BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – What is difficult to decipher is if Mitch Rodkey is more effective running the ball from the quarterback position where he is afforded a split-second to read the defense, or from the tailback spot where he can see the play developing in front of him. Throw his passing ability in there and you have fodder for a completely different debate.
Rodkey figured in six touchdowns as Annville-Cleona surprisingly smoked Northern Lebanon 42-14 on Friday night in the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three football opener for both rivals. A true triple threat, Rodkey, a 5-8, 160-pound junior, ran for four scores and threw for another two touchdowns, as the Little Dutchmen opened a 21-6 halftime margin before pulling away in the second half.
Combining speed, quickness and the bruising play of his offensive line, Rodkey ripped off three touchdown runs over 31 yards and amassed 268 yards on the ground, thanks to 27 carries his positions of quarterback and running back. His total yardage surpassed the 300-yard plateau.
The outcome pushed the Little Dutchmen to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the section. After a promising 2-0 start to the season, the loss evened Northern Lebanon’s record to 2-2.
Annville-Cleona has not lost to Northern Lebanon at home since 1991.
“I don’t know,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman when quizzed about the Rodkey debate. “Honestly, I don’t know. The other part for him is Pletz. When Anthony is at quarterback, the throwing threat looms there. He is a shifty runner. But I can’t figure out where he’s better.
“He’s (Rodkey) an athlete,” Lehman continued. “Same as Anthony’s an athlete. At a school our size, we’ve got to get as many athletes on the field as we can.”
“I thought we had a really great game,” said Rodkey. “Everyone came together and we played well. I ran hard and the offensive line really played well. I think the offensive line has really improved. If you watch the Tri-Valley game (season opener) we couldn’t run the ball. And now we can, even with Mike (Marakowski) injured. I couldn’t have done it without my offensive line.”
While Rodkey was running wild against the once-vaunted Northern Lebanon defense, it was his throwing arm which helped Annville-Cleona establish a bit of breathing room.
In a bit of role reversal, Rodkey hit his co-quarterback Anthony Pletz, who had lined up as a receiver, with a 26-yard fade to the left corner of the end zone to make it 14-6, with 8:08 left in the second period. Then five minutes later, on a fourth-and-five from the 15, Rodkey found a wide-open John Groh for the touchdown that made it 21-6.
“We pretty much had three offensive schemes ready to go, with Mitch and Pletz,” said Lehman. “We only got to one, and part of another. They couldn’t stop Mitch and our running game.
“Mitch’s game is a result of the offensive line,” Lehman added. “It really is. That and a lot of hard work. He practices hard and he’s got natural ability. He’s quick.”
“We knew it was going to be a physical game,” said Rodkey. “Northern Lebanon’s our rival. It was emotional and it was a tough game. We did a good job of keeping our heads and fighting.”
Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall declined the opportunity of a post-game interview, saying: “You saw the game. Go talk to Lehman. You saw the officiating. I got nothing to say. I got nothing nice to say.”
Derek DiAngelis breathed some life into the Vikings’ hopes with a three-yard touchdown burst 1:25 into the final stanza that pulled his team to within 28-14. But Rodkey popped off two more scoring runs – of four and 62 yards – the last of which came with 54 seconds remaining.
Annville-Cleona out gained Northern Lebanon 336 total yards to 284.
“Pretty much when we got to 35,” said Lehman. “That’s when I thought we had it in the bag. Score-wise, yes it was our best game of the season. But I don’t know. Schuylkill Valley was a tough team and we played them well.
“I don’t know if we played that well or if they (the Vikings) had an off-game,” Lehman continued. “Sure we’ve improved. They’re (his players) starting to believe in themselves. But we have some tough games coming up.”
A great return of the opening kickoff and a subsequent Viking penalty set up Annville-Cleona with great field position deep in NL territory. It took Rodkey three snaps to go 31 yards and give the Little Dutchmen a 7-0 lead.
The Vikings fought back late in the second period, with Travis Gates rambling into the end zone from ten yards away to make it 7-6.
For Northern Lebanon, senior end Pat Stevens hauled in six balls for 101 receiving yards.
“Do you know what the bottom line is?” said Lehman. “We played better competition. They (the Vikings) have all those seniors they’ve got to replace, and that takes time.
The rivals combined for 215 yards in penalties.
“We’ve definitely improved,” said Rodkey. “We lost to Schuylkill Valley and Tri-Valley and they were both 3-0 coming into this week. And we beat two tough teams. We’re definitely improving.
“We’ve just got to enjoy this and get back to practice next week,” Rodkey added. “We’re taking one game at a time. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”