaign at 8-3.
Newport, the fifth seed, improved to 9-2 overall and advanced to next Friday’s Class AA semifinals against top-seeded Berks Catholic, which handled Biglerville 39-3.
“I’ll give you one word, ‘Mistakes’,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman, holding court before a panel of sportswriters. “Dropped balls. We dropped three touchdown passes. But they (the Buffaloes) pretty much dominated the line of scrimmage.
“That’s (fumbles) what ended the game,” continued Lehman. “But that’s not what decided it. That’s a tough team there. We thought they were pretty gosh darn good. But I don’t think they were any better than us. They got the momentum and never left go of it.”
After falling into an early 10-0 hole, Annville-Cleona fought back around halftime.
The Little Dutchmen turned a takeaway of their own into a two-yard touchdown collaboration between quarterback Adam Fox and senior end John Groh, with just 22 seconds of the second quarter remaining. The touchdown was set up by a Will Langan interception and a 40-yard, Noah-Myers-to-Cameron-Hoch pass play.
Then 6:27 into the second half, senior fullback Noah Connor gave the Little Dutchmen their 14-10 margin with a one-yard scoring plunge. That TD resulted from a Newport fumble and Connor’s subsequent 40-yard rumble.
“At the end of the first half, we thought we were wearing them down,” said Lehman of the Buffaloes. “I thought we were in good shape. But they started shoving it down our throats. They played well. You can’t take anything away from them.
“It was a winnable game,” Lehman continued. “At times we played well. At times we didn’t play well.”
Newport responded to Connor’s touchdown immediately, driving the ensuing kickoff 60 yards in nine plays to get Trevon Dorman’s seven-yard scoring burst, with 55 seconds left in the third quarter, to assume a 17-14 margin it would never relinquish. The Buffaloes pretty much settled the outcome with less than seven minutes to play when they tallied ten points in a matter of 19 seconds – Hunter Wirth’s 42-yard field goal and Dalton Klinger’s second touchdown run, a 27-yarder – courtesy of two Annville-Cleona fumbles..
“It was a great atmosphere for a game,” said Lehman. “Next year we’ve got to take the next step. We’ve got to win one of these playoff games. It was pretty emotional after the game. We had some great kids,but we only lose seven seniors. It hurts now, but tomorrow it will be a little bit better.”
Partly through the plodding of Klinger, Newport, which attempted only one pass in the second half, out gained Annville-Cleona 320 total yards to 200. Klinger piled up 161 yards on the ground by toting ‘the rock’ 25 times.
For the Little Dutchmen, Connor carried 15 times for 89 rushing yards. Connor was complemented by Groh and his five catches for 59 yards.
“I don’t think you ever know that for sure,” said Lehman of the preseason expectations of his squad. “We knew we had a very good defense. Things just started to jell for us.
“We won eight games this year,” added Lehman. “We came within a touchdown of the section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) title. We swept Lancaster County. We had some great things happen this year.”
Newport drove the opening kickoff 65 yards in 13 plays to grab a 7-0 advantage. The big plays in the march were a 12-yard run out of punt formation on a fourth-down-and-five situation from its own 48-yard line, and quarterback Noah Heimbaugh’s 19-yard touchdown toss to Noah Reich.
Then after an Annville-Cleona three-and-out, the Buffaloes used good field position to extend their lead to 10-o on a 31-yard field goal from Wirth, with 3:06 showing on the first-quarter clock.
Class AA Quarterfinals
Biglerville at Berks Catholic – Berks Catholic 39-3
Newport at Annville-Cleona – Newport 33-14
Schuylkill Valley at Bermudian Springs – Bermudian Springs 42-0